Nomar calls it a career in Red Sox style
Six-time All-Star, two-time batting champ retires with Boston
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The white Red Sox jersey with the No. 5 was finally draped over Nomar Garciaparra again, just as in the recurring visions he had over the past several years. If it had been a fairy tale, he would have stepped back in the batter's box, tapped his toes back and forth, tugged at his batting gloves and then drilled one last home run in a Boston uniform for good measure.
But the reality of the situation is that Garciaparra -- a two-time batting champion and six-time All-Star -- announced his retirement on Wednesday at a news conference held by his original team. He then basked in the glow of the day by throwing out a ceremonial first pitch to Jason Varitek, his teammate at both Georgia Tech and with the Red Sox. In an eventful day for Garciaparra, he also officially switched careers, being named by ESPN as a baseball analyst.
"The dream to play baseball in the big leagues started here," Garciaparra said at a news conference held at City of Palms Park before the Red Sox played the Rays. "I really wanted to have that be the last uniform I ever put on.
"What this organization has always meant to me and meant to my family, the fans ... I always tell people Red Sox Nation is bigger than any nation out there, and to be able to say I came back home and to be back to Red Sox Nation is truly a thrill. It's good to be back."
The man known for years simply as Nomar to Red Sox Nation -- or Nomahhhh to those with the accent -- came back home, 5 1/2 years after the abrupt Trade Deadline deal that sent him to the Chicago Cubs.
The morning started with Garciaparra signing a one-day Minor League contract with the Sox so he could retire with the "B" back on the bill of his cap.
Though Garciaparra initiated the idea of returning in a Boston uniform, the Red Sox, from ownership on down, were in full support.
"On behalf of John Henry, Tom Werner, our entire organization and, dare I say, our entire fan base, we welcome you home," Red Sox president and chief executive officer Larry Lucchino said, addressing Garciaparra. "It gives us enormous pride to recognize the respect you have for the organization, the connection you feel to the organization, the connection you feel to our fans and to Fenway Park. I'm here to tell you that the feelings are mutual.
"When the history of the Boston Red Sox is written again, there will be a very large and important chapter devoted to Nomar Garciaparra, and welcome home. We are really pleased to have you back."
General manager Theo Epstein, who made the bold decision to trade Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz and was rewarded with a World Series championship three months later, was pleased to take part in Garciaparra's ceremonious return to the Sox.
"He's a huge part of this franchise. He's a Red Sox," said Epstein. "For a long time, the Red Sox were Nomar Garciaparra. He really carried us to a point long before any of us were here, a point of competitiveness and being one of the teams that had a chance to win the World Series every year. You don't ultimately win World Series without getting to that point first."
The Red Sox selected Garciaparra -- a star shortstop until moving to the corner-infield spots later in his career -- in the first round of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft.
In 2009, Garciaparra was a bench player for the Oakland Athletics. He also played for the Cubs and Dodgers, having a rebound season with the latter in 2006 to make the All-Star team for the last time.
Aside from 2006, Garciaparra's level of play in his post-Boston days was diminished by injuries.
Before all that happened, however, was the evolution of a player who had iconic status during his time with the Sox.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of the big debates around baseball centered around which shortstop was the best out of the so-called holy trinity of Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. The latter two avoided the major injuries and subsequent declining performance that plagued Garciaparra.
|"For me to really finish and ultimately retire, it wouldn't have felt like a retirement if I couldn't have put this uniform on one more time."|
|-- Nomar Garciaparra|
"It was a very good debate," said knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, one of four players who remains from Garciaparra's time in Boston. "I'd put Nomar up there, definitely. From all aspects of the game, he was great offensively, great defensively and most importantly, to me, he was a good teammate."
Garciaparra, 36, likely would have continued to play if only his body would have allowed for it.
"Everyone has to come to the point where they have to decide when they're going to retire," Garciaparra said. "For me, what really hit was working out this offseason. The physical condition that I found out more and more of what I have [the last couple of years], the genetic condition I have that has limited me over the years -- I just couldn't work out the way I liked to work out.
"That really was [why I made] my ultimate decision. I had a teammate and friend once say, he knew the date -- the last date that he played. He said, 'I knew my tank was empty.' When I heard him say that quote, I thought it was one of the greatest quotes I've ever heard. I said, 'Gosh, I wish some day I could say that.'
"I knew there was a time in this offseason when I was getting ready and I remember coming home and looking at my wife and going, 'My tank is empty.' It truly is. That, for me, is an absolute thrill to be able to say that, that I really just gave everything I could to this game, and as much as I could. That was really the ultimate decision."
A full Garciaparra support system was in place at the news conference, including his wife (retired soccer star Mia Hamm), two daughters, father and several other family members and friends.
"I think the best part of me retiring is that they ask a reason -- you have to write a reason to retire on the contract," Garciaparra said. "My reason was, 'Because my daughters want daddy home.' That's a big thrill for me -- to have them here. They didn't want to miss this for the world. This is definitely a great day for me that I really, truly can't put into words."
Garciaparra's rise from top prospect to impact player was meteoric. He was named the AL's Rookie of the Year in 1997. He tasted the postseason for the first time in his career a year later, helping the Wild Card Red Sox get to that stage by hitting .323 with 35 homers and 122 RBIs and finishing second in the MVP race.
Garciaparra won his first batting title in 1999, hitting .357 and again leading Boston to the postseason. This time, the Sox came back from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series to beat Cleveland in five games before losing to the Yankees in a five-game AL Championship Series.
Though the Red Sox didn't make it to October in 2000, Garciaparra produced perhaps his finest season, hitting .372 with 21 homers and 96 RBIs to win his final batting title.
"I don't want to speak for the man -- I don't like doing that, but I know his heart has been here since he left," said Varitek. "I think that it was never easy for him not to be here. He's such an instrumental part of this organization and the things this organization has achieved. He's a Red Sox, always has been."
In 2003, Garciaparra came agonizingly close to getting to the World Series for the first time, but the Red Sox squandered a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium and lost on Aaron Boone's walk-off homer in the 11th inning.
The Red Sox nearly acquired A-Rod the following winter, which would have led to a subsequent trade of Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez. But when the Red Sox and the Players Association couldn't agree to the restructuring of A-Rod's contract, the deal fell apart and Garciaparra stayed put.
That led to some uncomfortable feelings in Garciaparra's final weeks and months with the Red Sox and a right Achilles' tendon injury only added to the tension. Epstein took a long look at his team leading into the Trade Deadline that year and made the decision that the Red Sox couldn't win the World Series unless they addressed their fatal flaw -- defense.
Hence, the addition of Gold Glovers Cabrera and Mientkiewicz and the swapping out of Garciaparra, whose range had become limited due to the injury. The controversial trade by Epstein was vindicated when the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series in 86 years that October.
"Nomar's never held a grudge about that," said Epstein. "I've never looked at it as something that I wanted to do. I feel very personally fortunate that we've been able to maintain a relationship, and this day means a lot to me to see Nomar retire as a Red Sox -- and it wouldn't have been appropriate in any other uniform."
Speaking of the respect Garciaparra had from his teammates at that time, he was awarded a full World Series share. He was presented with a championship ring by Varitek and several other former teammates during a private ceremony in Chicago during the 2005 season.
"When I was there [in Boston], I always realized that there was something bigger than us as players," Garciaparra said. "It's winning the World Series for these people. These people that have bled, cried and cheered over the years. Winning a World Series in Boston is more than an individual player winning a World Series. It was winning the World Series for these people, for Red Sox Nation.
"As you know, in Boston it didn't happen overnight. It took a long time. And it was building up. The year before, we were in the last game [of the ALCS]. So you knew it was there. And I knew I was a part of that. Building a team like that doesn't happen overnight."
The right-handed-hitting Garciaparra finished with a career average of .313 with 229 homers and 936 RBIs over 14 seasons. For the Red Sox, he hit .323 with 178 homers, 690 RBIs, a .370 on-base percentage and a .553 slugging percentage.
"For me to really finish and ultimately retire, it wouldn't have felt like a retirement if I couldn't have put this uniform on one more time," said Garciaparra.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.