It was a sad moment last Saturday when The Hangover was forced to put Nomar Garciaparra on the Disabled List of his fantasy baseball team, The Killer Rabbits. (It was probably even sadder for Nomar’s real team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, The Hangover is a minor fantasy geek, but what would you expect from someone who has a blog?) It was probably silly to draft him in the first place, considering his performance the last few years. But looking over the list of players, his name brought to mind the Nomar of ’97 to ’03, when he was one of the best players in baseball. In hindsight, it was pathetically optimistic to believe that Nomar could reclaim those Red Sox glory years, when he was Rookie of the Year in 1997, a five time all-star, winning batting titles in 1999 and 2000, hitting 35 home runs in 1998, and playing unbelievable defense. I saw that player just about every night for seven years. But Nomar is now an oft-injured shell of his former self. When The Hangover thinks of Nomar, he’s reminded of Earl Hickey.
No, Earl Hickey is not a long forgotten shortstop for the 1939 St. Louis Browns. He is the character created and played by actor Jason Lee on the NBC show, “My Name is Earl.” Earl Hickey was a dirt bag, petty thief who never caught a break. An unlikely chain of events put him in a hospital bed where he watched Carson Daly talk about karma on television. Earl had an epiphany. He would make a list of all the things he had done wrong in his life and correct them, one by one, and perhaps his life would improve. As luck (or karma) would have it, once he starting crossing these nefarious acts off his list, things changed for the better. Professionally speaking, Nomar Garciaparra is Earl Hickey–only in reverse.
2004 was a contract year for Nomar, by then one of the Red Sox all-time greats. In 2003, the Red Sox offered him a four year deal starting in 2005 at a rate of 15 million a year. At the time, Nomar was considered one of the three best in the game at his position. Ahead of him was Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid player in the game ( 25 million per season), and also the most productive. Derek Jeter, who had won four World Series rings by then, was also being paid more (19 million per season). It was a fair offer. Nomar turned it down. Then he became bitter about it. And that’s when karma starting kicking Nomar in the ass.
As Seth Mnookin details in this excerpt from his book, “Feeding the Monster,” Nomar became alienated from the Sox. A market shift before the start of the 2004 resulted in a new offer from the team, only at 12 million a year. Garciaparra was asking for 17 million. (The fourth best shortstop, Miguel Tejada, signed a contract that off-season for 12 million.) The Red Sox also explored trading for A-Rod, which further distanced and upset Nomar. Then Garciaparra injured his ankle in Spring Training. He couldn’t seem to get on the field, missing approximately 60% of the regular season games. Sox management worried that Nomar was more concerned with being healthy as a free agent in November than playing throughout the season. He began to despise the town, the team, and the fans that adored him. Eventually, Nomar was dealt at the deadline for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. The Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918.
This is what happened to Nomar once he rejected that 15 million dollar a year contract and, in the words of Earl Hickey, turned karma against him:
2003: Sox fall to Yankees in Game Seven of ALCS. (Nomar hit .241, struck out eight times, and had 1 rbi in the series.)
2004: Hurts ankle in spring training. Misses games. Traded to Cubs, Sox win Series.
2005: Signs with Cubs for 8.25 million. Plays only 62 games, hits .283 with 30 rbi.
2006: Signs with Dodgers for 6.0 million. Makes All Star team. Plays only 122 games, but hits .303 with 20 HR. In only non-Sox playoff appearance hits .222 as Dodgers are swept by Mets.
2007: Signs with Dodgers for 8.25 million. Plays only 120 games, hits .283 with 7 HR.
2008: Signed for 9.5 million. Still in April, batting .226, already on the DL twice.
It’s obvious that Nomar isn’t what he used to be. But The Hangover remembers when he was The Man in Boston, honored by all from Saturday Night Live to Newberry Street. We chanted “Nomar’s better” when Jeter hit in Fenway. The Hangover Jr. took his first swings in the backyard in his Nomar shirt, mimicking the famous toe-tapping, glove adjusting batting routine. Nomar was once a sure hall-of-famer. Now, he can’t even get through the first month of the season. The Killer Rabbits may suffer, but The Hangover believes there must be some way for Nomar to change his karma. He could start by releasing any bitterness harbored against the Red Sox and the fandom that once revered him. If the fictional Earl Hickey can become a better man, then Nomar can be again what he once was.