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Dan Shaughnessy

In historically bad taste here

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 11, 2010

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Great player.

Total fraud.

Welcome home, Nomie.

I hate to be the fly in the punch bowl here, but yesterday’s lovefest involving Nomar Garciaparra and the Red Sox was truly nauseating. If Nomar had been hooked up to a polygraph, the machine would have exploded.

Truly unbelievable. There was Nomar, seated between Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein, telling us how much he always loved the Red Sox, how much he loved the Nation.

Gag me. This was like watching Paul McCartney holding hands with Yoko Ono, telling us how much he always loved John Lennon’s wife — in a pathetic effort to sell some product, of course.

Do not be fooled. Life is long and people change. There is certainly every possibility that Nomar has matured and will henceforth pledge allegiance to Boston and spread the Gospel of the Red Sox. But it’s downright fraudulent to deny or ignore how bad this relationship was at the end. Nomar hated Boston and the Red Sox in 2004, and the Sox knew they had to get rid of him if they had a chance to win a World Series. It was nasty and personal and it was obvious to everyone who was around the team in that iconic season.

No. 5 was Positively 4th Street in 2004. It was a drag just to see him in the clubhouse. That’s why he had to go. And that’s why the Sox eventually won.

The Sox had attempted to trade him prior to the season after he turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer. He arrived in Fort Myers with a burr in his saddle and was miserable from day one.

He developed Achilles’ tendinitis, allegedly after a ball hit him in the batting cage (nobody witnessed this). Then came the nationally televised midsummer game at Yankee Stadium, when Nomar refused to play while Derek Jeter saved the game with a face-first plunge into the stands behind third base.

It went downhill from there. On the last home weekend before the trading deadline, there was a meeting involving Nomar, agent Arn Tellem, Epstein, and the Sox owners.

“We needed to talk about how unhappy Nomar was,’’ Lucchino recalled in December of ’04. “Was there anything that could be done to change his mental state of mind, his approach to the organization, the city, and the game? We basically concluded that there was no way we were going to have a happy Nomar Garciaparra for the last couple of months of the season.’’

So Epstein made the deal, sending Garciaparra to the Cubs a week later. And then the Red Sox turned things around and won the World Series.

Before the autumn of ’04, Sox fans certainly had every reason to love Garciaparra. A case can be made that he was Boston’s best home-grown player since Carl Yastrzemski. He played eight seasons with the Sox. He finished second in MVP voting in 1998. He hit .357 and .372 in back-to-back seasons, which made him one of the American League’s best righthanded hitters since Joe DiMaggio. He was Hall of Fame-bound and a legitimate Fenway god.

Off the field, he did charity work, kept his mouth shut, and interacted well with fans. He was one of the three great shortstops of his era, alongside Alex Rodriguez and Jeter.

Then he split a tendon in his wrist in 2001 and the ball didn’t jump off his bat anymore. He got too muscular and there were more injuries. Looking back at those days and the hideous, shirtless Sports Illustrated cover, it’s natural to wonder whether he succumbed to the temptation of steroids.

In good times and bad, Garciaparra was unnecessarily difficult in all interactions with the media. It made no sense, given the fawning coverage he received (and deserved) for the first seven years of his career. Fans needn’t care which players give good sound bites, but no one was more unhappy than Nomar, and it infected the workplace.

It’s forgiving of the Sox to bring him back, but there’s no need to reinvent history in the process. Sox fans are too smart. It’s insulting for Epstein, Lucchino, and Garciaparra to insist that this relationship has always been good.

In yesterday’s sorry spirit of disingenuousness and hypocrisy, Garciaparra announced that he has taken a job with ESPN. This makes him a member of the media, which is like Sarah Palin telling us she is going to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Garciaparra is the one who had a red stripe put down in front of lockers in the Sox clubhouse. Woe was the scribe who crossed Nomar’s line of death. Now he is a credential-wearing media guy, groveling for free food, Marriott points, and a few seconds with 20-year-old Casey Kelly.

One cannot help but be reminded of the Frank Graham Jr. line regarding Yankees outfielder Bob Meusel, a cranky player who mellowed at the finish:

“He’s learning to say hello when it’s time to say goodbye.’’

Welcome home, Nomie.

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