The first day of August 2004 brought with it an interesting array of baseball storylines. The Chicago Cubs were hosting the Philadelphia Phillies. Greg Maddux was on the mound. Surrounded by young arms like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and intriguing throwers like Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement, at times it seemed like Maddux was the boring option in the rotation. The vanilla option so to speak. Today though, was supposed to be his day. This was his first chance at win number 300.
Naturally Maddux would be overshadowed. See, this was August 1st, the day after the trading deadline. The day after the Cubs went out and acquired Nomar Garciaparra. The Nomar Garciaparra. The Cubs’ faithful gave Garciaparra a standing ovation in warm-ups on this Sunday that lived up to its name. The Cubs’ lineup looked wholly competent now too. Prudent maneuvering had the Cubs fielding an offensively strong lineup, one that featured Michael Barrett, Derrek Lee, Todd Walker (or Mark Grudzielanek), Aramis Ramirez, Moises Alou, Corey Patterson, and Sammy Sosa. Now, writing Nomar instead of Ramon E. Martinez must’ve been a feeling of ecstasy for fans and manager Dusty Baker alike.
Of course this isn’t the memory most fans have of Nomar. He is a Boston legend. Even re-watching the DVD I have of this game leaves the entire scene with a surreal sense, and it’s not because the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air preceded the pre-game show hosted by Chip Caray. This isn’t the Nomar most of us know, but somewhere in Massachusetts, there’s a five-year-old child who has no idea why Nomar Garciaparra retiring is a big deal. That’s startling. Here are some of the more interesting Boston-related tidbits about Nomar:
After hitting 30 and 35 home runs in his first two full seasons, Garciaparra never reached 30 homers again. He hit a homer in about 5% of his plate appearances those two seasons; only 3% the rest of his Boston career.
It seems like there’s a legitimate case to make that Nomar should’ve won the 1998 A.L. MVP. Nomar’s wRC+ was 143 which falls a little below Juan Gonzalez’s 149, but Nomar played shortstop and Gonzalez was a right fielder. You could make the case for Ken Griffey Jr. too, who had a comparable amount of RBI (146 to Gonzalez’s 157), more homers (56 to 45), and an OPS only 20 points lower while playing center field. Alex Rodriguez has a really strong case too.
Amongst shortstops with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, Nomar’s wOBA ranks eighth all-time.
Someone else is going to put what Nomar meant to the Red Sox into better terms than I can. Whether that person is Joe Posnanski, Peter Gammons, or even Marc Normandin is anyone’s guess. The only thing I can harp on is that Nomar is a Boston legend. In nine seasons he hit .323/.370/.553. After being traded, he hit .287/.338/.440. Not having the monster to bang doubles off, not having complete health, or not having amigos Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez around to push him; whatever it was, he was just never the same.
He’s yours again, Boston. But I guess he always was.
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