One of the most exciting baseball players of the last decade and a half has retired, as Nomar Garciaparra returned to the Red Sox with a one-day contract to formally announce he is walking away from the game.
Back in the day–oh yeah, 1999 was back in the day–Garciaparra, Boston’s shortstop, was one of the top players in the game. I remember watching the FOX games of the week and all the playoff games the Red Sox played during his tenure and wished the Cubs could get a shortstop (hell, ANYONE) that could hit the ball for average and with as much authority as he did.
Then they did. They got Nomar himself, actually. Back in 2004, both the Cubs and Red Sox were in tight pennant races, but both needed to make changes. Boston saw its main weakness as a lack of defensive ability, and made the controversial–and very complicated–deal to send Garciaparra the Cubs’ way and they recieved Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. Of course, everyone knows how that deal turned out for the Red Sox in the end (for those of you who don’t, here’s a hint: they won the World Series). As for the Cubs? Let’s not talk about it.
That deal may have been the beginning of the end for Nomar as an elite player, as he got severely hurt early in the ’05 season with Chicago and was never the same. However, what he accomplished in Boston was incredible.
In 1997, he was the American League rookie of the year, with a .306 batting average and 30 (that’s three-zero) home runs as a leadoff man playing shortstop. That was unheard of. Hell, it still is. In 2000, he had the highest batting average for a Red Sox player since Ted Williams, when he batted .372. Beyond that, he was a solid shortstop with a flair for the dramatic (.321 batting average in 32 postseason games). His career .313 average, .361 on-base percentage, 229 home runs, 936 RBI, and 95 stolen bases leave him as one of the best offensive shortstops ever, and should have him in Cooperstown before this decade is done.
Today is the end of his career as a player, but Mr. Garciaparra will be joining ESPN as an analyst. Based on the eloquency he displayed in his press conference, I can’t wait to hear from him on Baseball Tonight and during games. Also, I hope the reason he cited for his retirement, an unnamed medical condition, is not in any way harmful to him beyond not allowing him to continue playing.