Nomar Garciaparra will retire as a Red Sox. He joined the team for one day as a formality to end his career in a Red Sox uniform. The gesture and time has done quite a bit for a man who was run out of town in 2004.
I was a big Nomar fan prior to 2003. It was an exciting time to have him on the team. He was one of the incredible three young short stops who ruled the league: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. I still have the GQ magazine from 1997 with the three of them on the cover.
As the star shortstop, Nomar was the face of the franchise for about five years and the fans adored him. He had his quirks, mainly he was surly with the media but he became increasingly distant with fans after suffering a string of injuries starting in 2000. These injuries were odd, not typical ball-player stuff and he took forever to recover. It seemed that once he was gingerly stepping back into the game, recovering from one injury, he sprung a tendon in another part of his body.
There were whispers of steroids, but Boston fans set their jaws, shook their heads and circled the wagons around their “Nomah”. He wasn’t a Giambi or worse, a Canseco! He worked hard, played hard, spent hours in the gym with weights and a personal trainor.
Then came the March 2001 Sports Illustrated cover:
Good grief, he’s huge!
We Boston fans would have continued to deny the obvious except his injuries continued to keep at a sub-par level of play if they didn’t keep him out of the line-up. My most vivid memories of Nomar are of him rolling around on home plate when he tore his groin–tell us where it hurts, Nomar! and sitting on the bench, rubbing his sore calf.
The 2004 season started….well it started with an injured Nomar. Theo Epstein was the young blood at the helm. 2004 felt hopeful with unstoppable 1-2 punch of Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Johnny Damon was fun and interesting when he turned up looking like Jesus and nothing could beat the Manny-Ortiz duo in the line-up. They won in interesting ways but there was a big question with Nomar and the team hadn’t jelled because of the tension in the club house. Terry Francona runs a tight ship but it was impossible to keep a lid on the toxic presence of their star player. He obviously didn’t want to be in Boston.
July 2004 Epstein pulled the genius move of the new century. It could have just as easily gone down as the worst trade in the new century and after the collective gasp of the faithful, we all held our breath. Doug Meintkiewicz (“men-cav-itch”) and some little guy named Orlando Cabrerra for NOMAR!!!! What the hell is he doing???? It happened just like that, Nomar was a Cub.
“Well, see ya, guys.” were his parting words as he left the club house. Wait, Nomar! I didn’t even get to say goodbye and you’re gone!
It was a brilliant moved on Epstein’s part. The 2004 Red Sox ended an 86 year drought and won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals after an incredible comeback against in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees.
Each and every member of the team brought heart, spirit, game and teamwork to that winning team. They were all heroes in the small and great roles they played in getting the team to the win. The Boston Red Sox 2004 World Champions never would have happened with Nomar on the team. He sucked the enthusiasm right out. They were a different team when he left. They were a better team because of his leaving.
Baseball’s Steroid Era, as it’s called now–and probably still should be called, is an unfortunate era. We don’t want our hometown heroes to be cheaters but it’s obvious they are. Few of them admit to using but looking at the photo of Nomar and at his disappointing play since he blew up like the Michelin Man, it’s so obvious. Sure, there must be so much pressure to keep up a level of play to earn those millions but I can’t begin to sympathize with that line of thought. I save lives every day for a fraction of that salary and I can’t cheat.
Time and victory softens the edges of disappointment. We forgive everything, especially since he’s never come out and admitted to cheating, nor has his name come up on any public list of cheaters yet. It’s charming that Nomar wants to end a Red Sox. It clearly means more to him than it appeared to the faithful when he left. The warm heart of the Boston fan embraces our heroes–and loves even more our redeemed fallen heroes.
Glad you’re back, Nomah!