Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Toe Tapper Comes Home - Nomar's Legacy

I still can't forgive him.  It has been five and a half long seasons since the surly star of the Boston Red Sox played (or failed to play, your choice) his way out of Boston, getting traded to the Chicago Cubs for essentially Orlando Cabrera at the 2004 trade deadline, and I still can't forgive him, despite his legacy of success with Red Sox fans.  Two World Series Championships have failed to diminish my dislike for this man - a man whose entire career up until that point was marked by hustle, hard work and playing through pain.  That dislike, which had been festering since the questionable timing of his surgery on his wrist back in 2001, was punctuated by a pathetic display on the night of July 1, 2004.  There, he asked out of the lineup, only to ask back in after Derek Jeter dove into the stands to catch a foul ball in extra innings of a game that was important to both teams.  The picture of him sitting in the dugout, lifeless, still runs through my mind when I see a profile of him.  I still can't forgive him.

Let's get back to his legacy.  As a sports fan, it is unreasonable to expect professional athletes to care as much as you do about the team you root for.  Nomar was from LA for Christ's sake!  He couldn't care less about the Red Sox.  And the fans, well yeah, it seemed like he cared when it suited his needs or when there was a camera nearby (ask random fans that had personal contact with Garciaparra, and their opinion would be as unanimous as the Country's opinion of George W. Bush in the Fall of 2008).  But as a professional athlete, forgetting the egos involved, you must do your job - that is the essence of being a professional, isn't it? 

I don't fault Nomar for hating the media circus in Boston, or recoiling at the crush of a rabid fan base, those are merely personality quirks.  At least he was consistent with them and us.  However, from his initial call up in 1996 to the first couple of months of 2004, he was an example of the success that comes from hard work, determination and hustle.  Those are all qualities that as a teachable moment I would point out to my children as qualities that you can strive to imitate.   I had some questions about him, though.  He didn't seem to be that genuine when he was approached.  He appeared to be very concerned about his image and questioned everyone and everything that was not compartmentalized into an "I love Nomah" box.  It happens once or twice and I chalk that up as having some bad days.  If it happens all of the time?  Well there is something else going on there.   Gathering up this information, questions began to surface at the time about whether he was unprofessional in dealing with his injuries and the expectations of a suffering fan base.

Despite the statistics, and Rob Neyer can tell you all you need to know about Nomar's statistics, there also lurked a man who seemed to be out for himself in an almost pathological way.  He would call the scorer's box if a questionable error or hit call went against him.  Everything finally culminated in a nasty divorce of sorts on July 31, 2004.  I remember where I was when I found out about the trade.  And it was ironic that the indelible memory of Nomar is that game in New York in July 2004 - when he was at his most unprofessional.  Maybe he forgot what it meant to be a professional.

Fast forward to earlier this morning.  Nomar, sitting in front of the Red Sox press conference wall, signed a one day deal  with the Red Sox in order that he may retire as a Red Sox.  It wasn't like Yaz, Jim Rice or even Tim Wakefield was retiring as  a Red Sox, it was Nomar who left after the seven year itch hit him.  It was then released that he was joining ESPN as an analyst, and something began to strike me as peculiar.  I caught his interview with one of the local radio stations.  He sounded like he usually did - even during this happy occasion - guarded, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Remember, he hated all the guys interviewing him.  Too bad his nemesis Steve Buckley was too busy to join Dale and Holley.  I would have actually turned the dial back to AM to hear that interview.   But memories of better times, his hustle and his SI cover dominated conversations; and he still seemed uncomfortable.  Wasn't this circus his idea?  Incidentally, all I have read today is whether Nomar's legacy in Boston is positive or negative. 

But would this be a story if he retired as an Athletic or a Dodger?  Would we, as Sox fans, care if he simply retired?  Interestingly enough, my impression is that this would be a non-story if this unfolded in any other way.  And I couldn't help but think that this was all a publicity stunt.  He was joining a major sports network with a huge marketing staff and budget.  Burying the hatchet was the best way to start his new job with a clean slate - but more importantly, gave some life to a story that noone would have otherwise cared about.  Somewhere Mark McGwire is nodding in agreement with me.  Address all of the issues, put the past behind you once and for all, and move on, while still getting some publicity for yourself and your new employer.  Public relations 101.  I'm just surprised he laughed off the PED discussion.  He could have taken the Andy Pettitte route considering all of his injuries and put that one behind him too.  I guess I was wrong.  Despite his despicable attitude at the end of his first stint here, he still remembers how to play us and the media like a professional.  Good for him, I suppose.  And I wish him luck at ESPN.

But, I still can't forgive him.  And neither should you.

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