The Inevitable Fallout
Like any bad breakup, there will forever be inconsistencies and terrible rumors surrounding the dissolution of the marriage between Nomar Garciaparra and the Boston Red Sox. Today, Dirt Dogs is reporting the following:
Perfectly Healthy Nomar Tried to Tank Sox Chances at World Series for Selfish Contract Signing with Someone Else. Fraud Ingrate Will Wear #8 and Bat Second for Cubs Today.
Multiple sources have confirmed to Boston Dirt Dogs that former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra went to see Red Sox trainers Jim Rowe and Chris Correnti four days ago and informed them that his tendonitis "was bothering him" and he would not be able to play in the crucial series in Minnesota. Garciaparra then added "I'll probably have to go on the DL in August to be ready for the end of the year."
After a full examination of Garciaparra's heel, the trainers concluded that Nomar was indeed fit to play, telling the disgruntled shortstop that the heel "looks fine to us."
Nomar then sat out Friday's game in Minnesota. On Saturday, when the trade opportunity with the Chicago Cubs heated back up, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino approached Nomar Garciaparra and disclosed that there was a strong possibility that he would be moved to the Cubs by the 4:00pm deadline in the spirit of full disclosure. Lucchino then asked Garciaparra how his Achilles' injury was doing. Nomar replied "It's fine now."
My first reaction at this was heartbreak. How could Nomar be so shortsighted? How could whatever bitterness exists between him and management come between him and the chance to deliver whatever glory he could to himself, his teammates, and Boston? It seems from this as if Nomar never wanted the kind of love we lavished on him. All along, of course, this has been incomprehensible to us, so we've just kept piling on, thinking he'd come around--and it appears it has finally ended in this morass of sour emotion. It may sound over-dramatic--it is over dramatic, but what about baseball is not?--but, what hope can you hold out for life when such a thing stares you in the face?
My second reaction to this, however, was cynicism. First toward Dirt Dogs--maybe they thought by muddying the waters, they could help the grieving Red Sox Nation? Why print this report? Why does it matter? Whether the love was requited, the love on our end was there. Why destroy our concept of Nomar simply because he's left us under contentious circumstances?
I've said all along that Red Sox fans are the children caught in an ugly divorce between Nomar and management. Dirt Dogs reporting this is like one parent telling the kid, "Daddy was a cheater and a liar anyway, and he said he didn't love you, ever," just to turn the kid to one side or another for leverage in the dispute. I don't like having my feelings manipulated that way.
Then the cynicism shifted toward the ownership itself--Dirt Dogs, after all, is just a messenger. Perhaps this report was coming from the top; one of the owners is even cited as a witness in the article. Perhaps putting the final tarnish on Nomar--saying he was faking his injury simply to stick it to Boston's ownership (and, collaterally, the fans)--is something they feel will improve their own image.
But, finally, the cynicism found its own root: cynicism about Nomar. Whether accurate or exaggerated, truth or lie, the Pandora's Box of this possibility has been opened. Nomar's character has been officially questioned. Whether he ever loved us back is officially in doubt. Not only his Boston career, but any chance to remember his years here with un-sullied goodwill have been removed from the equation.
Now we're back to the heartbreak again.
And yet there is still part of me, on D-Day Plus 1, as it were, that clucks its tongue at my own raw feelings, wants to put them to bed with a warm and poisoned glass of milk, let them die peacefully as the silly attachments that they are. This side of me says, "give it a week." That may sound cold, but love for Nomar is not the same as love for the Red Sox. Nomar has been de-canonized among our saints, and that is too bad and terrible. But that does not destroy the temple.
Shockingly, I find that my love for Boston's team is redoubled today. Strengthened. Because I have seen Doug Mentkiewicz grit his teeth and head from one clubhouse to the other at the only stadium he's ever known, and put in a 2-for-4 game in the opposite uniform last night. I've seen the way the hometown crowd got to its feet for him as he did that. I've seen the way human nature, so flawed and petty and sad on the one hand--the Nomar hand--can be so noble and perfect and beautiful on the other.
"If you go to church today," concludes Dirt Dogs, "Thank God for Theo Epstein." And while some of my fellow fans (not long for their fandom, I would wager, but that is another story) may wail and protest this, I have been heartened by the fact that this organization is willing to slay the golden calf for the chance at the Grail. That they have shown us the sun won't burn out in the sky if we "kill our darlings". That at long last, someone was willing to put the Boston Red Sox--and not just one of their players--first.
The morality play, as Edward is wont to call it, continues. Draw what lessons from it you will. I, for one, have had my faith renewed, for better or for worse.
Update, 8/2/04: EXCELLENT article by Gammons (!!) (Tim, he's starting to grow on me!) on the trade of Nomar and moves made by the Dodgers, and what they say about young GMs in baseball today. A few of the key points:
Epstein went out last offseason and got Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. But when he tried to trade Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez for Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, then saw his bosses pull away after weeks of public negotiations, he knew that at some point there would be decisions that would be made that would shut down the switchboard at radio station WEEI in Boston.
An interesting wrinkle...how come everyone's talking about Theo and not the Trio?
...[Cabrera and Mientkiewicz were] two players who weren't with the Cubs, were each batting under .250 with a combined eight home runs and did not bring any of the glitz that Red Sox fans had grown accustomed to loving since Tom Yawkey bought the team in 1932 and turned the Old Towne Teame into a franchise driven by star individuals who never found the right turn to a championship.
Another great insight--perhaps this is simply "non-acceptance of the unfamiliar". Will the compromises we must make as a fan base toward that coveted ring be Faustian bargains?
While Nomar did love New England and was a crowd favorite for the way he played, his bitterness toward the ownership ran deep...As someone who after his wrist surgery seemed increasingly angered by management and media issues, he became overly angry this spring...
Understand, Epstein is not some professor sitting in front of his laptop 21 hours a day. He is a people person whom the players like and relate to; Foulke came to Boston because of what he liked about the general manager. So did Schilling. Epstein listens to players, and had the pulse of the way they felt about this situation.
The toughest thing about the whole situation for me--while my own tendency towards black-and-white thinking demands I choose a "bad guy", Gammons demonstrates rather convincingly that there may be no "bad guy".
In time, Epstein, Henry and Lucchino hope to change the Red Sox's culture, which has traditionally been to cater to stars...In time, the Red Sox hope to have players who talk first about winning, then worry about their contracts...Epstein believed the chemistry and atmpsphere was clearly impacted by Garciaparra's anger, and when he went to the trainers and opened the door out of Fenway Park, the Red Sox GM pulled it wide open and handed him a plane ticket to Chicago.
And what can you really say about all that? As I remarked to the despondent Annette in the wake of the deal over the weekend, do you want Nomar? Or do you want the Ring?
I, for one, decided this for myself a long time ago, and I'm not looking back now.