Red Sox: Celebrating Nomar Garciaparra as Boston’s best No. 5 on 5/5

DETROIT - JULY 13: Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra #5 of the Boston Red Sox waits for his at bat on the on deck circle during the American League game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on July 13, 2003 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Red Sox 3-0. (Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images)
DETROIT - JULY 13: Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra #5 of the Boston Red Sox waits for his at bat on the on deck circle during the American League game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on July 13, 2003 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Red Sox 3-0. (Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox have had a laundry list of players wear the number five over the years, but none were better than Nomar Garciaparra.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo mis amigos! What better time to talk about the greatest Red Sox player to ever adorn the number 5 than on 5/5? If you’ve read anything I’ve written then I’m sure you’ve come across the beaming positivity I have for Boston’s legendary shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra. I won’t lie, this is going to be a massive appreciation letter to Nomar, and rightfully so.

Boston’s former shortstop is also of Mexican-American descent, so we’ve got another tie-in to the celebration of Mexico’s victory of the French in the Battle of Puebla.

So, back to my original premise, what better time is there to celebrate the man that carried the Red Sox while wearing the No. 5 for all of those years? Honestly, he should also be the last player in a Boston uniform with a “5” on his back, but that argument will come later on. The Red Sox gave numerous shootouts to Garciaparra today on their social media accounts, and it inspired me to also share my love for the shortstop.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, Nomar is my absolute favorite player. There’s no hesitation, no second-guessing, not a single doubt in my mind. The first jersey I ever owned was a home uni with that red number on the back. I grew up wanting to be a shortstop until I was forced to move over to second base, but that dream-crushing moment is more for my therapist than here.

Hell, I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I was yelled at in Little League for mimicking Nomar’s batter’s box routine. My coaches were Yankee fans, ugh.

After making his Major League debut in 1996, it was clear that we wouldn’t be seeing the last of the dynamic infielder. The first of several eye-opening seasons would come the following year where he posted a .306/.342/.534/.743 line with 30 homers and 98 RBI, while leading the league with 209 hits.

Oh yeah, he also earned unanimous Rookie of the Year honors, was named an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger, and finished 8th in the MVP race. That’s one hell of a first season in the bigs!

If you throw his name into YouTube you’ll undoubtedly come across pages and pages of highlights. I mean, he hit a pair of grand slams in the same game, just one of 13 players to do so. He smacked a trio of dingers on his 29th birthday, a pretty good way to celebrate.

And then there was the All-Star Game in 1999, the last time the event was helped at Fenway Park. The sight of him and Ted Williams was something that Red Sox fans should cherish for the rest of time.

While the Yankees may have had a stranglehold on the AL East, the Red Sox didn’t bow down to their New York rivals. Thanks to the hot bat of Garciaparra and the aggressive fastball of Pedro Martinez, Boston stayed competitive despite never getting over that final hurdle. In fact, the two would meet in the ALCS in both 1999 and 2003, unfortunately, the Bronx Bombers would have the last laugh each time.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, especially from Boston’s shortstop. Looking back at some of the prime years of his career he only trailed Alex Rodriguez in many categories, which isn’t a shock. Until joining the Yankees and moving to third base A-Rod was the best shortstop in the league.

Nomar put up a hell of a fight though and until injuries began piling up, stayed competitive with the former Mariner. He even outshined Derek Jeter for many of those years, even with the great career that New York’s shortstop would have.

Nomar was supposed to be the guy, the one that finally brought a championship back to Boston. Sadly, it wouldn’t happen until he was sent away from the team. After contract negotiations went south, Garciaparra would find himself playing for another team mid-way through the 2004 season. Sounds a little familiar doesn’t it?

Former Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni was recently on the Section 10 Podcast where he shared some great stories about his time playing with Nomar. He even spoke briefly about that contract dispute and gave some insight into what was happening behind the scenes. He mentioned that Nomar wanted to remain in Boston and he simply countered the team’s initial offer before the Red Sox pulled the deal. Again, this sounds pretty familiar to a current organizational situation.

Alas, Garciaparra has made a few trips back to Fenway Park following his departure, though it took some time and healing to make it happen. When I look back at 2004 my initial reaction is to smile due to the fact that the Curse was finally broken. But I also get a bit bummed as it was done without a guy that gave so much to the franchise and wasn’t able to see his efforts paid out.

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He would play for several more years after that trade to the Cubs and continued to produce for much of the remainder of his career. His lowest batting average after leaving the Red Sox was a commendable .264, which was sandwiched between a .283 and .281. Even as the years climbed in regards to his career, he continued to give his everything for the team he was playing for.

If he could’ve stayed healthy, there’s a strong chance we would see his name in Cooperstown, especially after his initial years. If you ask fans of the game, they’ll most likely give Nomar the label of “very good, but not great.” He would bounce back in 2006 and 2007, playing in 122 and 121 games. Unfortunately, those seasons would be anomalies as they’d be surrounded by years where the shortstop didn’t even sniff triple-digit game totals.

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To me, Nomar Garciaparra is a surefire Hall of Fame player. With the way the voting goes each year, I doubt we’ll see him take his rightful place in the Hall. I do however see his number eventually being retired with the Red Sox, which is another great honor. Looking through history, he’s easily the greatest player in a Boston uniform to wear No. 5, and he should also be the last.