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.