I wrote last summer that we, as Red Sox fans, should have a somewhat love hate relationship with Nomar Garciaparra. He was once our savior, our link to the new generation of shortstops who could field their positions like they needed to and also be offensive powers instead of liabilities. He was also once the bitter embattled superstar sulking in the dugout in a key game against our biggest rivals. Yesterday, when he returned to the Red Sox on a one day minor league contract so that he could retire in the only uniform he ever really belonged in, I found myself to be very conflicted.
The real question is how Nomar ‘s equation (as introduced last year when steroids happened to the Red Sox) works out.
Over six healthy seasons (in eight years) Nomar was the one thing that Sox fans could count on, one of the guys that made SMC and I dumb enough to believe that the Sox actually would someday win a World Series (I guess in retrospect that it’s not that dumb). He was our hope. I remember his rookie season, when one of those prospects which we heard mentioned on the radio or TV from time to time (before the internet and hype that bombards kids like Nomar today) finally came up and played as advertised. Nomar could do anything. He made kids like me life time members of Red Sox nation, even before Pedro changed everything. This brings the equation up big time.
But you also have his hatred of the Boston media, a bunch of guys who hound these players like horny prom dates, always in the name of getting the real stories to the fans. If you ask him, it was the media (of which he is now a member due to his signing with ESPN) that made him so reclusive to the public and annoyed when fans would approach him. He was never comfortable in the spotlight that came with being the (huge nosed) face of the Boston Red Sox, or the pressure that people placed upon him to end the curse. So the equation goes down, a little.
Another big swing in his favor comes from what he actually did on the field. The 1999 team that made the ALCS was quite literally Pedro, Nomar and 23 other guys. In the playoffs that year he was a terror, hitting.406 with four home runs and 9 RBI in nine games. After he hit a two run shot in the first inning of game 5, Mike Hargrove (Cleveland’s Manager) was so afraid of Nomar that he intentionally walked him twice. Both times Troy O’Leary came up after him and hit a three run shot and a grand slam. That’s how awesome he was, that Hargrove would walk him the second time to get to a guy who had already hit one out that day.
There is also some speculation that the jacked up Nomar on the cover of the 2001 SI baseball preview, and the swift breakdown of his body soon after, serves as evidence of steroid use. Nobody really knows about Nomar and any supplements he has taken (other than Framingham Lou, who may or may not have “injected” him at one time), though Bob Ryan did make a decent argument after Nomar’s groin pulled away from the bone. Nothing is conclusive, but even the speculation does bring the equation down a bit.
The big downswing comes when talking about the end of his time here. It was a sad way to see one of the greats in the history of the team go, but when Nomar was traded on July 31, 2004, it was the right thing to do. He had sulked his way through most of a lost season (he had only played 38 games, though he had hit .321 when he was out there), and when the brass gave him a chance to talk it out, he railed against not the team, or the fans, but the media who he thought was after him (according to Tony Massaroti yesterday on the Sports Hub). It was the end of the line, and the last impression that we got was the sad sack of shit, sitting in the corner of the dugout while his teammates battled through 14 innings in Yankee Stadium. It should have ended better.
At this point I see it just about even. Nomar was a great player who did many great things for the Red Sox and made a ton of local kids into die hard fans. He was also a whiny bitch at the end of his time here who added to the team most when he left, taking a sourpuss and a bad attitude with him. His legacy may never be truly one way or the other, but the real tipping point in his favor is this lasting image that I will always have of him.
Goodbye Nomar, I’ll see you on Baseball Tonight.