Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Cut Above

Well, I bet everyone my age in New England is feeling quite a bit older today. Nomar Garciaparra, the focal point of our relationship with baseball during our adolescence, signed a one-day contract yesterday and then immediately retired. Good for him for prioritizing finishing his career in Boston instead of continuing what would have been a legitimate beef against the Red Sox' smug, arrogant general manager. Obviously, the Nomar story is a tragic one, but despite the fact that the second half of his career, he didn't live up to the potential set during the first half of it, it's pretty obvious that Nomar Garciaparra had a great career. There are a few things to say about it:

-The Glory Days: Nomar was unbelievable at the beginning. I remember writing about it in sixth grade English class, describing him as the "next Maury Wills" when he made his debut. He came off the blocks fast as a rookie, with the hitting streak and a lot of home runs. He was Boston's own homegrown superstar, and for some reason (I think we know what it is), he developed a relationship with fans that former homegrown superstars like Mo Vaughn never did. He hit .372 one year. There were arguments about him being better than his shortstop counterparts in Jeter, Tejada, and the future centaur. Legitimate arguments at that. You can check the stats, but you don't have to: Guy was elite. He was on the way to the Hall of Fame.
-The Work Ethic: We heard about how hard the guy worked. The Sports Illustrated article describing the workouts. Even yesterday we heard about how Nomar did everything his body could in order to excel in this game. Of course, there were some whispers about if he did things his body couldn't really do in order to excel in the game, too. We'll get to that later. But that's more of a reason for this fan base to fall in love with the guy.

-Getting Hit By Al Reyes: This was the turning point in Nomar's career. It was a weird injury, as he got plunked in the wrist in September. Then he played through it. But the next spring, he needed surgery on it. After that, he was never the same. He could still hit, but not as well. And he caught the injury bug. But it all goes back to that one Al Reyes HBP. It's proof that one pitchs is all it takes to change everything.

-The Soccer Injury: Red Sox fans don't like injury-prone guys. It's true. It is frustrating to see a guy not play, even if the guy can't help it. After the wrist tendon injury, they were willing to see Nomar back in full health, but then he hurt his Achilles tendon, requiring another surgery. When word came out that this injury was sustained playing soccer with his future wife Mia Hamm, that didn't sit well. This was the point when some Red Sox fans turned on their hero. He didn't make things better for himself when he appeared in the Gatorade commercial about Mia, famously saying "thanks, beautiful."

-Steroids: It would be telling an incomplete story without mentioning steroids. Nomar was never busted for steroids. But many things would make you think he did it. He was an elite player in the late 1990s. He had a series of mysterious tendon injuries. He was ripped out of his mind. And, yes, he had a really strong work ethic. He said to the media that he didn't want steroid testing. He said it was because he didn't want to be that one false positive out of ten million. Sure.

-Arn Tellem: The Red Sox offered him four years and $15 million a year. He and his agent Arn Tellum told the Red Sox to F themselves, as Nomar would be the third-highest-paid shortstop as well as the third-highest-paid Red Sox player. Tellem and Nomar were demonized for not accepting that deal, and the player continued falling out of good graces. An increasingly-reclusive character, Nomar shunned the media while Pedro Martinez took the media for an intricate dance during his time in Boston.

-The Departure: We know the story. He was miffed when the boy wonder wanted to trade him and Manny for the centaur and Magglio Ordonez. Understandably so. He pouted throughout the 2004 season. He sat, perhaps milking an injury for all it worked, during a July 2004 game in which Jeter jumped unnecessarily into the stands. Then he was traded on July 31st for two .246 hitters. The .246 hitters helped the team win the World Series, and the sweethearts of the town became Pedro, Manny, Lowe, and the center fielder instead of their shortstop.

-The Return: It didn't happen until six years after his departure, but after an unimpressive career in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Oakland, he returned to Fenway Park as a member of the A's. He got an appropriate ovation, and we wrote about it here. And then yesterday he retired the right way. It was appropriate and respectful, though it looked like the Red Sox' genius general manager looked pretty uncomfortable at the presser. Good for the Red Sox for doing it, and good for Nomar doing it. It was a fitting end to a tragic career that defined an era and shaped the way our generation looks at the Boston Red Sox.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I would characterize Nomar's career as tragic, however he was the best player on a number of Red Sox teams that couldn't get over the hump and then the Sox won after he left. Honestly though, I can't remember much about my first three years at Colby let alone what may have happened with the Red Sox in the late 1990s. So Nomar's retirement doesn't really spawn very much emotion on my part. So...whatever.

bandi

TimC said...

How about Bledsoe, then, Bandi? I was thinking yesterday about the parallels with Nomar's career and Drew Bledsoe's. Both guys were extremely talented players who always gave a lot for the team and in many ways carried the team through difficult times. Loved by fans, but suffered from injuries and fell out of favor after being offered mega-deals (Bledsoe signing his being a difference from No-MAH!). Interestingly, in the seasons during which they were replaced they had to watch as their replacements played vital roles in bringing championships to their respective starving fan bases. The final note would be that these team accomplishments made it very easy for the fans to forget about these guys who did so much for their teams in the pre-glory years. Of course, both guys went on to play out their careers without ever matching the success of their Boston/New England days. It was nice to see Nomar finish his career off in the way that it did because of just how much he meant to people around here.

from the bronx said...

this seems like an overly sentimental impression to have for a guy that excelled at the height of the steroids era, turned down a lot of money to stay with the "home town team" and has had an unimpressive career for what is now the better part of a decade.

Anonymous said...

TimC,

Great comparison. I absolutely agree that fans unfairly forget about the accomplishments of both players based on the team accomplishments that occurred after they left. Having said that, there has to be some reward for actually winning, and it's hardly tragic that neither player gets the same recognition as say Tom Brady.

Anonymous said...

Bronx

Let me tell you about two players. Here they are:

Player 1: 6 time All-Star, 222 HR, 1099 RBI, .307 BA.

Player 2: 6 time All-Star, 229 HR, 936 RBI, .313 BA.

Player 2 is Nomar. Player 1? Don Mattingly. Let's be very clear here: there is a large number of Yankee fans who have a tremendous amount of affection for Mattingly and believe he should be a Hall of Famer. Many Red Sox fans have the same affection for Nomar. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Tim

I also enjoyed the comparison. Although I think Pats fans felt badly for Bledsoe at the end, whereas Sox fans were just annoyed with Nomar by the middle of 2004.

Bandi

Anytime you can quote Dennis Eckersley, it's a good time.

DV

Really nice post today. I always liked Nomar and was surprised at how quickly his career fell off once he left Boston. On a somewhat related note, Al Reyes hit Nomar in a meaningless game in 1999 after the Sox had wrapped up the Wild Card. Somehow, Nomar still managed to have a career year in 2000, which included his chase for .400.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Bandi,

I think the difference between me and most people our age is that in the late 1990s, I had not discovered girls yet (N.H.) and was instead supremely focused on what was happening with Boston sports--hence the strong emotional connection to Pedro, Nomar, and Parcells. This was also a big reason for the irrational hatred for people like Pete Carroll, Bruiser Flint, and Tim Tschida.

Tim C,

Dead on about Bledsoe. They're very similar. Just imagine if Parcells wasn't a genius, drafting Rick Mirer instead of Bledsoe. St. Louis Patriots. But you gotta remember Bandi's a Raiders fan.

FTB,

Innocent until implicated. Homey's doctor hasn't been busted yet. He'd hardly be the only one in sports in that category. And as far as the other stuff you said, what can I say--I have a heart sometimes.

from the bronx said...

please leave mattingly out of this. he came by his accomplishments naturally and stayed with the yankees his whole career during a terrible era for new york baseball (unless you're a mets fan). and as much as yankees fans love the guy, you will find far less people who genuinely believe he deserves HOF consideration than you might think. Hall of Very, Very Good, for sure, but not HOF. he was a dominant player for 4 years, but the rest of his career - while very good - wasn't at the same level.

I'm not saying Nomar wasn't a good player. I remember very clearly how good he was. But he was in Boston for 6 full seasons before he left, the sox never won anything while he was there, he turned down $60m to stay there AND there are reasonable suspicions about how honestly or dishonestly he came by his performance. in fact, bryant gumbel publicly accused nomar of using steroids during his career as a ball player a few weeks ago on television and there wasn't any response from Nomar.

Anonymous said...

Bronx

Save the indignation for something more serious than baseball, please.

But I'm glad you responded, because I'm trying to figure out exactly what it was that the Yankees won during the Mattingly years. Did they ever win a division title? Or at least a playoff series? No they didn't. Nomar's teams at least went to two ALCS. The argument that Nomar didn't win anything and therefore is unworthy of positive sentiment doesn't ring true in light of Mattingly's tenure as a Yankee, not to mention the fact that despite numerous injuries, Nomar hit for a higher average and had more home runs.

Also, you argue that Mattingly was pivotal to the Yankees during a rough period in their franchise history. Nomar played the exact same role for the Sox. His rookie year coincided with the year Clemens left and the Sox had no real franchise guy for fans to rally around. Nomar stepped in and provided optimism in 1997 and eventually success in 1998, 1999, and 2003.

Lastly, Nomar hasn't even been implicated by anyone for steroid use at this point. Which means he's been just as implicated as Mattingly was.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

mattingly played twice as long in new york as nomar did in boston and did not have any controversies surrounding him vs. the team either during his tenure or after his departure. i think these are both critical things in separating them. outside of that, i agree with gunn they are very similar in a lot of ways especially in how their fan bases feel towards them. certainly i would expect boston fans to have good feelings towards nomar, but i will add i don't think any comparisons to anybody need to be made for them to do so.

i do agree that you'd be surprised how many people just have good feelings towards mattingly but don't think he should be in the hall of fame. mattingly falls into the jim rice category where no fans outside of those of the team he played for really think he should be given major consideration. however, since the writers decided jim rice should get in, i'll be campaigning for every borderline yankee like don mattingly, bernie williams, and jorge posada (and before anybody even starts in on me with him - and i know they'll be some people who will say no way - he has the most hits, rbi, and home runs of any catcher across the last decade, and from a total stat standpoint is one of the 10 best offensive catchers of all-time) to get in. how's that for taking the conversation in different direction?

the gm at work said...

PF,

You have three weeks left in the offseason to discuss those things. Would you enlighten us with a post instead of trolling the comments section trying to change the subject?

Gunn,

Good work on the Mattingly thing. No matter what the circumstances, it's a similar situation of a player that made people show up despite the lack of team success. I don't think players like Number Two will be able to pull that kind of thing off this year when the Red Sox go down the tubes around August first.

Bronx,

I think he did it, as would any objective observer. However, until his doctors are found, he's innocent. It has worked that way consistently on this website since day one. We can throw names out there all we want (Nomar, Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzalez, John Valentin, Rich Aurilia, Bret Boone, whatever), but that's not a professional way to do things. Let's just keep following the previous procedures and wait for the list of 104 to come out.

Anonymous said...

PF

Neither Nomar nor Mattingly are borderline candidates. They are simply not candidates at all. They were both excellent for about four or five years. Rice was basically the best offensive player in baseball for a decade. That's why Rice is in the Hall of Fame.

Just to note: Rice hit 70% more home runs than Mattingly (382 to 222) and had %40 more RBI (1451 to 1099) and had more than 200 more hits. It's not really close.

However, Bernie Williams may well be a guy that gets legitimate consideration. 2300 hits, 287 HR, nearly 1300 RBI and just shy of .300 (.297). Plus, he did it as one of the focal points of four championship teams and at a key position (CF).

Granted, he was never THE guy. But (1) those Yankees teams didn't have THE guy, they were just all good players. And (2) there are plenty of secondary guys in the Hall like Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Phil Rizzuto, Luis Aparicio, etc.

--the Gunn

PF said...

Gunn -

My point wasn't that mattingly should be in because rice is in, or that they are the same player. Clearly, rice had a better offensive career (though mattingly was a defender, which matters for a lot of people), and if we could only but one player in between the two I'd put rice. My point was that neither should be in, and if we are going to lower the bar to let rice in, may as well keep lowering it and let mattingly in as well. My other point was that they are similar in that few outside their fan bases really have strong feelings about them as players, especiallt when it comes to getting into the hall. To be clear, I don't think mattingly should be in at all. I just don't think rice should be either.

Now that rice is in bernie williams almost has to get in you'd think, for the reasons mentioned above. He's actually the person a lot of yankees fans thought should get in when rice was voted. But I actually think posada is even more deserving. In addition to the counting stats I mentioned above at his position, he's tied for 8th all-time amongst catchers ops+. Of the top 14 catchers ops+ all time, only 3 aren't in: piazza, posada, and pudge. Pretty interesting. Best player at his position for a decade, and is in the mix with a bunch of hall of famers offensively for his position all-time.

from the bronx said...

Gunn,
I'm late getting back to you, but whatever. I think you are missing my point, or confusing it. I don't think Mattingly belongs in the Hall. I love the guy, but his numbers just aren't there.

The differences between Nomar and Mattingly - in terms of why local fans should like the players - are pretty stark, in my opinion. I'm not saying Sox fans should dislike Nomar, but he did only stick in Boston for 6 years and, despite his professed love for the city and franchise, turned down a huge pile of money from Boston because the organization would have only made him the 3rd highest paid SS in baseball. Mattingly stayed in NY his whole career, and that earned him a lot of points with me and other Yankees fans.

Obviously, the Yanks didn't win anything while Mattingly was around. People sometimes forget that the ALDS in 1995 was the only playoff series Mattingly played in his entire career. But what people do remember and like about him was the way he played the game, the way he tried to play through some pretty terrible injuries, the dominance he showed early in his career and his devotion to the franchise. I don't think Nomar deserves the same respect from Boston fans because he wasn't there very long and he turned down a ton of money to stay.

GM, Fair enough. But Bryant Gumbel did accuse the guy explicitly on television last month, and there was no response from the Nomar camp. Deny it if it isn't true, is all I'm saying.