FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Nomar Garciaparra has won two American League batting titles, both while regularly hitting cleanup for the Red Sox in 1999 and 2000. He tore up the league at a .365 pace over the two years.
"Then Manny [Ramirez] came in and screwed it all up," Garciaparra joked yesterday, the morning after manager Terry Francona announced he will return the All-Star shortstop to the cleanup spot in which he thrived and move Ramirez to third in the order.
But seriously, in the three years since the Sox bumped Garciaparra to the third spot to make room for Ramirez, he has hit .305, a 60-point drop from his glory years of '99 and 2000, the dip almost certainly related in part to a right wrist injury that required season-shortening surgery in 2001.
Even so, why not move Garciaparra back to the cleanup spot?
"He asked me about it," Garciaparra said of Francona. "It was pretty much a short conversation. I just kind of laughed and said, `What do I think? What do you think? Whatever you want, I'll do, you know that.' "
In fact, Garciaparra was remarkably accommodating.
"I even asked him, `Do you want me to change?' " he said of his hitting philosophy. "He was like, `Are you kidding me? I'm just putting you in a different spot.' "
Ramirez, who has spent the last six years predominantly batting cleanup for the Sox and Indians, was less forthcoming about the switch. He has won a batting title (2002) and led the league in RBIs (1999) while averaging .325 with nearly 40 homers and 128 RBIs over the six years.
Asked his reaction to the move, Ramirez said, "Ask Francona." But the response should not necessarily be interpreted as a sign of opposition since Ramirez often refers such questions to the manager.
Francona said Ramirez and Garciaparra each accepted the moves or he would not have made them. The last thing the team needs is a superstar disgruntled about his spot in the order.
"Even things that make sense to a manager, if a player is totally uncomfortable hitting there, then it doesn't necessarily make sense," Francona said. "The whole idea is for them to play as well as they can."
The switch is so rock-solid in Francona's view that he indicated he does not expect to shift David Ortiz into the cleanup role and bat Garciaparra fifth in isolated cases involving certain pitching matchups.
By nearly every measure, the switch makes sense on paper. Both players have fared better in their pending roles, as their career numbers indicate: Garciaparra
Third FourthBatting average .321 .360On-base percentage .365 .416Slugging percentage .550 .612Ramirez
Batting average .350 .325On-base percentage .429 .426Slugging percentage .638 .625"Nomar is going to be a good hitter anywhere, and so is Manny," Francona said. "But the whole idea is, if they hit like they have in the past, which they are going to do, then we'll score the most runs."
With Johnny Damon leading off and Bill Mueller batting second, Ramirez is expected to have ample opportunities to drive in runs. And with Garciaparra batting behind Ramirez, pitchers will be less likely to pitch around Ramirez, the Sox figure. Ramirez received a league-leading 28 intentional walks last season, the most ever for a Sox righthanded hitter.
"Nomar hits a lot of doubles and has the ability to steal bases," Francona said. "That's going to leave first base open an awful lot of time with Manny up. The more we can have people pitch to Manny with runners on base, the better we are. I think Nomar felt some comfort level moving to the cleanup spot. I think it's going to work out better for everybody."
Garciaparra also batted mostly cleanup in 1998, when he hit .323 with 35 homers and 122 RBIs. He generally hit behind Mo Vaughn in '98, and a variety of players in '99 and 2000.
"It doesn't matter," Garciaparra said. "Manny is a potent hitter. I think it helps anyone when they're around him. The way our lineup is and the way we were capable of hitting last year, and what we're capable of doing, you're going to have protection. It's not going to weigh on one person."
Garciaparra said he has no plans to alter his free-swinging style to fit the cleanup role.
"I won't be changing anything," he said. "I haven't done that when I was leading off, when I was batting second, when I was batting third or fourth, whatever."
Garciaparra is expected to be followed in the order by Ortiz, Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and Pokey Reese, though Francona said he would make some occasional adjustments based on pitching matchups. The Sox led the majors last season in nearly every major offensive category, and the lone change in the regular lineup is Reese replacing Todd Walker.
"I like our lineup against anybody," Garciaparra said.