All right, so two Hall of Famers, Don Drysdale (HoF 1984) and Pee Wee Reese (also, HoF 1984) celebrate birthdays today. There’s plenty of literature on them including Drysdale’s sudden death and scoreless streak.
But my favorite baseball player also has a birthday today, so I’m choosing to write about Nomar Garciaparra instead.
I grew up idolizing Garciaparra. I wore No. 5 because of him and even modeled his unique, hyper-OCD routine between pitches. The mid 1990s placed the future of baseball in the shortstop position. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada accompanied Garciaparra in the six hole. That group combined for two Rookie of the Year awards and four total MVPs.
He only hit for great power numbers two or three times, but astonished fans with his average. Twice he took American League batting titles, the first righty to do so since DiMaggio. In 2000, he gave a .400 batting average a good run for its money – throwing his hitting in the same conversation as Ted Williams.
The Georgia Tech product battled injuries in the early 2000s. His Achilles and wrists regularly interrupted respectable seasons at the plate. But he easily made Red Sox fans fall in love with his play when he returned.
In 2001 Nomar returned from a wrist injury and went 2-4 with a home run to the deepest part of Fenway Park. The guy hadn’t even gone to Spring Training and the first game back he jacks a liner over the 420 triangle in center field. I remember watching this on like a 16-inch television in Montogmery, AL at my neighbors’ lake house.
On another occasion, my dad let me stay up till about 1 am (East coast time, because the Sox were in Seattle) and the game ended with Nomar’s perfect relay throw to get the winning run at the plate.
To tie into the birthday theme, he went deep three times on his 29th birthday.
For as much of a Boston icon that “Nomahhh” became, his exaggerated injuries grew old.
Nomar’s time in Boston ended on rocky terms. Nomar made no secret throughout his career that he hoped to return to California one day to play ball. So he basically tanked – or at least made injuries linger to get traded. This Dave D’Onofrio article best summarizes the final days and foreshadowing of Nomar’s career.
Then there are articles like this one questioning the legitimacy of Garciaparra’s clean play. His power numbers spiked around 2000, but he entered his prime then. His injuries and miraculous turnaround both raised eyebrows (granted that’s a Yankees blog).
He may have even admitted to using PEDs during his career. Not helping pictures like this and possibly more explanations about his health.
Nomar got his chance to play in California, he actually ended his career out there with Oakland. The end of his career, between LA, Chicago and Oakland, embodies a fizzle out.
Everyone now just awaits the athlete that he and Mia Hamm will pop out. Happy birthday, Nomar.