CHRIS PUMMER: There’s no sly or colorful way of trumpeting the obvious here — Nomar Garciaparra is pretty far from enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Even if something witty could be wrangled from the wreckage that has been Nomar’s post-Boston career, the humor would lose its bite to the disappointment lots of baseball fans must feel at watching a man once among a trio of players so likely to make the Hall that they were coined the Shortstop Trinity simply see his career ruined by injuries.
A discussion of Garciaparra’s place in baseball history is relevant now because there might not be any more future in his playing career.
Just five years ago, it looked like it would be a lofty place. Nomar was coming off a yet another fine season split between the Red Sox and the Cubs. Though most of us knew that the monster season of 1998-2000 weren’t going to happen again without some luck, Garciaparra had still settled into a routine of batting .300 and slugging .500.
But since his 30th birthday, Garciaparra hasn’t played a full injury-free season. His only full season with the Cubs was a disappointment for him and his new team. Nomar couldn’t handle playing shortstop anymore, got hurt, and didn’t impress as a third baseman late in the year.
Garciaparra spent the next three years with the Dodgers primarily as a first baseman. During his time in LA the only things less impressive than his bat (.790 OPS) was his glove and maybe his ability to stay healthy (122, 121 and 55 games).
After seeing every skill deteriorate even further with the A’s last season, most teams wouldn’t even count on Garciaparra to be a utility infielder this upcoming year.
If this is the end for Nomar, it’s still been a good run. A Rookie of the Year with two batting titles and six All-Star appearances, better health is the only thing Garciaparra needed to ride the Ernie Banks path to the Hall of Fame.
That’s the rub. Banks, who had a longer, better peak, and was able to hang around to pad his career numbers. His OPS+ of 122 is nearly identical to Garciaparra’s (124). But Banks had more than 4,000 plate appearances.
Among his contemporaries, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez — the other Trinity members — have far surpassed him. Before it’s all said and done, Miguel Tejada, while an obviously lesser hitter, could make up the ground on Garciaparra with the better defense of his youth and better healthy late in his career.
While Barry Larkin shouldn’t haunt the Hall of Fame ballot by the time Nomar appears, Alan Trammell still might. By then Garciaparra will be caught in a logjam of shortstop candidates as Jeter and Rodriguez will be obvious picks for enshrinement, and someone like Hanley Ramirez might begin looking like a near-lock.
That’s really how the lack of career totals make Garciaparra a loser in the Hall of Fame’s numbers game.
HOWARD MEGDAL: The Hall of Fame case for Nomar Garciaparra is far stronger than I expected it to be, though like Chris, I think he does fall short.
Among those who played 70 percent of their games at shortstop, with 3,000 plate appearances or more, Nomar Garciaparra’s career OPS+ ranks third. Ahead of Derek Jeter. Ahead of Lou Boudreau. Ahead of Joe Cronin, Luke Appling, Travis Jackson, Pee Wee Reese. All of these shortstops, of course, are in the Hall of Fame, with the exception of Jeter, who is obviously headed there, too.
Now, all of these players have the advantage in plate appearances. Garciaparra is at just 6,016- of the players I mentioned, Travis Jackson is the closest, at 6,679. And he, of course, has the least convincing Hall of Fame case.
But balanced against this is that Garciaparra’s OPS+ is not just a little better than these Hall of Famers, but a LOT better. Reese, for example, had about a third more at-bats- but Garciaparra has a 121-99 edge in OPS+. Incidentally, Phil Rizzuto checks in at 93, and is only a bit above Garciaparra in plate appearances, 6,711.
The point isn’t to simply play the game “there’s one Hall of Famer less than him” as a justification for Nomar’s induction. There are a lot of them at his position. Not only wouldn’t Nomar be the worst member of the Hall, he wouldn’t be close.