Revising the revisionist history on Nomar the Boston hero

Thanks, beautiful So I woke up today with Red Sox fans – and everyone else – treating Nomar Garciaparra like some conquering war hero because the guy came back to retire with the Red Sox. I just don’t get it. I understand there are some players that fan bases just come to love unconditionally, and there’s no doubt he put up big numbers there, but if I were a Boston fan, there’s no question I would still have a bad taste in my mouth from the way things ended up.

To get this out of the way, fair or not, because of the climate of the game at the time you have to cast a skeptical eye on anyone who put up by far their biggest numbers in 1998-2000. Like, you know, Ivan Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. Nomar was at his greatest during a period of time when it seemed like everyone was at their greatest. During those three years, Nomar hit .350 and averaged 28 homers and 107 RBIs. He was then decimated by injuries, including a tendon in his wrist that mysteriously snapped out of nowhere.

But maybe Nomar – who was jacked to the moon – was just at his physical peak. I suppose it’s possible, considering he was 25-27 years old during that period of time.

Assuming that’s the case, that doesn’t explain his weird attitude toward the end in Boston, even though it was well known Nomar was a quirky dude, as evidenced by his OCD batting box rituals.

Nomar was apparently so furious about the Red Sox’s failed plan to replace him with Alex Rodriguez following the 2003 season that he sulked all year, culminating with that infamous July 1 game when Jeter dove into the stands and came up bloody and battered, while Nomar sat sullen and silent in the dugout, citing the need to rest. He didn’t even pinch-hit as the game remained close into the late innings. The contrast between the two was crystal clear.

Looking good, NomarI understand that Nomar had a fierce amount of pride. But coming off a serious wrist injury after which he was never the same – .333 before the injury, .297 after it – wouldn’t it have made sense at the time for the Red Sox to see if they could pull off a deal to replace him with the best player in baseball, who played the same position, coming off an MVP season?

A stand-up guy would have put his pride aside, kept it realistic and continued to be a professional for the good of the team. Nomar – who continued to break down physically, adding an Achilles injury to his faulty wrist – came to the park complete with a negative attitude and below-average play.

Not to mention that he proceeded to turn down a $60 million contract offer from the Sox before the 2004 season. I understand Boras was probably pulling his strings, but it still seems like someone who let bitterness get in the way of the right thing for him to do.

I know Nomar gave the Red Sox some great moments over the years. I know he ended up an icon in the city, with his Saturday Night Live appearances and whatnot, his run at .400 in 2000 and his 10-RBI game, the Mia Hamm marriage, and his solid postseason numbers.

(Sidebar: I always found his quest for .400 – chronicled by the infamous Sports Illustrated cover story about a week before his wrist exploded – to be iffy in itself. He played for a team that hadn’t won a championship in over 80 years, and he’s working himself into a frenzy and focusing on that personal goal. I just found it odd. You can do both, you know?)

Anyway, the fact remains that the best thing he did for the Red Sox was leave in a trade that catalyzed them to finally win a world title.

The trade was pilloried at the time, since the return of Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz seemed to be a talent downgrade. But as usual, Theo Epstein was ahead of his time, boosting his team’s defense considerably – and that was a team that was leading the Majors in unearned runs at the time. And more importantly, he eliminated the strange negative vibe that Nomar was adding to the mix. With bizarre, impressionable personalities like Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez on the team, it was unquestionably the precise move to make.

So maybe that’s worth celebrating after all. If getting Nomar to stop sucking the air out of the room was the culture shock necessary for the Red Sox to become uncursed or whatever, then I guess he contributed after all.

And I guess perhaps I should give Red Sox fans credit for remembering the good times Nomar brought before he flaked on them. But considering how things ended up with him, I think I’d have a tough time looking back at him at anything more than a good but flawed player and personality who was the last remnant of 86 years of frustration.

Esoteric

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