Even when he was a rookie, we all knew where he was headed. Slapping single after single into right field. Doubles off the Monster. Triples to the deep corner in center field. Every time he stepped to bat, we expected a hit. And Nomar Garciaparra was just a rookie.
Nomah did not disappoint. 44 doubles, 11 triples, 30 home runs, and a .306 average his rookie season. Hit .323 the next year, .357 the next, and finally, in 2000, .372.
He was only 26 in 2000, before most baseball players peak. And that’s what infatuated us so much with Nomah; we could see him hitting .400. In fact, in 2000, he almost did. He was batting .400 as late as July 17th; .394 on August 4th. We all thought he could do it, be the first to hit .400 since the Splendid Splinter in 1941, but destiny had decided otherwise, almost one year before.
September 25th, 1999, the Red Sox were playing Baltimore in an essentially pointless game. The Sox led Oakland by four games in the Wild Card race coming into the day, and had a magic number of five. They came into the game with 88 wins, one more than the Athletics would have at the end of the season.
To start the bottom half of the eighth inning, the Red Sox were leading 3-1. Ramon Martinez had just spun a masterful seven innings of four-hit ball in his third start of the year. In his first two, he had pitched only 7.2 innings and allowed seven runs, all earned. This time, he was reminding fans of his younger brother, himself in the midst of maybe the greatest pitching season of all-time. Nomah was leading off the inning and Orioles manager Ray Miller decided to bring in right-hander Al Reyes after lefty Doug Johns had pitched the previous inning. Reyes promptly hit Nomah on the wrist, and was replaced.
Perhaps Reyes should get a plaque in the Hall of Fame right next to Carl Mays. Mays hit Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch, killing the promising young star. Reyes didn’t kill Nomar, but he did kill Nomah.
Nomah was the guy, our guy, who could do everything. The guy who hit singles, doubles, triples, home runs better than anyone at his position. That’s not easy to do, and the hits added up. We saw in him Ted Williams; perhaps what is ironic is that neither won a championship in Boston, and soon after both left us, the Red Sox were on top of the world.
Nomah had that something about him, that Boston superstar something that Williams, Bird, and Orr had. He wasn’t just good—so were Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Mo Vaughn, Roger Clemens—he was Nomah. He had a special name. A place in the heart of Boston.
We were sure he was the next Ted Williams. Perhaps we should have known better. Nomar was nicknamed “Glass” in high school because he was so fragile. Fragility was never a trait Teddy possessed. Williams was a fisherman, a hunter, a decorated Air Force pilot. Nomar was none of that. But, in our minds, Nomah was.
Nomah was clearly in some pain after getting hit by the pitch, but he played through it. Played another season, in fact. But by the end of 2000, it was clear that something was wrong. And in spring training 2001, his wrist suddenly ballooned to the size of a grape fruit. We blamed it on the curse—no not Ruth, but Sports Illustrated, which had pictured him shirtless on the cover a few weeks prior. SI’s cover players seemed to mysteriously go down, and Nomah was the next. Who knew that he would never come back?
The guy that came back in late August of that year was Nomar, the mortal. Over the next two years, he hit .305. He hit 52 home runs, 93 doubles, 18 triples, even had 24 steals. But he was no longer Nomah, and it was time to move on.
In the 2003 off-season, Nomah’s relationship with the Red Sox blew up. He wanted four years, $60 million. They would only offer four and $48 million. The Sox were being smart about him, but Nomar wasn’t having it. Eventually, they would come around to his price. But at that point, it was too late. Nomar hated the Red Sox, the Sox hated Nomar, and Boston fans simply hated everyone involved.
Mid-2004, the architect finally pulled the trigger. Shocked us all. Sent Nomar away. Pedro Martinez said that day, “for some reason, I just feel Nomar is a part of the tradition in Boston. I’m so used to seeing ‘No-mah.’ For some reason, I framed him as a Bostonian, as part of the team.”
He was right. Nomah was a Bostonian, Nomah was part of the tradition. But we hadn’t seen Nomah for three years. And Nomar, well Nomar was expendable. So the Sox sent him to the Cubs and won the World Series.
We all know that part of the story. Nomar’s story is much sadder. Since that day, he’s been okay—putting up a .289/.339/.453 line with the Cubs—but he’s no longer Nomah, or one of the big three, or even a Hall of Famer.
He’s just Nomar, major league shortstop.
References & Resources
The Day by Day Database