Nomar, If Only . . .

Dan:

I know I’m gonna catch a lot of heat for this, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Nomar, if only you’d stayed away from the ‘roids. What might have been . . .

Don’t take this as bashing him. It’s not.

Well, maybe it is, but it isn’t meant to be mean, directly, anyway. You see, ten years ago, Nomar Garciaparra was my favorite player. Besides being arguably the game’s best hitter, and being enormously clutch in the ’98 and ’99 playoffs for the Sox, Nomar also seemed to be a great guy. He always seemed friendly on camera, had his head on straight. He seemed to appreciate the tradition of the Sox, speaking fondly of Johnny Pesky and becoming emotional when Ted Williams passed.

Heck, during his time with the Sox I showed him the ultimate respect, changing my softball uniform number from 9 to 5.

But then it all went south.

When contract negotiations rolled around prior to 2004, Nomar seemed greedy, turning down a 4-year, $60 million deal. Did he really want to stay here? Or was he just another player going for the biggest buck? He turned surly. Seeming to mope and complain all the time. Stories began to leak out about him being tired of Sox fans’ obsession with the team, and how he wanted to play elsewhere; stories about not getting along with other teammates. After the Sox stormed back from being down 0-2 to the A’s in the 2003 ALDS to tie the series 2-2, Nomar reportedly got on the bus to head to Oakland and said “Why is everyone so excited? They’re (the fans) just gonna rip us when we lose.”

And then there was that game in New York. While Derek Jeter was diving face-first into the stands, Nomar sat pouting on the bench, refusing to pinch hit.

Of course, his reported bad attitude isn’t the cause of his premature decline. That can most likely be attributed to steroids.

When Nomar was drafted by the Sox, he was described as an excellent defensive shortstop who could also hit some. When he debuted with the Sox, he was as string-bean with all the muscularity of a 10-year-old girl. In baseball, however, you don’t need huge muscles to be a great hitter. And Nomar could hit, winning consecutive batting titles in 1999 and 2000. His .372 in 2000 was the highest by a right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio. His range was excellent, and the throws he made from deep in the hole were spectacular.

But then he bulked up. We all know about the 2001 SI cover. We all know what was going on in baseball during that time. We all know as he grew bulkier, his range slowed, and he started suffering from multiple injuries. Bulky, muscular guys aren’t meant to play shortstop.

And here we are. Nomar is retiring at the young age of 36. A one-time shoe-in for Cooperstown, not to mention having his number retired in Fenway, he ended up flaming out like a shooting star, and now will likely receive neither accolade.

That kid sure could play back then. What might have been . . .

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