Shortstop – Nomar Garciaparra
Nomar Garciaparra was undoubtedly one of the most popular athletes in Boston during the late-90s. His emergence coincided with the point when my baseball knowledge began expanding beyond card collecting and video games as I began watching games more frequently.
Garciaparra broke out with a Rookie of the Year campaign in 1997. He hit .306 with a .875 OPS, 30 home runs and 98 RBI while leading the league with 209 hits and 11 triples. That earned him his first All-Star nod and Silver Slugger award.
The closest he came to winning an MVP was in 1998 when Garciaparra set career-highs with 35 home runs and 122 RBI to finish as the runner-up. While that was the peak of his power numbers, it arguably wasn’t his most impressive season.
Nomar won consecutive batting titles by hitting .357 in 1999 and .372 the following season. His career-high in 2000 is among the 10 highest single-season batting averages in the majors since 1941 when Ted Williams became the last player to hit at least .400 for a season.
The image of Nomar sulking in the dugout soiled his reputation and paved the way to his ticket out of town. The Red Sox traded him during the 2004 season, a shocking move that ended up paying off with a World Series title. It was a bittersweet moment since we know it was the right move in retrospect but it signaled the end of an era as a beloved Boston icon was shipped away.
Injuries spoiled the second half of his career but that shouldn’t overshadow what he accomplished during his prime years in Boston. Nomar didn’t have the longevity as an elite player to be considered for the Hall of Fame but there’s no doubt he was on that path after his eight-plus years with the Red Sox.