Nomar Garciaparra Brings Reminder That Defense Can Win Championships

Nomar Garciaparra Brings Reminder That Defense Can Win Championships Perhaps it's fitting that Nomar Garciaparra returns to Fenway Park on Wednesday night for a ceremony in his honor. His arrival brings with it a heavy dose of irony that can provide us all with a few lessons as we watch the 2010 edition of the Red Sox.

While Garciaparra was beloved by many for the great years he had in Boston, it was his departure in a midseason trade in 2004 that may have turned the franchise from perpetual also-rans into world champions. By shipping him to the Chicago Cubs at the deadline, the Red Sox solidified their defense and rolled to the first World Series title in 86 years.

Yet, while the trade of Garciaparra for defensive improvements signaled success, the man who made the move, general manager Theo Epstein, has been criticized for taking the same approach to the 2010 season, the one which sees Nomar return to the fold.

It's enough to make you dizzy.

If Epstein deserves credit for pulling the trigger and fixing the '04 squad with a defensive upgrade, does he deserve criticism for a slow start by Gold Glove-caliber imports in '10? And if he has shown the gall to go after a big-name player at the deadline before, shouldn't we trust in his ability to make the big move again?

We should, in large part because Epstein himself has already hinted at potential fixes.

"We talked about this last week. We're still playing bad baseball," Epstein said after the series sweep in Baltimore this weekend. "Unintelligent, undisciplined, uninspired baseball. It's got to change. It either changes itself, or we have to do something to change it."

As Garciaparra's return reminds us, change can be a good thing, and it can still result in cheers, adoration and your very own tribute at "America's Most Beloved Ballpark."

When No. 5 was shipped away on July 31, 2004, there were some who were ready to say goodbye, perhaps tired of the nagging injuries for their once-favorite shortstop. But the consensus was that the city had just lost one of its own, a true sports legend whose first name one day would belong with Larry and Bobby and Ted.

Consider some of the words of his teammates at the time. Johnny Damon said that the club "just traded away Mr. Boston." Pedro Martinez figured it would have a profound effect on the fans.

"I'm so used to seeing 'Nomah!' and hearing the people go, 'Nomah!' and No. 5 all over everybody's back," Martinez said on that day. "For some reason, I just framed him as a Bostonian, as part of the team. I think a lot of people are going to be sad in Boston."

Yet, there was no shortage of souls intent on kicking Garciaparra in the you-know-what in the days, weeks and months after he became a Cub. And they were everywhere when Epstein's bold move proved to be the catalyst for a title run.

Those Garciaparra critics would praise Epstein in the same breath for ridding the club of a "fatal flaw" at shortstop. However, many will stand and applaud Nomar on Wednesday (water under the bridge, eh Nomie?) and then turn to their buddy to question Epstein's run-prevention efforts from the past winter, which have not immediately translated into success.

Such hypocrisy has created a fan base a bit unsure of what it wants.

Perhaps, then, the best move is to simply remember Garciaparra for all the good he provided, both in the organization and then eventually on the trade market. Sox manager Terry Francona chose to do the former.

Francona managed Garciaparra for just a few months before the trade, but had him with the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League in 1994.

"Nomar played here so long but I probably knew him before you did," Francona said Tuesday. "I got to see him in the organization as a kid. He asked the best questions ever. Smart. He wasn't pulling the ball yet but you could see him hit the ball to right-center and you could see how good he had a chance to be."

Francona recalled a visit to Scottsdale by then-Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy and coach Tim Johnson, who had made the trip to check up on their prized prospect.

The pair asked Francona if Garciaparra could be made into a second baseman, to which the Scorpions skipper replied, "Who's playing short? Move him!"

"[Garciaparra] was just too good-looking of a player," Francona explained.

Francona was right. So, too, was Epstein when he traded away Garciaparra in a bold strategy that was praised in 2004, but has been forgotten six years later. Just remember that when you see No. 5 back on the field at Fenway.

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