Monday, August 9, 2004
Updated: August 10, 8:18 AM ET
Let's turn the page
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
Next, the "Drudge Report" will trash Nomar Garciaparra. Hmmm. His mother's family is from the Middle East. Red Flag! His mother's brother, Victor, uses the surname Garciaparra. Could Nomar have ties to the flights that left Boston on 9/11?
That's how absurd the whole "NomarGate" thing has gotten. Nomar's relationship with Boston ownership had so soured that he was miserable and needed to get out of town. However he did it, whatever he said to Terry Francona and Boston's medical staff, he isn't the first athlete to realize that a change had to come. And with his ties to the fans and his own charities, he didn't want to say it.
Curt Schilling said it simply when he told the Boston Dirt Dogs, "Which would you rather have -- 30 to 40 games of Nomar or 60 games of Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz? It's a no-brainer."
That would have been enough. Theo Epstein last week declared that Nomar was "one of the greatest players to ever play for this franchise ... and it's time to turn the page."
Then what happened? John Henry popped into the press box after Epstein finished with the media and dragged out the contract negotiations. Two days later, players leaked to the media that Garciaparra had been hurt before spring training. So now, while fans and media in New England are wondering how Nomar could get healthy so quickly in Chicago, the national fans and media look at the Red Sox, recount the bitter departures of Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn, and assume this is just another in the long line of ugly divorces that dot the franchise's history.
There are several elements in this divorce, which comes after Boston ownership bungled the Alex Rodriguez-Magglio Ordonez/Manny Ramirez-Garciaparra deal last December:
1. Garciaparra detested this Red Sox ownership. He was bitter about the contract negotiations, bitter about learning of his part in a potential trade for A-Rod while on his honeymoon. He did not like the seemingly thousands of people on the field before games, the fan-friendly promotions intended to bind players and fans. Some of his complaints were irrational -- against the grounds crew, against official scorers -- but underlying everything was a feeling he blurted out one day this July when the clubhouse was, as usual, an overstuffed elevator: "These owners do everything to make themselves look good, but nothing for players." That isn't necessarily so, but he felt that way.
Nomar always said he loved the buzz and the passion of Boston, but on the other hand he could not deal with the notion that, as Mike Barnicle once wrote, baseball is not a life and death matter, but the Red Sox are. After seeing what's happened to some of his firm's clients, one very wise agent said that if he ran his own company and one of his players from Southern California wanted to sign east of the Mississippi or north of the Mason-Dixon Line, that the player would have to hire another agent.
2. To partly understand his stance on his contract -- before one says, "if he so loved Boston, why did he turn down $60M for four years?" -- remember that he played under value with the creative contract Dan Duquette signed him to, while A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Ramirez and others went to salary levels that he will never see because of market correction.
3. Did he get hurt before spring training? No one has proven it, but there seems to be mounting evidence that he did. But this wasn't doing wheelies with a motorcycle, or skiing, or skydiving. Red Sox officials believe he got hurt working out, but even if it were playing soccer with his wife, what sport is better to prepare for baseball -- between its cardiovascular workout and the footwork and balance essential to fielding, throwing and hitting? Blurring the truth is another matter, but it is part of his complex rage against the machine.
4. Was he angry that he was privately accused of lollygagging in his rehab? Absolutely, and it drove him further down the road to Chicago. He knew he couldn't move the way he wanted. And when he came back from his wrist operation, he came back too soon. He joined a team that was playing well and then started losing, and he blamed himself for part of the fall. He did not want to play until he felt he could help, not hinder, a team that was winning.
5. Once Mo Vaughn left, Nomar was the No. 1 everyday show in town, a spotlight that he did not want. He enjoyed the roar of the crowd and some of the notoriety, but he could not deal with what he perceived to be the media and club responsibilities that went with it. He's not Jeter. He's not Mia Hamm, who accepted the responsibility for an entire sport. He's Nomar Garciaparra. He's got Sammy Sosa and Dusty Baker now.
6. The fact that Baker immediately put Nomar in the two-hole was brilliant, and that's probably where he needed to hit when he returned to the Red Sox, rather than being in an RBI spot. Batting second allows him to concentrate on hitting the ball and going the other way, not driving in runs. Offensively and defensively, his game is on the run.
7. The fact that Mia was training for the Olympics and away for most of the season may have intensified the hardening of his feelings toward the Red Sox. He missed her and her strength.
8. Will he sign with the Cubs? Probably. He can take a contract with them that he could not have reconciled himself to taking with the Red Sox.
9. Was he forever popular with season-ticket holders at Fenway Park? Absolutely. For the $70-$75 per seat, when Nomar did play, he played his heart out. Most Boston fans now see that there are two sides to this, and that the scorn was a two-way street of which he played a major part. But they also know that for years they watched the best shortstop in the history of the franchise, one who has a unique style, one who always played as hard as he could.
10. Was this the best thing? For Nomar, it's a jump-start for his career, without the baggage he carried around like a 100-pound weight, with a manager who appreciates individuality and makes everyone feel special. For the Cubs, it's a star in the two-hole of a batting order that needed its own jump-start. For the Red Sox, they believe that he wouldn't have played much in August, are free from two months of facing the daily "Nomar is leaving" story, have two players whose careers can be reinvented in Fenway Park and can find out for once and for all whether or not they are really built for the postseason or a dysfunctional crash.
There were a lot of us who picked the Cubs to win the World Series back in March. And while the Cardinals are clearly the best team in the National League and the Braves are doing what the Braves have done every year, if Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are in form in October, the Cubs have a lot better chance of making it to the World Series with Nomar Garciaparra than without him.
For the Red Sox, it was better to make this trade. For the Cubs, it was the best thing that could have happened.