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A Cursed Franchise and a backwards Ramon…

Yesterday Nomar Garciaparra signed a one day contract with the Red Sox and then retired. While I think the whole “sign with a team for a day, so you can retire as a member of that team” thing is dumb, I was pleased to see a reconciliation between the once great shortstop and the franchise for whom he starred.

Given how drastically 2004 and 2007 changed the Red Sock and MLB universe, it’s hard to remember that the Sox were once a “cursed” franchise and that Nomar Garciaparra was their best player. Yet, somehow over the last decade, their fortunes went in diametrically opposite directions.

It’s almost the sort of thing Dan Shaughnessy would write a book about. How, in the fall of 2000, after another season in which the Sox missed the playoffs and the Yankees won the World Series, Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, and Bobby Doer lured Nomar down into a secret basement compartment of the Green Monster, and performed a sacrifice to the baseball Gods.

The young, phenomenally talented Garciaparra would have been the perfect sacrifice candidate. He was coming off a season in which he hit .371, with 51 doubles, and a 1.033 OPS. He was 26 years old and a shortstop. Perhaps Nomar had already upset the baseball gods by being so powerful at a position where slap hitters like Pesky had traditionally been the norm (Derek Jeter would have been the chosen one in this regard, and Alex Rodriguez the Anti-Christ…), but either way those four surely coaxed him down into the swampy depths of the Monster, Ted leading the way, while the others waited, wearing cloaks in the shadows.

You know that the ceremony must have involved fire, a baseball bat, a gold cross, Babe Ruth’s old jock strap, and a live chicken. Nomar would have had no idea why he was there, or what was happening, and it might have seemed strange when Dom started bashing him on the head with the bat. The old man needing more than a few strikes to knock the young stud out.

Ultimately though, the four Sox legends surely succeeded in performing some sort of ritual that involved transferring the Curse of the Bambino to Nomar’s wrist, from which it spread to his entire body. That winter Nomar underwent wrist surgery that cost him all but a handful of games in 2001. While he would return from the injury, and hit 56 doubles in 2002, he was not the same player he’d been before the injury and while still only 28, he’d already entered his decline phase.

Of course, with the curse still in a Sox player, Boston could not win while Nomar remained with the team, but the legendary foursome knew all they needed was patience. Unfortunately for Ted, there wasn’t enough time, but the others were alive in 2004, when the Sox management decided that the Nomar era had culminated.

Surely, you know the rest of the story. With the curse transferred, and perhaps Teddy Ballgame pulling strings from a Hayfield in Iowa, there was a steal, a historic comeback against the ultimate rival, a sweep in the World Series, a terrible Jimmy Fallon movie, and approximately twenty-four million articles written about what the Sox winning meant to fathers, uncles, and pet turtles everywhere.

For Nomar, what followed was six years as a baseball nomad, going from the Sox to the Cubs, to the Dodgers, to the Athletics. Never again approaching those halcyon MVP days. There have been other players whose careers were adversely affected by injuries, Ken Griffey Jr comes to mind, but Junior had already done enough to warrant Hall of Fame inclusion. There has not been another player in this era who seemed so assured of the Hall, only to have his body break down on him, repeatedly.

As Nomar’s career ground to a halt, the Sox became a monster, winning another World Series, a division title and at least 95 games in four out of five seasons. Perennial contenders, they changed the legacy of their franchise so drastically, that you can only assume it involved sacrificing the career of their best player.

Now, somebody get Shaughnessy on the phone, I’m sure he can bang out “The Curse of the Bambino 2: Revenge of Teddy” by June…

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