Nomar Garciaparra

July 7, 2009

Nomar Garciaparra 95

I remember the first time I ever saw Nomar Garciaparra more distinctly than the first time I ever saw any baseball player. It was while he was getting his first taste of the majors in a late season call-up, and his long and unusual name probably helped call my attention to him, as did the buzz that had preceded his arrival. But I had seen a lot of heralded rookies come and go, some of them staying for years and years and becoming as familiar to me as the bowl I use to eat my oatmeal every morning, and I can’t remember the first time I saw any of them. Nomar was different. With his angular, alert frame and prominent beak and dark, glaring, heavy-browed eyes, he looked like an eagle who hadn’t eaten for days, his hunger focused to a fierce intensity. This guy, I thought, is not going to stop until he wins.

That was late 1996, and the resurgence of the Yankees, who would go on that year to win their first World Series since the 1978 team cast a gloom over my childhood, contributed to a persisting feeling in my mind that the doomed face of Calvin Schiraldi, who ten years earlier had transformed instantaneously from a figure of hulking youth and promise to a haunted sad-eyed beast of burden as he failed to close out a World Series victory over the Mets, would persist forever as the face of the team. There was a feeling that the hill would always be too high to climb. But when I got my first look at Nomar, it gave me hope.

As everyone knows, the face of Calvin Schiraldi can no longer be used as a thumbnail sketch of the entire history of the franchise. And as everyone knows, by the time the Red Sox finally climbed that high hill, Nomar had been traded away. He did get a ring for the 2004 championship season, however, as he should have, not only for contributing to the team for half of a season but for helping as much as anyone with the possible exception of Pedro Martinez to change the nature of the team from resignation to a kind of combative, hungering hope. But there’s no way around it: he hadn’t been one of the players leaping onto the long-awaited victory pile in St. Louis in October.

And so there was an undertone of sadness to his return to Fenway last night, his first time back since he’d been traded away. Before the game he almost cried as he spoke about how much he had loved wearing the Red Sox uniform, and how he had always hoped to play for the team his whole career. When he came to bat, the Red Sox fans stood and started cheering. It wasn’t the wild roar that accompanies victory, but something more closely tuned to life’s tangle of disappointment and love. He looked strange in the Oakland colors, and his sparse number of at-bats this season and history of ever-mounting injuries communicated that this strange coloration was something like a smog-glutted sunset. The ovation went on and on. It was a greeting, but also a farewell, and no one really wanted it to end.


  1. Josh, as usual, you captured the mood perfectly for Nomar’s greeting. I thought the reception was beautiful as was Nomar’s appreciation of the fans. His career has become very sad ever since he turned down the 4 yr./$60 million contract. I also thought it showed what a true pro Smoltz is the way he waited patiently for the moment to play itself out. I draw some comparison between Nomar and Lynn in that they both burst on the scene as Rookies of the Year and seemed to be on a path as surefire HOFs but do to injury and other factors they both bounced around and neither has a chance in hell to make it to the Hall now.

  2. That’s a good comparison, Lynn and Nomar. I agree that neither seems Hall-bound, but you could probably make a case for both. Lynn has a higher career OPS+ (by one point) than his old cohort in ’75 rookie sensationalism, Jim Rice, and Rice only managed to play a few more games than Lynn in his career. I think that most people who have an inkling of what “OPS+” is would probably use the comparison of Lynn to Rice in that regard as a way to disparage Rice’s election, but I’m going to be a homer and say they were both pretty damn good.

    As for Nomar, he currently has an above 100 Hall of Fame moniter rating on baseball-reference.com. Hall of Fame moniter is defined thusly: “another Jamesian creation[, it] attempts to assess how likely (not how deserving) an active player is to make the Hall of Fame. It’s rough scale is 100 means a good possibility and 130 is a virtual cinch.” Nomar is at 112; however, that ranking assumes continued production for a few more years, which seems pretty unlikely.

  3. Great capture of Nomar. He was one of the only reasons to watch the Sox in ’97, and the first guy I believed would have 3000 hits in my lifetime of watching the team every day. Before he was 30, he amassed 1200ish hits. Averaging nearly 200 a season. In 6 seasons since his last 190+ hit season, he’s had around 400 hits. He should be pushing 2500 hits!

    It’s a random stat to look at, but you don’t see 200ish hits year in year out. Then again, you don’t see Nomar in his prime year in year out.

    I would LOVE for them to bring him back as a 1b/3b backup for the stretch run. A pipedream for sure, but wouldn’t it be wonderful?

  4. Josh, in regard to Rice’s election to the Hall, I think someone would have to have followed MLB closely from ’75 through the ’80s to understand why he deserved election. I’m shocked how many people disagree with him getting in. I agree that Nomar back on the Sox for the stretch run would be perfect, ala Burks in ’07.

  5. Part of the reason I love this site is rummaging through older posts. This really -was- a farewell. We’ve had the opportunity to say farewell with a Nomar Day and the one-day retirement contract..but it’s not quite the same as saying farewell in their last game in Fenway as a player. Would anyone have guessed a decade ago that Nomar wouldn’t be playing ball, at all, in 2010?!

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