Two weeks ago, the LA Dodgers were playing .500 ball, and were just 2 ½ games back in the NL West. Nomar Garciaparra, coming off 2 injury-riddled years, played in eighty percent of the team’s games, and had played them well. Always trying to proactively stay ahead of stories, I started constructing in my mind a ‘Nomar Garciaparra for MVP’ angle. Alas, the Dodgers dropped their next 8 games, are now 7 ½ games back, and onto the next storyline I go. Nonetheless, it is a joy to watch one of baseball’s true gamers back in the saddle. Nomahh! Affectionately screamed, in the true fashion my Bostonian friends who need to buy "R’s" in lieu of vowels on Wheel of Fortune, used to belt out. Nomar is batting .327 with a .398 OBP, 12 Hrs, 57 RBIs, and has only made one error in his first year playing 1st base. He has struck out only 17 times in 312 At-bats. Joltin’ Joe would be proud. In the off-season, I opined that we may be watching the modern-day poor man’s version of Mr. Dimaggio himself in Nomahh. I humbly offer this retrospective for the readers of www.spikesballparks.com , and those here at MLBlogs.com who haven’t had the chance to peruse it yet. Enjoy.
As I was dissecting the busy off-season of the Dodgers, I started thinking about Nomar. Will he ever be healthy again? He’s been such a joy to watch play over the years; we just haven’t seen much of him recently. Some forget he used to be at the forefront of the "Best Shortstop" debate. He’s slated to open the season at 1st base, and when Cesar Izturis comes back, it is likely Jeff Kent will slide over, and nomar will see his first action ever in the outfield. I reminisced on years past watching Nomar pre-game take infield grounders w/ panache’, at game speed, constantly working at his craft. It occurred to me we maybe we’re watching a modern-day version, a poor man’s one, of the Yankee Clipper himself, Giuseppe Paolo(Joe) Dimaggio. (I understand that Joe D made his living in the OF, yet I think the context of the Era in which he played needs to be applied. Players were smaller and most players his size were immediately sent to the OF. A manager who played him at shortstop probably would have been ridiculed. In the modern Era, given the mammoth growth in players(even naturally, lol), it’s plausible Joe D would’ve played shortstop, and I’m sure he would’ve made a fine one.)
Blasphemy? Well, it’s hard to compare anyone to the man voted as the Greatest Living Ballplayer by baseball journalists in 1969. A player who Ted Williams, no slouch himself, was quoted as saying was the greatest all-around player he ever saw. A player who Stan Musial, another slacker(sarc.), said whose best beat everyone’s else’s best, including his own. I decided to give it a try anyway.
Both measured in at 6 feet plus and 190 lbs., and were natives of California. Both dated/married prolific females. Dimaggio with pop culture icon Marilyn Monroe, and Garciaparra with America’ s greatest woman soccer player ever, Mia Hamm.
Compelling similarities start with how both players played the great game of baseball. They both are/were free-swingers who don’t/didn’t strike out a lot(Dimaggio’s 361 Hrs in the context of only 369 K’s is amazing), not afraid to tomahawk the upper-in fastball for a 2-bagger down the left field line. Wide batting stances. Explosions out of the batter’s box running to first base. Great baseball intuition. Flair and grace, blended with a tireless work ethic.
A few quotes.
Joe D: I’m just a ballplayer with one ambition, and that is to give all I’ve got to help my ballclub win. I’ve never played any other way.
Nomar: Every year I have just one goal in mind an that is to win the World Series.
Joe D: I think there are some players born to play ball.
Nomar: I guess my theory is that God put a bat in my hand and it wasn’t there to look pretty so I might as well swing it.
Joe D: All pitchers are born pitchers.
Nomar: I don’t really know pitchers. (Personally)
Joe D’s career BA: .325. Nomar’s: .320. Both men won two batting titles, and did it in consecutive years ending a decade(1939/40…1999/2000). Both led the league in triples once. Joe D hit for more power, but when pro-rated over 162 games it’s not quite so daunting, a 34 vs 29 split. The Rbi’s, at 143 vs 112 pro-rated, is the biggest statistical divergence.
Joe D hit .381 in 1939, his 4th year. Nomar hit .372 in 2000, his 4th year, and in synchronistic fashion that was the highest BA by a right-handed hitter since the Yankee Clipper himself.
Joe D. Holds the (amazing) consecutive games hitting streak at 56. Nomar’s 30-games hit streak in 1997, is the rookie record.
Joe D’s 10 World Series appearances and 3 MVPs are where the comparison pauses. Hence, the ‘Greatest Player Still Living’ honor back in 1969, as well as all the anecdotal adulation. Yet, let us consider all the statistical parallels. Then, let’s couple those with their physical likenesses. Both players exhibited traits such as hustle professionalism, grace, team-first mentality, high baseball I.Q.’s/intuition, and were "gamers". Their respective stat lines, as impressive as they were did and do not quantify their worth to their ballclubs. It then occurs to us that in Nomar Garciaparra we may be watching the modern-day poor man’s equivalent of the Yankee Clipper himself.
Peace, E Maj
–with Opening Day behind us, we thought we’d re-run this Winter Baseball Nine, as our love for the game is once again renewed, and the Boys of Summer are back–
(Editor’s Note: the BB Heckler puts on his skirt and waxes sentimental on his love of being at the Ballpark)
1) A young child learning the game, and eagerly anticipating that foul ball he just knows is going to be hit to him.
2) Singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ during the 7th inning stretch, and for 5 minutes, the peace and harmony of 40,000 people not caring what’s wrong in their life or in the world.
3) Knowing exactly what hotdogs are made from, and not caring one iota as I order two.
4) Watching the professionalism of the grounds crew, who enjoy their jobs, and treat the field as the sacred place that it is.
5) Having fun with good friends as we think of how many peanut guy slogans we can come up with "Put some of my salty nuts in your mouth, they’re delicious".
6) A classic pitcher’s duel, where the first(and only) mistake loses the game.
7) The crack of the bat, the crescendo of the roaring crowd, a well-timed well-placed Heckle.
8)Being outdoors on a 75 degree night, a 7 dollar beer, and all the Sunflower Seeds one can spit as we map out our ‘Foul Ball Strategy’.
9) Calling pitches and talking baseball w/friends and strangers who appreciate the infinite amount of algorithmic possibilities that can occur from pitch to pitch.