On the fifth day of the fifth month, why not celebrate the career of a legendary No. 5, Nomar Garciaparra?
As we sit and wait for the return of live sports, we’re left to look back at games and players from the past. NESN, of course, is doing that with the ongoing “Red Sox Encore” broadcasts, revisiting Boston’s 2004 run to its first World Series title in 86 years.
The Red Sox eradicated that drought without Garciaparra. It was a bold trade deadline deal by general manager Theo Epstein to ship out the beloved Garciaparra that solidified the club and addressed some key needs in the process. Garciaparra’s sometimes cantankerous attitude (especially toward the end of his Boston tenure) paired with the fact that he couldn’t sustain the level of play that fueled his early rise to stardom often overshadows just how good Garciaparra was with the Red Sox.
Quite frankly, the former shortstop burst onto the scene and did things rarely if ever done by an infielder his age and likely will rarely happen ever again.
Consider this absurd early-career resume for the No. 12 pick in the 1994 draft.
–Unanimous American League Rookie of the year in 1997
–Led the league in hits (209) in his rookie season
–Two-time AL batting champ, claiming the crown in 1999 and 2000 when he hit .357 and .372, respectively
–Finished second in MVP voting in 1998 (.357/.418/.603 with 35 home runs and 122 RBIs)
–Led the majors with 56 doubles in 2002
–Averaged 5.9 wins above replacement per season from 1997 through 2003
Remove his brief stint to begin his career in 1996 and the 2001 season in which he lost 141 games due to injury, that’s a six-season run of production that had Garciaparra on a legitimate Hall of Fame track.
That run of dominance produced its fair share of memorable highlights.
… like the time he hit three home runs — two of them grand slams — and drove in 10 runs in a game against Seattle in 1999.
… or the time in 2002 when he again hit three home runs in a game — on his birthday.
Going back to his rookie season, this line drive up the middle was his 200th hit of the season, a mark it seemed he would surpass on a near-yearly basis.
On the way to those 200 hits, Garciaparra had a 30-game hitting streak, a milestone he reached in some pretty sweet throwback uniforms.
This walk-off home run in 2003 was pretty cool.
Ultimately, however, a storybook career wasn’t meant to be for Garciaparra. Issues over contracts coincided with injuries, and that ultimately was the beginning of the end for Garciaparra in Boston. He was supposed to be the next Ted Williams. Instead, his departure is seen by many (perhaps unfairly) as the catalyst for the 2004 championship run.
The injuries continued post-Boston, and Garciaparra made just one more All-Star team in his final five seasons. All that being said, Garciaparra still had one helluva career. Despite playing more than 120 games just twice after 2003, Garciaparra finished his career with 1,747 hits, 229 of which were home runs. Despite hitting better than .300 just once after his Boston tenure, Garciaparra still ended his career with a .313 batting average. His .882 career OPS is better than the likes of Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, Josh Hamilton, Bobby Abreu and David Wright.
Despite an acrimonious end to his Red Sox career, the player and organization eventually reconciled. Garciaparra was the returning hero when he came back to Fenway Park with the Oakland Athletics in 2009. Less than a year later, Garciaparra signed a one-day contract with the Red Sox to retire as a member of his first organization.
“I always said I truly wanted that to be the last uniform I ever put on,” Garciaparra said at a press conference announcing his retirement. “Today I get to do that, and that’s why it’s so important to me.”