What Could Have Been… But Wasn’t For Nomar Garciaparra
Thursday May 17th, 2012
Robert Whitmer: Let’s play some word association. What is the first thing that you think of when you hear Nomar Garciaparra? For me it would have to be his unique batting nuances that he has; the obsessive adjusting of the batting gloves, the toe tapping in the batters box, the rotation of the bat as he does his toe tapping. Those are his trademarks, his calling cards, his version of a door-to-door salesman’s smile as they offer you the latest and greatest *insert unnecessary product here*. Had Nomar not been bitten (on numerous occasions) by the injury bug, he had the potential to be a “once in a lifetime” type of player.
As a supervisor of mine once told me about the word “potential;” “potential just means that you haven’t don’t s*** yet but you have the ability to do great things.” This is the case with Nomar. He had a Willie Mays smoothness when he was in the field. Athletes talk about the game slowing down for them when they get accustomed to their level of competition. This seemed to be the case for Nomar. Now I understand that a lot of skill on the fielding side comes from hours of taking ground balls during practice, but for him it seemed to supersede that. You almost got the idea that he knew where the ball was going before the pitcher had even gotten the sign from the catcher. His bat had the patient swing of Ted Williams with the flash of power to knock the ball out of the park. He had all the tools necessary to make him the kind of player you tell your kids about no matter what team you consider your favorite.
What I will be discussing is my opinion on what could have been IF he had not gotten that wrist injury that caused him to never be the same at the plate and be more cautious in the field. So lets talk numbers. There are 21 hall of fame shortstops that have been inducted so far. Compared to those 21 guys who have been voted as the best at their position, here is how Nomar ranks in eight key statistical categories. In parenthesis will be the leader in that category.
Batting Average: 3rd with .313 career average (Honus Wagner .327)
On Base %: 9th with .361 career average (Arky Vaughn .406)
Slugging %: 1st with .524 career average.
Hits: 19th with 1747 (Honus Wagner 3415)
Home Runs: 3rd with 229 (Ernie Banks 512)
Runs Batted In: 9th with 936 (Honus Wagner 1732)
Runs Scored 18th with 927 (Honus Wagner 1736)
Stolen Bases 16th with 95 (Honus Wagner 722)
With those numbers and where he stands in comparison to the HOF shortstops, I would probably say that he would have had a 50/50 shot of getting in. Now I said that I was going to be giving my opinion on what he COULD HAVE DONE if he didn’t have that wrist injury that bothered him the rest of his career. What I did is take the average number of games he played in BEFORE his wrist injury in 2001, added in the two years AFTER the injury and came up with 150 games (excluding his rookie year). The total number of games he would have played in was 1,950, which leave us with a 516 game difference from what he actually played. So I took his actual stats divided by games played to get an average of stat per game. Then multiplied by 516 (games missed due to injury), added that to actual stat to get his “adjusted career totals.” A statistical dream come true.
Here is an example with his strikeout totals:
Actual Career Total of strikeouts: 554
Actual Games Played: 1434
Average strikeouts per game: .39
Number of injury games: 516
Number of strikeouts he would have had in injury games: 201
Actual career total of strikeouts: 554
Projected total of strikeouts assuming only minor injuries: 755
Got it? Good. Now let’s move on to see how he would rank among the HOF shortstops now! I will not rewrite the leaders in each category, but I will show how much his ranking changed.
ADJUSTED HALL OF FAME RANKING BASED ON ABOVE EQUATION:
Hits: 10th with 2366 (was 19th)
Home Runs: 3rd with 312 (unchanged)
Runs Batted In: 7th with 1271 (was 9th)
Runs Scored: 10th with 1262 (was 18th)
Stolen Bases: 15th with 131 (was 16th)
So what do you think of those numbers. A little more HOF worthy I think.
Finally, I will discuss briefly his legacy and what he left for us to remember him by. We already talked about his batting routine and his silky fielding ability. What will be discussed here is one of the intangibles that can’t be seen on TV or on the back of a baseball card that smells like stale bubble gum. Nomar had a love and passion for the game that you could see every time you looked at him. I had the chance of a lifetime to be a bat boy when I was 24 and he was on the Chicago Cubs. A story that will live with me forever.
It was a balmy March day in Mesa, AZ. I attended a spring training game and was in the stands trying to get Nomar’s autograph on a batting practice home run that he had hit. Apparently the bat boy for the Cubs didn’t show up, so a team representative asked me if I would be willing to fill in. I’m no idiot so of course I said yes. As the game got started and I was told what my duties were, I got nervous. I’m guessing it was obvious because Nomar came up behind me and suggested I not be so nervous. He then trotted out to the batter’s box and hit a towering fly ball that the right fielder caught at the warning track with his back against the wall. He walked back to the dugout and made the following comment with a huge smile on his face; “So much for our strength coach.” Everyone laughed. He didn’t get a hit all game, but that smile never left his face.
Nomar loves the game and that was obvious. That is what I will teach my kids. Not that Nomar liked the game. They have never seen him play. Don’t play because you are the best or because you are getting paid to play. Play because you love the game because it is just that. It’s only a game.
***Today’s feature was prepared by Robert Whitmer, MLB reports Baseball Writer Candidate. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Robert on Twitter (@rwhitmer)***
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Posted on May 17, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged baseball, boston red sox, chicago cubs, espn, honus wagner, mia hamm, mlb, nomar garciaparra, shortstop, ted williams, willie mays. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.