Two more homers yesterday. Nomar Garciaparra heads to the All-Star Game batting .389.
In Boston, there never has been a ballplayer like him. Red Sox manager Jimy Williams said it best two years ago when he observed, "It’s like he’s been here before."
True. Sometimes it seems as if Garciaparra is the reincarnation of Tris Speaker or Rogers Hornsby - an old hardball soul in a young man’s perfect baseball body. Notice the Nomar hairstyle - it’s young Ted Williams, 1939. Remember the 1908 uniforms the Sox wore three years ago? The old threads made Mo Vaughn look like Notorious B.I.G. Garciaparra looked perfect, the old-timey player in the old-timey uniform.
Within the reasonable margins of baseball performance, he has been nothing less than perfect in 3 1/2 seasons here. Fred Lynn was able to do that for a while, and Carl Yastrzemski had a perfect season in 1967, but the Red Sox never have had a player like this. Unlike Ted Williams, there’ve been no feuds with the fans or the media. There’s been no controversy. And he plays shortstop to boot.
Take your Jeters, A-Rods, and Vizquels. You can have Griffey, Bonds, Bagwell, Chipper, and Walker. Mike McGwire, Sammy Soo-ser. Take them, too.
It doesn’t matter what Yankees manager Joe Torre decides when he names a replacement starter for fan-favorite shortstop Alex Rodriguez (concussion) for tomorrow’s star-fest in Atlanta. Give me one pick in the worldwide pool of talent and I’ll start my 2000 All-Star team with Garciaparra - the perfect baseball player.
Less than four years into his Boston career, he’s already a candidate for the Hub sports pantheon that includes only Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, and Ted Williams. Sure, he needs to do it longer (a couple of championships wouldn't hurt, though Teddy Ballgame never got a ring), but when is Nomie going to furnish the slightest hint that he is anything but the perfect player?
It’s been more than 500 games now and we haven’t seen a flaw yet. He’s had some fielding slumps, and he throws on the run more than some would like, but that only speaks highly of his fearlessness. At times maybe he could be a little more patient at the plate. But the worst thing anyone’s said about Garciaparra thus far is that he works out too much and might have trouble staying off the disabled list.
Wow. There's a rip. This guy could be a true immortal if only he’d stop that Navy Seal routine that produces Spiderman in Spikes with 5 percent body fat.
Leading the struggling Red Sox to a much-needed 7-2 victory over the Braves yesterday, he hit two homers in a game for the second time in five days and the 14th time in his career.
"He’s a true superstar," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "I focus on him up there. I don’t even look at our pitcher when he’s up there at the plate."
This man who hates statistics has eye-popping numbers. He was Rookie of the Year. He won a batting title (.357) in his third season. A .322 career hitter, he's averaged 30 homers, 41 doubles, and 108 RBIs in his first three seasons and enters the break with 12 homers, 28 doubles, and 55 RBIs despite missing 16 games. In 13 postseason games, he's hitting .383 with seven homers and 20 RBIs. Defensively, he's going to make more errors than some of his contemporaries, but some of that is because he takes more chances.
By now every child in Red Sox Nation knows that Nomar is not about numbers.
His teammates like him because he is about winning. Most ballplayers won’t admit it, but they’d rather go 4 for 4 in a loss than 0 for 4 in a win. It’s impossible to get inside anyone’s head, but everything we've seen and heard from Garciaparra indicates that he is the rare exception. His words and actions indicate he’d take the 0 for 4 in a win anytime. He hit a harmless fly ball for the final out of Friday's 5-3 loss to the Braves, yet he ran the ball out as if he were bound for an inside-the-park homer.
"He’s like that, he really is," said manager Williams. "He plays the game hard, he practices right, he’s always on time. Everything. He plays with respect for his teammates and the team concept."
Fans love him because he loves them back. Garciaparra's maniacal ritual includes autograph time every day - after batting practice, before stretching - down by the first base tarp. When the Sox were beaten in the playoffs by Cleveland in '98 and New York in '99, Nomar was last to leave the field. Like Springsteen devoting time to fans behind the stage, Garciaparra stayed around to thank the faithful masses who’d supported the team all season.
He says the right things about team, fans, and family. He talks up his parents, his sisters, and his brother. He appreciates the advantages he had and encourages young people to make the most of their abilities. He’s never going to be a media darling, but that only makes him a bigger favorite with the front office, teammates, and fans. He’s like a Miss America contestant who wants to save the whales and end world hunger.
It doesn’t matter if he starts in Atlanta tomorrow night. Along with Pedro Martinez, Carl Everett, and Derek Lowe, the Red Sox are sending the perfect baseball player to the All-Star Game.
This story ran on page D6 of the Boston Globe on 7/10/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.