Nomar Garciaparra's Career Winding Down With a Whisper It's hard to pinpoint exactly when Nomar Garciaparra's career started to unravel.

There was a time, beginning with Nomar's rookie season in 1997 and lasting until about 2002 or maybe '03, that he was the most beloved athlete in Boston — this generation's Larry Bird or Bobby Orr. You'd ask Ted Williams, and he'd tell you Nomar was the greatest Red Sox player since … well, him.

Nomar was in position to claim his place among the all-time legends of the game. His teammates loved him. His fans revered him. His peers had all the respect in the world for him: Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were the first two American League shortstop phenoms to come along in the late 1990s, but even they thought Nomar was better.

They don't anymore.

Nomar has bounced around to three teams — the Cubs, Dodgers and A's — since Theo Epstein traded him away at the deadline in 2004. He's struggled to find steady work. He's moved from shortstop to third base to first, finally settling on a designated-hitter job in Oakland last season. Now he might be done for good.

Nomar turned 36 in the middle of last summer. He's been trying for too long to revive his career and return to where he was in the early part of the last decade, and it just isn't working. He's reached the point where he can't stay healthy, can't field worth a lick, can't get on base and certainly can't hit the ball out of the ballpark.

But it's hard to tell who we're supposed to believe in this Nomar "retirement" saga. San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Susan Slusser, who reported last week that Nomar is "widely expected" to call it quits? Or WEEI's Lou Merloni, who says he's "intent on playing in the majors" in 2010?

Merloni, a close confidant to the former All-Star throughout his career, generally knows what he's talking about when it comes to Nomar. And he might be intent on playing this season, even if there don't appear to be any teams intent on letting him.

The sad truth is that Nomar isn't finding work. Spring training is just days away, and if he can't get a job soon, it might be easiest for him to walk away.

It's a shame, too. It seems like just yesterday he was hitting .372 and bouncing countless doubles off the Green Monster.

But those days are over. And if Nomar's time in the spotlight is coming to a close, it might be time for him to face the music.

We didn't expect this day to come so soon. A decade ago, he had such a bright future in front of him, and we all expected more from him. Countless All-Star nods, MVP plaques, maybe even a championship ring or two. The 3,000-hit club looked like a lock.

Whether it was old age, injuries, something psychological, or whether you believe the rumblings about performance-enhancing drugs playing some role in the decline of his career, something happened when Nomar should have been in his prime. Things started to go downhill, and they never turned back around.

It's sad to say, but it looks like Nomar's running out of time. And it might be best for him now to walk away from the game with his pride intact.