Anthony Nomar Garciaparra was born on July 23, 1973 in Whittier, California. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Sylvia and Ramon, ran a print shop in town. Nomar, of course, is Ramon spelled backwards. By the time “Anthony” picked up his first bat and glove, everyone was calling him Nomar. Except when he was in trouble. Then it was ANTHONY!
Ramon was born in Mexico, where he grew up on a steady diet of baseball. He loved and understood the game, and passed his passion on to Nomar and his little brother, Michael. Both ended up being excellent players, but it was Nomar who showed a real aptitude and work ethic. He also had incredible intensity. In baseball and soccer—a game he also mastered at an early age—Nomar was so serious that the father of a teammate began calling him “No-Nonsense Nomar.”
While Ramon tutored his son on the field, in the home Sylvia called the shots. The boys were taught to finish their homework, do their chores, and then enjoy what free time was left. Nomar became a first-rate time manager as a boy, and eventually came to depend on specific routines to relax. This carried over to sports. On game days, he would have every hour worked out from the time he woke up until the opening pitch or kick off.
Nomar was the star of his youth league baseball, soccer and football teams. He always went for number 5, from his earliest days in Little league. By middle school, he was far ahead of the other hitters his age. Ramon, who knew every nuance of his son’s game, believed he could play at the highest level of amateur baseball. When Nomar was 13, his father had him hit against a Division I college pitcher who threw 90 mph. Within three swings, Nomar had timed him and was drilling the ball back up the middle.
Nomar enrolled at
St. John Bosco High School in nearby Bellflower in 1986. He quickly became
the stud of the baseball and soccer teams, and was also the kicker on
the football team. He could split the uprights from 50 yards. As the years
passed, it became clear that baseball would be Nomar’s ticket. College
and pro scouts were watching him regularly by the time he was a junior,
and after a stellar senior season he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Among Nomar’s scholarship offers were ones from UCLA and Georgia Tech. It was tempting to stay close to home, but something told him that he would be happier as a Yellow Jacket. He joined a school that had been building a solid program, but had yet to make the College World Series. The the team, which was coached by Jim Morris, starred catcher Jason Varitek.
When Nomar showed up at his first practice at Tech, he could easily have been mistaken for a water boy. Barely six feet tall, he weighed a mere 135 pounds. His fellow Jackets weren’t sure he would survive the 1992 season. Morris told Nomar if he played consistent defense he would stay in the lineup.
Not only did Nomar pick it at short, he became the club’s best clutch hitter. as a freshman. He batted .363 with 51 RBIs and 23 extra-base hits to help the club go 45-19 and gain a Top 25 ranking. At season’s end, he was named to the Freshman All-America Team, and was honored as ACC Rookie of the Year.
Late in the season, Nomar wowed Miami coach Ron Fraser. Fraser had already picked the team he planned to take to Barcelona to the Olympics, but urged Nomar to attend a walk-on camp that summer. Nomar outshone 100 other college stars to become the first true freshman ever to suit up for Team USA. A bench player during the team’s summer tune-up tour, Nomar hit his way into the lineup, supplanting All-American Michael Tucker at shortstop. Although the Americans failed to medal, Nomar still thought the Olympic tournament was the greatest thrill of his young life.
Nomar began the 1993 college season as one of two sophomores named to the pre-season All-America squad. A strained hamstring nagged him all year, and his numbers crashed, but he still picked up his share of big hits as Tech captured the ACC championship. Unfortunately, their bid for a CWS berth ended in the NCAA Regionals. When the campaign ended, Nomar headed north to play in the Cape Cod league.
Upon his return to Tech, Nomar approached football coach Bill Lewis and asked if he could kick for the team. Lewis watched Nomar drill one 50-yard field goal after another in practice and added him to the squad for a game against NC State. When he found out that playing football would deprive another student of a scholarship, however, Nomar left the team.
The Yellow Jackets got a new coach in 1994. Danny Hall came over from Kent State after Morris resigned. He had been an assistant at Michigan when Barry Larkin wore the maize and blue, and saw another star in the making when he met Nomar. After adding about 10 pounds of muscle—much of it to his forearms—the junior looked stronger than ever. He already had very quick hands, so the extra bulk made a big difference when he connected.
That year Nomar went wild. He batted .427 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs, and finished second in the country with 213 total bases and third with 92 runs. Varitek also had a great year, and outfielder Jay Payton put up solid numbers to propel Georgia Tech into the College World Series.
It was during this
tournament that another chapter of the Garciaparra legend grew. With the
Jackets scheduled to play two games in sweltering 100-degree heat, Nomar
refused to pace himself in the first game and became dangerously dehydrated.
He was rushed to the hospital, where he spent an hour on the IV. Feeling
better, Nomar unplugged himself, and reappeared in the Tech dugout during
the second game. Hall refused to play him, but soon realized that Nomar
was not going to leave him alone until he relented. He sent him into the
game as a pinch-hitter, the junior knocked the first pitch he saw out
of the park. Tech advanced it all the way to the championship game, but
lost to Oklahoma 13-5. Nomar went 2-for-5 with a homer in a losing cause.
He was named to the All-Tournament team and was also honored as a First-Team
This was easier said than done. Despite a glorious 1995 campaign at Class-AA Trenton, Nomar could not get his weight up over 160. He was also taking a beating from enemy pitchers, who resented all the fidgeting he did in the batter’s box. Nomar would adjust his gloves, tap his bat and adjust his helmet before each pitch. A ritual he had been developing over a period of time, the histrionics helped him lock in. Unfortunately, some hurlers thought Nomar was hot-dogging it, and he heard a lot of chin music that year. When the ball was over the plate, he was fine, batting .267 with decent power.
After the 1995 season, Nomar was exhausted. His weight was down below 160 and he wondered whether he had the stamina to make it the majors. He got in his car and drove to Bradenton, Florida, where he talked with his old Georgia Tech trainer, Mark Verstegen. Verstegen explained that Nomar had to remake himself, starting with his core muscles. These were the ones he depended on for hitting and throwing. Three months later, he had packed on nearly 20 pounds of raw muscle between his belt and neckline. When he returned home, his mother said “You’re not my baby anymore!”
In spring training,
Nomar’s new body turned a lot of heads—including those of
outfielders who had to chase down his long line drives. Camp followers
thought he might be a big-leaguer by season’s end until he tore
a muscle in back of his left knee sprinting to first base. The injury
kept him out until July, and he had to re-start at Class-A level. His
bating stroke came back quickly, and soon Nomar was smacking the ball
around Triple-A ballparks with Pawtucket.
At the end of August, with a .339 average and 16 homers in 186 at-bats, Nomar was called up by the Red Sox, who were in a four-way battle for the AL Wild Card. He homered in his first start, and later Boston moved shortstop John Valentin over to second to keep the youngster's bat in the lineup every day.
After Nomar was promoted, Ted Williams saw him playing on television and had a sense he'd seen him before. He called Boston GM Dan Duquette and said Nomar reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t think of who. Two weeks later, Duquette’s phone rang. It was Williams calling back: “DiMaggio! That’s who he reminds me of, DiMaggio!”
As most rookies do, Nomar struggled against major-league breaking stuff. But he continued to play hard and work with the coaches until he gained a measure of confidence at the plate. In the season’s final six games, Nomar smashed three homers, including an opposite-field job at Fenway Park that cleared the bullpen. Boston fell short of the playoffs, but Red Sox fans had a lot to talk about that winter with their new power-hitting shortstop.
The 1997 season found Nomar at short and Valentin at second full-time. The veteran was not pleased about the development, but was a class act about it, helping Nomar in the field all year. Manager Jimy Williams had bigger problems than placating egos. The team had let Roger Clemens fly to Toronto, there was no closer on the team, and the Red Sox lacked anything close to a leadoff hitter. Williams decided to bat Nomar first, knowing that he had done so in college.
The move ignited the
entire team. Nomar was fantastic. A ninth-inning game-winning homer against
the Seattle Mariners in early April began an offensive onslaught that
saw the young shortstop go into the All-Star break with 13 homers and
a .291 average. He made the AL squad, and the day before the game he won
the Home Run Derby, depositing 13 balls into the stands. After the break,
he continued his torrid hitting, setting a league record with a 30-game
The Red Sox stayed competitive most of the season, but when cleanup hitter Mo Vaughn went down with a bad knee, there simply wasn’t enough outside of Nomar to challenge the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles in the East. Nomar finished the season with 30 homers—a record for rookie shortstops—and obliterated Harvey Kuenn’s all-time mark of 85 RBIs by a leadoff hitter with a robust 98. He also broke team marks held by Williams (for total bases) and Johnny Pesky (for hits) by a Red Sox first-year player.
Nomar ended up leading the AL with 209 hits, 684 at-bats, and 11 triples. His 365 total bases were second in the league. Defensively he was just as good. He made highlight-reel plays without screwing up the easy balls, and topped the AL in total chances, putouts and double plays. That fall, Nomar became only the fifth unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year. After the season, the Red Sox tore up Nomar’s contract and raised his salary to $4 million a year.
The big news in Boston for 1998 was the signing of free agent Pedro Martinez. The Red Sox had floundered since losing Clemens, who was now winning Cy Young Awards with the Blue Jays. Pedro gave them a go-to guy on the mound. Meanwhile, Nomar was the go-to guy at the plate and in the field. He was playing even better than he had the year before.
During a May game that the Red Sox were leading by 10 runs, Nomar dove for a grounder and separated his shoulder. The fans were outraged that he would injure himself on a meaningless ball in a game that was already won, and scared that he might not recover to full strength. Within a week, Nomar was back in the lineup, and later in the season went on a 24-game hitting streak. He also reached 30 home runs again, making him just the fifth player to do so in his first two full seasons.
Heading down the stretch, the Red Sox were in a battle for Wild Card. In the final two weeks, Nomar hit four homers and scored 13 runs. Two of those dingers came in the game that clinched a playoff berth. Nomar finished the year with 111 runs and 122 RBIS, 35 homers, a .584 slugging average, and a .323 batting average. A loud cry of protest when up in Boston when Juan Gonzalez of the Texas edged him for the MVP award. In the all-important second half, Nomar had out-homered the Ragners slugger 22-19 and driven in 10 more runs. Perhaps the most impressive part of his year was his consistency. He batted .324 on the road, .322 at home, .320 against lefties and .324 against righties.
In the Division Series against the Indians, Nomar homered for the winning runs in Game 1, and figured in all of the Boston runs in a 9-5 loss to Cleveland in Game 2. In Game 3, with the Red Sox losing 4-1 in the ninth, Nomar stepped to the plate and blasted a two-run homer off closer Mike Jackson, who hung on to get the final out in a 4-3 victory for the Tribe.
Nomar homered off
Bartolo Colon in Game 4 and Boston looked good to tie the series, but
David Justice touched Red Sox closer Tom Gordon for a game-winning two-run
double to ruin Boston’s chances to advance. Had the Red Sox held
the lead, Martinez was ready to start Game 5. Nomar concluded the series
with 11 RBIs and a slugging average of 1.000.
For Nomar, the most memorable part of 1998 came in September, when he faced soccer star Mia Hamm in a penalty kick contest at Harvard’s Ohiri Field. He lost 4-3, but made a connection with Mia, who was struck by his passion for the game. A year earlier, he told her, he had touched the World Cup and it gave him chills. Mia told reporters that Nomar should try out for the New England Revolution and become a two-sport star.
MAKING HIS MARK
The 1999 campaign saw the Red Sox with a depleted roster, thanks to the free agent departure of Vaughn. Nomar was now the undisputed star of the team, and he carried a so-so club into the post-season with 90 wins and another Wild Card slot. Slowed down by a wrist injury in the final month, he still managed to lead the league with a .357 batting average. He clubbed 27 homers and knocked in 104 runs despite having virtually no protection in the lineup.
Limited by an aching wrist, Nomar could do little to keep the Red Sox from losing the first two games of their playoff rematch with Cleveland that fall. The pain was so bad that Nomar had to sit out Game 3. He watched proudly, howwewver, as his teammates rallied to defeat the Indians 9-3. Nomar returned in Game 4 to spark a 23-7 shellacking that evened the series, then drilled a two-run shot to open the scoring in Game 5. In the third and seventh innings, Nomar was walked intentionally to load the bases. Each time, journeyman Troy O’Leary blasted grand sams on the way to a wild 12-8 win.
With the World Series within reach, the Red Sox had to deal with their nemesis, the Yankees. Boston’s depleted pitching could not hold back the New York offense, and Boston fell four games to one.
The Red Sox renewed
their attack on New York in 2000, and in the early going Nomar’s
bat and Pedro’s arm kept them in the hunt. When a sore shoulder
sidelined Martinez, however, Boston began to fade. The Yankees struggled
periodically, which kept the division race tight, but in the end they
were 2.5 games better than the Bosox, who finished out of the Wild Card
The bright light in an otherwise dim season was Nomar, who turned in another fabulous campaign despite being nagged by his old wrist injury. Again, he saw almost nothing to hit, but batted .372 nonetheless to capture his second straight batting championship. The last player to win back-to-back titles was Bill Madlock, who turned the trick in 1975 and ‘76. Nomar knew he had to hack at the first decent delivery in 2000, and the stats bear this out. He saw 3.05 pitches per at-bat—the lowest mark of any major leaguer.
The arrival of Manny Ramirez in 2001 promised to change the balance of power in the AL East, as the aging Yankees looked ripe for the picking. Boston entered the season with Nomar and Many in the heart of the order, along with a resurgent Carl Everett, who was coming off his first 30-homer season. Nomar’s old college teammate, Jason Varitek, seemed primed for a big season, as did Trot Nixon, who had been the team’s top minor league prospect back when Nomar was drafted.
The season did not play out that way. Although Ramirez hit as advertised and Nixon had a productive year, Nomar, Pedro, Everett and Varitek all missed major time to injuries. (Everett did recover in time to destroy what was left of the Boston clubhouse after Williams was replaced with Joe Kerrigan.) Nomar fell victim to the same sore wrist for the third year in a row, going under the knife in April, returning with a dramatic home run in late July, then shutting down for the year a few weeks later. He played in just 21 games.
Nomar’s off-season was much more rewarding. Around Thanksgiving, he contacted Hamm, who had just gotten divorced from her husband, Marine pilot Christiaan Corry. Nomar had taken a rooting interest in Mia’s career since their 1998 encounter, and now he asked her out. The relationship clicked, and a year later they were engaged. They married after the 2003 season.
The 2002 campaign was supposed to be Boston’s clean slate year. Grady Little was hired to manage the team, Johnny Damon was signed to bat leadoff and play center, and the pitching staff was looking good with Martinez, Tim Wakefield, John Burkett and Derek Lowe all healthy and productive. Lowe, the team’s closer for much of the previous season, was freed to rejoin the rotation following the acquisition of fireman Ugueth Urbina late in 2001. He responded with a 21-8 mark, and Martinez won 20.
The Boston offense was also back on track, with Nomar hitting .310 and leading the league in doubles, and Ramirez winning the batting title. Damon delivered a league-high 11 triples, swiped 31 bags and scored 118 runs. And Boston also got nice years from Shea Hillenbrand and Brian Daubach.
All of this went to
waste, however, as the Yankees won consistently all season and the Red
Sox could never close the gap. Although Boston tallied 93 victories, it
still left them 10.5 games back—and wasn’t even good enough
for the Wild Card, which went to the eventual world champion Anaheim Angels,
who won 99.
Boston finally returned to the postseason in 2003, snagging the Wild Card with 95 wins. Their offense was bolstered by DH David Ortiz and surprise batting champ Bill Mueller, and included excellent years from Ramirez, Nixon, Varitek and Damon. Nomar contributed 28 homers, 105 RBIs, 19 steals and a .301 average, as he went through another healthy and productive season. He and Carlos Beltran were the only players in the AL to reach double figures in doubles, triples and home runs.
Although Boston finished second to the Yanks again, the Red Sox had a team built for the postseason—with one glaring exception. The departure of Urbina over the winter had left a void in the bullpen that Little never found a way to fill. They would dodge this bullet in the first round of the playoffs, when they erased an 0-2 deficit vs. the Oakland A’s to win in five games. In the ALCS against New York, the shaky bullpen was not a factor in the first five games, as the Red Sox took a 3-2 lead into Yankee Stadium.
In Game 6, however, the pen could not hold a 6-4 lead and the series was tied. With Martinez on the mound in Game 7 and a 5-2 lead in the 8th inning, Little tried to squeeze a few extra outs from his ace and paid the price, as the Yankees knotted the score and won the pennant on an 11th-inning homer by Aaron Boone. Of the many soul-crushing defeats at the hands of the Bronx Bombers, this might have been the worst. It didn’t help that Nomar produced just one RBI during the series.
After the '03 season, the Red Sox had some tough financial decisions to make. Ramirez’s contract was crippling the team, and Nomar was due a major raise from the $6.5 million he was making. They could not keep both players and also re-sign Ortiz and several other key guys. The Dodgers offered a pitching prospect and speedster Cesar Izturis. The Red Sox turned LA down, but the fact that they listened hinted that something was up.
In fairness, the team had offered to extend Nomar at $15 million for four years prior to 2003, but agent Arn Tellem advised him to hold out for the kind of money that Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter had secured. The economics of baseball had changed, however. When Nomar and Tellem sat down again the Red Sox, the club had lowered its offer to $12 million per year. Nomar was not a happy camper.
Adding insult to injury, Boston attempted to pull of a four-way deal that would have sent him to the Chicago White Sox and Ramirez to Texas in exchange for Alex Rodriguez. The deal appeared to be done when the Player’s Association stepped in and refused to let A-Rod restructure his contract with the Red Sox. For better or worse now, Nomar was still in a Boston uniform.
At times, the 2004 Red Sox still seemed to be reeling from their Game 7 defeat the previous fall. Nomar missed the first third of the season with a sore Achilles heel, and when he came back he was often criticized for what the fans perceived as a lack of toughness. A hero from the day he moved into Fenway, Nomar was suddenly the scapegoat for the team’s problems.
In a crucial game against the Yankees that summer, Nomar was a conspicuous DNP when Jeter dove headfirst into the stands for a foul ball. To many, this summed up the difference between the two players, and the two teams. It wasn’t long before the Red Sox, looking to shake things up, dealt Nomar to the Chicago Cubs.
Despite his usual sore wrist, still-tender Achilles and a bothersome groin, Nomar played well and hit well down the stretch for the Cubs, producing 18 extra-base hits in 43 games. He finished the season with a combined .308 average in 81 games, but his power numbers were down, due in part to his injuries and to the tricky winds at Wrigley. To the surprise of many, after the season, Nomar inked a one-year pact with the Cubs for $8.25 million.
The 2005 Cubs entered the season as division co-favorites with the St. Louis Cardinals. Nomar, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Todd Walker gave Chicago the NL’s most powerful infield—an important distinction, as Sammy Sosa had flown to Baltimore in the off-season. The Cub starting staff appeared solid with Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano.
Nomar had a torrid
spring training, batting over .400 in Cactus League play. But when the
season started he struggled at the plate. Less than three weeks into the
year, his average was stuck in the .150s. Dusty Baker dropped him from
the third slot to number six in the order. Nomar was a pro about it, accepting
the move without complaint.
On a grounder against St. Louis, Nomar tore his groin muscle coming out of the box, and it was assumed he would be out for the season. Prior and Wood also missed time with injuries, and the Cubs began to sink in the standings behind the Cards, Houston Astros and surprising Milwaukee Brewers.
During his summerlong convalescence, Nomar was on hand for the first meeting between the Cubs and Red Sox since 1918. In a private ceremony, the Bosox presented him with his 2004 World Series ring. It was a proud moment for Nomar, but obviously bittersweet,. He hadn’t even bothered to watch Boston sweep St. Louis the year before.
Nomar defied the odds and returned to the lineup in August. When Aramis Ramirez went down with an injury, Nomar agreed to move to third, giving Ronny Cedeno an audition at shortstop. Nomar got it going in September, batting over .300 with a slugging average over .500. The Cubs finished a distant fourth, with 79-83 record. Nomar’s final numbers were 9-30-.283 in 62 games.
After the season, Nomar was approached by a number of teams, most of whom tried to sign him for a bargain-basement, multiple-year deal. Believing he would rebound in 2006, and intrigued by the prospect of playing near his home town, he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Dodgers. The Indians, Yankees and Astros also made tempting offers. On the Dodgers, Nomar was reunited with former Red Sox Derek Lowe, Bill Mueller and manager Grady Little.
The plan for 2006? Play Nomar at first base until infielder Cesar Izturis recovers from elbow surgery, at which point LA would move Jeff Kent to first base and Nomar to leftfield. Generally, a contender does not go into a season already knowing it will ask its two best hitters to switch positions. But in the cases of Nomar and Kent, they will probably hit wherever they play.
For Nomar, of course, it will all come down to avoiding the DL. He has bounced back from career-threatening injuries before, but each time there seems to be a little less gas left in his tank. In roomy Dodger Stadium his gaudy numbers may be diminished somewhat, but that is unlikely to affect his enthusiasm for the game. Playing near his boyhood home for an appreciative fan base should make for a happy season. And hopefully a healthy one.
For all the fidgeting he does in the batter’s box, Nomar’s most noticeable virtue at the plate is how rock-steady he is once the pitcher goes into his windup. His weight shifts slightly onto his back foot, his head does not move at all, and his feet remain stationary. Nomar then whips his coiled torso around with incredible swiftness, generating the power he needs to drive balls long distances. His quick hands finish the job.
Despite being compulsive about almost everything in his life, Nomar does not obsess on videotape. He almost never watches himself swing, nor does he spend time scouting enemy pitchers. He figures it’s their job to get him out
Nomar still talks hitting with his dad, whom he considers his ultimate batting coach. He has never discussed the nature of this relationship in depth, nor has his father.
Though Nomar's reputation
with fans in somewhat suspect, most teammates swear by his work ethic
and desire to win. Is he the type of leader who can carry a team to a
title? That's the question many would like to see him answer.
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