Garciaparra’s Place in History is Secure and Obscure
Nomar Garciaparra officially announced his retirement from the National Pastime today, ending a 14 year career littered with some of the highest-statistical-highs and the lowest of statistical-lows. His career can distinctively be broken down into two complete halves; the first half being a whiz-bang-kick-your-ass-offensive-assault on the game few have ever seen from a shortstop and the second a bumpy, uneven journey down the lonely road of limitations due to injury after injury.
Coming up with the Red Sox at the age of 22, the former College World Series hero would stake his claim as not only the best shortstop in the game, but arguably its best overall player for the better part of his first 7 seasons. During that time he won two AL Batting titles, had two seasons with an OPS over 1.000 and a single season of Slugging over .600, had 1231 hits (including 6 seasons over 190 hits), 174 dingers, was a 5-time All Star and finished in the top ten of AL MVP voting 5 times including a 2nd place finish in his second full season in 1998.
Then came the first of a string of injuries that would take him from the top of the game to an afterthought with an interesting name.
From 2004 to 2009 Garciaparra played over 100 games twice. His power was virtually gone, although he did hit 20 in 2006 while playing for the Dodgers, the one year in the second half of his career that even remotely compared to what he accomplished in the first.
To show you how damn good those first 7 to 8 seasons where, when you throw in the meager and statistically reduced 6 or 7 seasons at the end of his career (seasons that drag down his overall numbers) his career 162 game averages still look like this:
- .313 Avg.
- .361 OBP
- .521 Slugging
- .882 OPS
- 26 Homers
- 106 RBI
- 105 Runs Scored
- 197 Hits
- 42 Doubles
- 11 Stolen Bases
- 63 Strikeouts
Inevitably someone (probably me) is going to ask whether or not Mr. Mia Hamm has a place in Cooperstown (yep, see, it was me).
In the large scheme of things I don’t think Garciaparra will get the discussion and debate some players do when that question is put to baseball fans and experts alike. While I have gone on the record numerous times in my belief that the Hall of Fame is overly exclusive, I understand the belief that if you let to many players in one day a truly undeserving, mediocre player will get in. I understand that belief, but I disagree with it mainly because the HOF already has several mediocre, undeserving players in it.
The highest career OPS at shortstop is Alex Rodriguez (.965). Number two, you ask? Nomar Garciaparra at .882. Honus Wagner had a career .858. Cal Ripken’s OPS is rather pedestrian at .788. The only shortstops with more homers than Garciaparra are ARod, Ripken, Ernie Banks and Robin Yount. I could go on and on with these types of examples…
But I digress. I’m not going to get on a rant about who or whom does or does not belong in the Hall of Fame. Instead, I will bring up a more than solid point that I think a lot of people miss when it comes to a variety of Hall of Fame discussions.
Regardless of debate and regardless of how long he stays on the ballot or if he falls of rather soon, Nomar Garciaparra HAD talent more than worthy of a place in Cooperstown. I cannot stress this point enough, he most likely will never make the Hall of Fame, but he HAD HOF talent. Most ballplayers are talented, but very few can stake claim to Hall of Fame level talent whether they ever make the Hall of Fame or not.
Bill Mazeroski was an other-worldly defensive player. He was also, at best, a mediocre offensive player. He’s a career .260 hitter who never hit any higher than .283 and hit under .250 or less 6 times. The all time career historical average for the Majors is .262. His career OBP is less than .300 (yep, you are reading that correctly). His career Slugging is .367 giving him a career OPS of .667. He never scored any higher than 71 runs in any single season. He has more games played than hits. He hit one monumental, always-to-be-talked-about home run in 1960 to win the World Series. He’s in the Hall of Fame, but he clearly does not have Hall of Fame talent.
No matter how you shake it, Maz was a below average hitter, and yet he has a plaque people pay admission to see. For those who would say his great defense is why he is in the Hall of Fame please stand-up and make an argument for the Cooperstown inclusion of Dave Concepcion, Bert Campaneris, Tony Fernandez, Frank White, Bobby Richardson, Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Barry Larkin among others. All were tremendous defensive players and at the very least Mazeroski’s less-than-average offensive equal, and in the case of Fernandez, Grich, Trammell, and Whitaker, are far and away better offensive players than Mazeroski.
Again, I digress.
Dwight Gooden; Hall of Fame talent. Darryl Strawberry; Hall of Fame talent. Bobby Bonds; Hall of Fame talent. Don Mattingly; Hall of Fame talent. None of these men are, or most likely ever will be, in the Hall of Fame. But they were just as great as those in Cooperstown, if for just a shorter amount of time.
This is where Garciaparra falls; a Hall of Fame talent who will not be in the Hall of Fame. Another truly exceptional player whose career was derailed by misfortune and outside forces. In the end, it is our loss that we did not get to see how truly phenomenal his numbers might have been.
While announcing his retirement from the game Garciaparra also announced he would be joining ESPN as an analyst and color-commentator for select Wednesday Night Baseball broadcasts, so in leaving the game, he rejoins the game. From this point on he will be just another face discussing our pastime to the masses.
His talent was so much more.