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 . . .
Following up on what my low-life brother already said, congratulations to Jim Rice on being elected to the Hall of Fame. We’re hoping to be in Cooperstown the weekend he is inducted. I’ve never been there for induction week, and I’m really hoping things work out.
In the days leading up to this announcement, I was worried it would not happen. And that would have been wrong. Even writers who didn’t vote for Rice – at least those who actually follow baseball – have to admit that from 1975 through 1986 he was one of the very best hitters in the game. That’s why he received so many MVP votes; and that’s a long time to be great. And players like that are much more deserving than the Vinny Testaverde’s of baseball (Boggs, Palmeiro, Sutton, etc.) who stick around and are able to reach milestones because of longevity, but were never really seen as great players for extended periods of time.
I can completely understand those who have the opinion that the Hall of Fame is for the greatest of the great, and Rice doesn’t belong. If the Hall were only for the Mike Schmidts, Hank Aarons, George Bretts and Willie Mayses of the world, that would be fine. But the bar has already been set; guys like Don Sutton, Wade Boggs, Phil Rizzuto, Dave Winfield and others are all Hall of Famers. You might not like where the bar is; I don’t. But it is where it is. And given that, Jim Rice — one of the very elite hitters of his era — belongs in the Hall of Fame. Thankfully, that’s where he is headed.
Getting Strong Now: If you haven’t noticed, the Sox are seriously bulking up. On the heels of bringing on Brad Penny, John Smoltz and Rocco Baldelli, they just signed former Dodger closer Saito. Injured last year, Saito struggled. But he was dominant prior to that, and there’s every reason to believe he is past his injury and ready to shine in Boston. With his addition, the Sox bullpen is looking seriously formidable. Adding Saito and Ramon Ramirez to a pen with Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and Papelbon, not to mention all the young arms like Masterson, Bucholz and Bowden the Sox can use there thanks to the depth of their rotation, Boston could end up with the strongest pen in the game. Of course, bullpen strength is the most difficult part of a team to predict from year to year. But by adding such strong depth, the Sox are doing all they can to set themselves up to succeed.
Michael Young??: When I heard Michael Young wanted a trade out of Texas, my first thought was he might be an easy fit in Boston. The Sox have kicked around the idea of an offensive upgrade at short, and they’re already talking about a trade with the Rangers for a catcher. This could expand the package. However, when I read Young’s contract has him signed through 2013 — and he’s already 32 — well, that ain’t happening.
Former Sox Hot Stove: If you haven’t heard, the Phillies are talking about signing Nomar Garciaparra. It’d be great to see Nomar play another year and hopefully have a productive year.; Things don’t look great for Pedro. He had been saying he wanted to resign with the Mets, but the Mets don’t seem to be in any hurry to bring him back. Then Pedro signs he’d like to sign with the Marlins . . . but the Marlins don’t want to sign him. Strange market this year, with so many players in the position of courting teams instead of the other way around; It’s the middle of January, and Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, Ben Sheets, Bobby Abreu and others are all still free agents.
True story. During my recent hiatuses from bogging (before the Rice for the HOF annual bug hit me), I was thinking if I had anything of note to say to the baseball world. I didn’t just want to add to the noise that is the offseason stock taking of how does our line-up compare to the Blue Jays or other team that finished in third place. Through my contemplation, I found this one piece of wisdom … its time to let someone else wear number 5.
Now, of course, I didn’t actually write the column. And, yesterday, the world found out (more importantly) that the Sox had decided this too. It makes sense. Nomar, who I enjoyed watching more than any Sox player ever, very possibly might be done. His career never lived up to its … (dreaded word) … potential. If only, he was more durable, if only a pitch didn’t hit him on his wrist, if only …. (If only he had taken the 4/yr 60 million offer the Sox offered him offseason 2003/2004, he’d be ~$48 million richer right now!). Five is a premium digit too.
Now that the Sox have made the decision, I’m conflicted. Roco? I like the signing and all. But why did they have to give him Nomar’s number? Talk about a guy that doesn’t need another albatross around his neck. Will it be a constant reminder of how the predilection for injury mares potential? In the end though, it’s probably a good move to give the number to an established bench player rather than saddling the next great hitting prospect with it. They Sox also had the good sense to give it several years — unlike their blatant disrespect for Trot Nixon.
As for other numbers, quick thoughts:
14 – retire it. Regardless of the HOF announcement on Monday/
38 – Give it to the next mid-season wavier-wire claim. Preferably a long reliever with a WHIP above 2.50
45 – Keep it in storage. Retire it when Pedro enters the HOF (2015)
and 24? I never wanted Manny to have that number. It should have been retired for Dewy, But now it can never be retired for anyone but Manny. He is one of the greatest hitters of all time. However, his behavior that led to his departure was inexcusable. Thus, I think the Sox need to give the number to the bullpen catcher this year. Maybe someone can reclaim it in the future.
Finally, before I get scooped again, here are a other things I’m thinking about:
· What pitchers of the last 20yrs should be in the HOF? Moose? Schill? Cone? Brownie?
· Jason Bay is woefully under-appreciated as a force in the 2009 Sox line-up
· Stop with all the Texieria nonsense! It’s not going to decide the AL East.
· Why people who think Tim Raines should be in the Hall but not Jim Rice shouldn’t be called “statheads” – they should be called “crackheads”
· And, I’m close to clinching my 2009 fantasy baseball league title (for a fifth time in seven years) even though we are six weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting