With the inductions into baseball’s Hall of Fame announced, we take a look at a Boston Red Sox great whose injuries harmed his chances at Cooperstown.
Tuesday evening saw the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announce the 2020 Hall of Fame inductees. This year we’ll see two additions in Cooperstown. The 1997 National League MVP Larry Walker snuck in, being included on 77.6% of the ballots, while long-term Red Sox nemesis Derek Jeter turned out just one vote shy of becoming the first unanimous position player to enter the Hall.
Jeter’s old teammate Mariano Rivera became the first unanimous player just last year. However, both Walker and Jeter are now immortalized in baseball folk-lore as they increase the membership of Cooperstown to 133.
For a game that has been played for so long and a game which has seen so many incredible players play it, there are a number of folks who are missing out – some of these will make it eventually, and others won’t. But there will always be debates. The reasons as to why some greats aren’t in are various.
From the likes of Pete Rose to Barry Bonds, there are some all-timers who may never make it due to certain things they did. One player whose place in Cooperstown will always loom largely is Nomar Garciaparra‘s. A day after a legendary AL East shortstop was inducted into the Hall, it provides another time to reflect on Nomar’s career and how talented a shortstop he actually was.
Nomar’s debut on the Hall of Fame ballot came just five years ago. During the 2015 inductions, he received just 5.5% of votes. This allowed his name to return on the ballot the following year – even if it was just by the skin of his teeth.
Getting 5% of votes is the cut-off point, and some years BBWAA members will have to vote for a stacked ballot so there’s always a good chance that a deserved HoFer can miss out, but getting just over that mark doesn’t give any hope in reality.
After 2016 he fell off of the ballot, missing his chance for longevity in Cooperstown. Albeit, his longevity in Boston will never be in doubt. Garciaparra wasn’t only an extremely talented ballplayer but he was one of the most important Red Sox players in the last thirty years.
Looking back, you’ve got to consider him and David Ortiz as the top-two for this century. Although Nomar’s departure to Chicago came just a matter of months before the Sox snapped the streak and won the 2004 World Series, his contributions to the Sox will remain extremely important in terms of franchise history.
There’s no doubt that Nomar was talented. The six-time All-Star finished his career with a .313 batting average. From 1997-2000 Nomar was one of the best hitters in the game and could be measured against the best to do it.
There’s always talk of steroid use when looking back at his years, but that’s true also for a lot of all-time greats, and ultimately harms how we look back on them – which is why their Hall of Fame hopes are dashed.
That still doesn’t wash away the fact that Nomar would’ve been remembered as one of the great shortstops to play the game if it wasn’t for his injury woes. Over 275 games from 1999-2000, Nomar averaged .364. He had a 1.022 OPS in ’99 and a 1.033 OPS in ’00, winning the AL batting title in both years.
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He was a player who could produce heavily and would’ve done a lot more had it not been for injury. It was a split wrist tendon that changed the course of his career. Nomar had apparently complained about wrist discomfort since 1999 – which made what he did in ’99 and ’00 all the more impressive.
The split tendon caused his incredible streak to end, missing the most of 2001 and ultimately never allowing him to ever get back to his best.
Garciaparra is idolized by everyone who grew up watching the Red Sox at the turn of the century. For a ballpark that has seen so many great players, to be thought about as highly as Nomar is, speaks a ton about his ability to play the game of baseball. For Red Sox fans, last night’s induction of Jeter won’t be met with open arms, but can at the same time be respected.
Jeter and his Yankees have provided us with battles to never forget. If it wasn’t for rivalries like this one, sports wouldn’t be as fun as they can be, and the Sox might still be looking for a World Series title. Looking back at Nomar’s career though, it will always be bittersweet. He was great throughout his Red Sox career – but for that four-year stretch, he was more than great. He was a Hall of Famer.
Could he have kept that level of performance up for another six or so years? No one can ever tell you. Sports are weird. One year you can be great, the next you can be completely average. But, Nomar was never average. He was a great player who unfortunately suffered the fate that many other great sportspeople do too, with injuries restricting him from becoming as great as he could’ve been. How great that was? We’ll never know.