Nomar Garciaparra, who for the better part of nine years was the face of the franchise before his shocking trade in 2004, has come home to the Red Sox.
At his request, the Red Sox today signed the 36-year-old to a minor-league contract at which point he announced his retirement from baseball during a press conference held at City of Palms Park. He was accompanied by his wife, Mia Hamm, and their twin daughters along with his father, Ramon.
"I was getting choked up then, I'm choked up now, and I've got the chills," Garciaparra said.
"But to be able to have that dream come true, I just can't put it into words what this organization has always meant to me," an emotional Garciaparra said. "It's my family, the fans -- I always tell people Red Sox Nation is bigger than any nation out there. I came back home, and to be part of Red Sox Nation is truly a thrill."
Garciaparra also announced that he had taken a position with ESPN to appear on Baseball Tonight and as a game analyst. But first he wanted to fulfill what he called "a dream" by retiring as a member of the team he came up with and starred for.
"I think last time I was in Boston when the Oakland A's came to town [last season] . . . I was talking about always having a recurring dream to be able to retire in a Red Sox uniform," Garciaparra said. "I want to thank John Henry, Mr. Werner, Mr. Lucchino, and Theo, and the Red Sox organization, because today I get to retire and fulfill that dream and retire as a Red Sox.
Garciaparra played for the Sox from 1996 until he was traded midway through the 2004 season. He hit .323 for the Red Sox for his career with 178 home runs, 690 RBI and a .370 on-base percentage. He was a two-time batting champion and finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting five times.
Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez were once the subject of intense debate about who was the better shortstop. Garciaparra was a five-time All-Star in Boston, the Rookie of the Year in 1997 and finished second in the MVP voting of 1998 when he hit .323 and drove in 122 runs while hitting 35 homers.
"This is how it's supposed to happen," former teammate Tim Wakefield said. "He was a Red Sox for a long time and he'll always be remembered as a Red Sox. Having him retire as a Red Sox is pretty special. ... The best, he was a great teammate and to have him behind you defensively and in the box for you was really amazing."
Garciaparra, wearing his old No. 5 jersey, threw out the first pitch before today's Rays-Red Sox exhibition game at City of Palms Park. When the announcement of his decision was made, Garciaparra received a thunderous ovation from the sellout crowd.
The current players lined the top step of the dugout and applauded as well. Jason Varitek, Garciaparra's teammate at Georgia Tech and with the Sox, caught the pitch and the two embraced in front of the plate.
Theo Epstein, the man who traded Nomar to the Cubs, said during the press conference that this day meant a lot to him personally. He expanded on that thought later on.
"I grew up a Red Sox fan and even through I was already in baseball when he became a player, I knew what he meant to Boston and to the fans. When his agent contacted us about doing this, I thought it was great. He should go out as a Red Sox because he was such a great player."
Team president Larry Lucchino said the team hopes to have Garciaparra at Fenway Park for some sort of ceremony and the hope is that Garciaparra will be representing the team in the future at various events.
Garciaparra fell out of favor with the organization and was traded to the Cubs on July 31, 2004 as part of a four-team, eight-player deal. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series with Orlando Cabrera as their shortstop.
Terry Francona, who managed Garciaparra only in 2004, reflected on the trade this morning and how surprised he was by the reaction of the fans. It was Francona's first season in Boston.
"His last part in Boston was tough," Francona said. "He was kind of Boston-ed out. It had kind of wore on him for whatever reasons. Sometimes it's time to move on. That doesn't mean he's a bad person. I think the fact he's come back kind of shows that."
Garciaparra played for the Dodgers and Athletics in recent seasons with mixed success. He hit .281 for Oakland last season as a reserve. He became a free agent after last season, but was not in demand. He contacted the Red Sox a few weeks ago, seeking career closure and a one-day contract.
"This is where I started, this is where the dream to play baseball in the big league started here, with the Red Sox," he said. "Once I got to play in front of all these fans, and the way this city and all these fans embraced me, I mean, I always just felt that connection. Like I said, for me, I always said I truly wanted this to be the last uniform I ever put on. And today, I get to do that. And that's why it's so important to me."
But first Garciaparra had to come to grips with the idea of ending his playing career.
"Everyone has to come to a point where they have to retire. For me, I think, what really hit was working out this offseason, the genetic (leg) condition I have that has limited me over the years, I just couldn't work out the way I wanted to work out. You know, I had a teammate and friend who once said he knew the last day he played he said, 'I knew my tank was empty.' When I heard him say that quote, I thought it was one of the greatest quotes I've heard. I thought, I wish someday I could say that. There was one day this offseason where I was getting ready and I came home and told my wife, 'My tank's empty.' " It truly is. I really just gave everything that I could to this game, and as much as I could."
NOMAR'S STATISTICS: These numbers via the Red Sox press release:
During his nine seasons in Boston, Garciaparra compiled a .323 (1,281-for-3,968) batting average, 178 homers and 690 RBI in 966 games. He is fourth in club history in career batting average and fifth in slugging (.553) among players with at least 1,500 at-bats. Garciaparra also ranks among Boston?s top 15 in career doubles (9th, 279), extra-base hits (9th, 507), home runs (11th, 178), total bases (11th, 2,194), runs (12th, 709) and hits (14th, 1,281).
The right-handed hitter finished among the top 10 in American League Most Valuable Player voting five times with Boston, including four straight from 1997-2000. He is one of six players in Red Sox history to earn AL Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .306 (209-for-684) with 122 runs, 44 doubles, 30 homers, 98 RBI and 22 steals in 1997. He was voted onto six All-Star teams including five with Boston and started at shortstop in the 1999 contest at Fenway Park.
He joins Wade Boggs (1985-88), Carl Yastrzemski (1967-68) and Ted Williams (1941-42, 47-48, 57-58) as the only players in Red Sox history to earn AL batting titles in consecutive seasons, doing so in 1999 (.357) and 2000 (.372). His .372 average in 2000 is the fourth highest in club single-season history. Garciaparra owns the 19th-highest career batting average in Major League history among players with at least 200 career home runs.
He ranked second in the AL with a .325 (1,210-for-3,725) batting average from 1997-2003, including a league-best .337 (791-for-2,349) mark over the first four years of that span. During his time with Boston he tallied 100 runs six times, 100 RBI four times and 25 homers 4 times, including a career-high 35 in 1998.
Garciaparra appeared in 32 playoff games over the course of his career, batting .321 (36-for-112) with seven homers and 24 RBI. He hit .323 (31-for-96) with seven homers and 21 RBI in 25 postseason contests with Boston.