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Cul-de-Sad Sack
2005-02-15 12:25
by Mike Carminati

Missed me by that much

—Maxwell Smart catch phrase that was required to be uttered by Don Adams at least once per "Get Smart" episode.

In September 1996 a skinny, 23-year-old shortstop with the boxscore unfriendly name of Nomar Garciaparra came to the Red Sox as and displaced veteran John Valentin, a man who hit 27 home runs with 102 RBIs, 20 stolen bases, and a .298 batting average just a year earlier, to third base. Third baseman Tim Naehring, the Sox previous young savior, who would hit 17 HRs in 1996, was chase very quickly to the bench and then after 70 games in 1997 into the baseball ether.

Garciaparra would go on to have a monster rookie year in 1997. He had 30 home runs, 209 hits, 44 doubles, 11 triples, 98 RBI, 22 steals (in 31 attempts), a .306 batting average, and an .875 OPS (23 percent better than the park-adjusted league average) all as a leadoff hitter. He also had a thirty-game hitting streak, breaking a fifty-four-year-old AL rookie record. He established a record for RBI by a leadoff hitter. He topped off the season by being named AL Rookie of Year by a unanimous vote (matching fellow shortstop Derek Jeter's feat from a year before).

However, the Red sox under new manager Jimy Williams fell to 78-84 after winning the division two years before. The Sox rebounded to score two straight wild card berths in the next two seasons. But the Sox could do no better than second place with "Nomah" and didn't return to the playoffs until 2003, again as a wild card.

And it seems no matter how well Garciaparra played, the second-place finishes turned him from the franchise savior to an albatross around the team's neck. He was too fragile the fans said. This grew from his one injury-plagued season in 2001 (only 21 games) after he bulked up in the offseason and his buff physique appeared on the from of SI. However, Garciaparra played at least 135 in six of his first seven full seasons in the majors and followed 2001 with two straight 156-game years.

In the 2003-04 offseason the Sox were ready to retool their lineup by acquiring then-Ranger shortstop Alex Rodriguez for Manny Ramirez and then in turn trade Garciaparra reportedly to the White Sox for outfielder Magglio Ordonez. But, of course, the A-Rod deal fell through.

In 2004, with a contract about to expire and after missing the first two months of the season, Garciaparra's days in Boston seemed numbered. On July 24 he went 3-for-5 in a 11-10 Red Sox win over the Yankees, but reportedly stayed on the bench during a benches-clearing brawl. Earlier in the month, Derek Jeter dove into the stands and bloodied his goyisha punim to catch a foul ball against the Sox in a game the Yankees won 5-4 in 13 with Garciaparra conspicuously on the bench. In the two previous games, Nomar committed three errors. All of this seemed to seal his fate with the fans and the Red Sox organization. On July 24, Garciaparra was traded in a four-tam deal to the other then-cursed team, the Cubs (The White Sox have yet to earn a curse apparently because of the Black Sox scandal).

So once the team's one-time franchise player is gone, what to the Red Sox go and do? They win the World Series for the first time in one bazillion year (Boston time) earning the apotheosis of GM Theo Epstein and every member of the club.

It was nice to hear that the Sox voted Garciaparra, who played all of 38 games in a Sox uni in 2004, a three-quarter share of the World Series booty. I think he would have preferred the ring, however.

This got me to wondering about similar "sad sack" players, guys who were on a "team of destiny" (i.e., a World Series champ) but got shipped off to another club just in time to miss the parade. I did a bit of research. To qualify the player would never end up winning the lord of the rings, the World Series champion one, just like "Nomah No More".

There have been 129 such players, dating back to Charlie Sweeney, Cyclone Miller, and John Cattanach who were jettisoned midseason by the 1884 NL-AA Champion Providence Grays. Former Red Sock Curt Leskanic, who finished 2004 with KC, can join Garciaparra's pity party.

Anyway, I wanted to know if there were any other "sad sacks" who were of Garciaparra's quality as a player. Here they are arranged by career at-bats along with other salient career stats:
Ruben Sierra1996New York Yankees7846302.269.317.452.769
Dixie Walker1936New York Yankees6740105.306.383.437.820
Jimmy Wynn1977New York Yankees6653291.250.366.436.802
Aurelio Rodriguez1983Baltimore Orioles6611124.237.275.351.626
Jeff Kent1992Toronto Blue Jays6604302.289.352.505.858
Bobby Thomson1957Milwaukee Braves6305264.270.332.462.794
Wally Berger1940Cincinnati Reds5163242.300.359.522.881
Curt Walker1921New York Giants485864.304.374.440.813
Jack Smith1926St. Louis Cardinals453240.287.339.385.724
Nomar Garciaparra2004Boston Red Sox4133182.322.370.549.919
Carlos May1977New York Yankees412090.274.357.392.749
Danny O'Connell1957Milwaukee Braves403539.260.333.351.684
Jerry Adair1966Baltimore Orioles401957.254.292.347.639
Vince DiMaggio1940Cincinnati Reds3849125.249.324.413.737
Hoot Evers1954New York Giants380198.278.353.426.778
Bill Sweeney1907Chicago Cubs369211.272.349.344.693
Daryl Spencer1963Los Angeles Dodgers3689105.244.327.380.707
Dave May1970Baltimore Orioles367096.251.318.375.694
Ollie Brown1972Oakland Athletics3642102.265.324.394.718
Lee Thomas1961New York Yankees3324106.255.327.397.724
Marty Perez1977New York Yankees313122.246.301.316.617
Greg Myers1992Toronto Blue Jays303087.256.314.396.710
Joe Ferguson1981Los Angeles Dodgers3001122.240.358.409.767
Harry Simpson1958New York Yankees282973.266.331.408.739
Ray Mack1947New York Yankees270734.232.301.330.631
Darrin Jackson1993Toronto Blue Jays262980.257.293.403.696
Sam Leslie1933New York Giants246036.304.366.421.787
Ward Miller1909Pittsburgh Pirates22448.278.375.355.729
Heinie Mueller1926St. Louis Cardinals211822.282.342.389.731
Butch Henline1921New York Giants210140.291.361.414.774

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