Garciaparra comes back to Red Sox to retire

Six years after he was traded away for the final pieces of

Boston’s World Series puzzle, Nomar Garciaparra finally got a

friendly farewell from the Red Sox.

The rookie of the year, batting champion and All-Star whose

trade began a bitter back-and-forth in Boston and, for Garciaparra,

an inglorious slide into irrelevance, signed a ceremonial one-day

contract with the Red Sox on Wednesday for the purpose of retiring

in the uniform of his original team.

“From the first day I had the thrill of putting on a Red Sox

uniform and playing in front of all the great fans at Fenway Park,

I have felt at home in Boston,” Garciaparra said in a statement

that belied the ugliness that accompanied his departure. “While I

had the privilege of playing with other legendary teams, I always

saw myself retiring in a Red Sox uniform.”

Garciaparra announced he’s leaving baseball at 36 to become an

ESPN analyst, ending a 14-year career in which he was a six-time

All-Star and two-time batting champion. But the career that started

with the 1997 AL Rookie of the Year award began to crumble when the

Red Sox tried to acquire Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season – a

deal that probably would have forced them to trade Garciaparra.

Although the Rodriguez deal fell through, the talks upset

Garciaparra, and an Achilles’ tendon injury that kept him out until

June the next season didn’t help his mood. It also didn’t help that

the market for shortstops had plummeted since he rejected a

four-year, $60 million offer from the Red Sox.

With the Red Sox struggling at midseason, general manager Theo

Epstein traded Garciaparra for shortstop Orlando Cabrera and

defensive first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. Accusations of

disloyalty flew, and Red Sox fans were stunned to lose their

“No-mah.”

But they soon overcame their grief: The Red Sox went 42-18 for

the best finish in baseball, capping the season with their first

World Series crown since 1918.

Garciaparra watched from afar.

“I felt like I was there,” he said. “In Boston there’s

something greater than an individual player winning a World Series.

When I was there I realized there’s something bigger than us

winning a World Series. It’s winning a World Series for these

people.”

Epstein, who grew up in the Boston area, knew the risk he was

taking by trading away the shortstop who had been the most popular

player on the team.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to maintain a relationship

after the trade,” Epstein said. “I think both of us understood at

the time that it wasn’t about Nomar and it wasn’t about me. It was

just baseball trades that happen. They’re about what’s going on

with the team at the time and certain things that had to happen.

But, it didn’t change what Nomar meant to the Red Sox.”

Terry Francona, who led the team to a World Series title in his

rookie season as Red Sox manager, saw just the last few months of

Garciaparra’s time at Fenway Park.

“His last part in Boston was tough,” Francona said. “He was

kind of Boston-ed out. It had kind of wore on him for whatever

reasons. Sometimes it’s time to move on. That doesn’t mean he’s a

bad person. I think the fact he’s come back kind of shows

that.”

Garciaparra’s teammates – the beneficiaries of his acrobatic

defense and clutch hitting – found it appropriate that he retired

in a Boston uniform.

“He was a Red Sox for a long time and I think he’ll always be

remembered as a Red Sox,” said pitcher Tim Wakefield, who was

Garciaparra’s teammate for the shortstop’s entire stay in Boston.

“For the organization to sign him to a one-day deal and have him

retire as a Red Sox is pretty special. I’m really happy for him. I

wish he was still playing but sometimes our careers take different

paths.”

Garciaparra threw out the ceremonial first pitch before

Wednesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, with former Red Sox

and Georgia Tech teammate Jason Varitek catching.

“Nomar will always hold a special place in Red Sox history and

in the hearts of Red Sox Nation,” owner John Henry said. “His

accomplishments on the field and in the community place him among

the greatest players to wear a Red Sox uniform. We are very

appreciative that Nomar is ending his career where it began.”

Garciaparra spent the past five seasons with the Cubs, Dodgers

and A’s. He had a .313 career average with 229 home runs and 936

RBIs.

Garciaparra was in the thick of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry but

always earned the respect of his opponents in New York.

“I always enjoyed playing against Boston because of Nomar,”

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “I used to enjoy being

mentioned with him.”

Added Rodriguez: “I love Nomar. He’s a great player and a

friend.”

AP Sports Writer Howie Rumberg in Tampa, Fla., contributed to

this report.