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Assessing Nomar Garciaparra's candidacy for the Hall of Fame

In the late 1990s/early 2000s, Garciaparra was one of the elite players in the game. Then injuries started to take their toll.

Nomar Garciaparra
Nomar Garciaparra
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Drafted in 1994 out of Georgia Tech, Nomar Garciaparra rocketed through the Boston minor-league system, making his MLB debut in late August of 1996. He won the starting shortstop job in Spring Training the following year, and won the AL Rookie of the Year award on a unanimous vote. Derek Jeter, who made his debut in 1996, Alex Rodriguez, who was still only 21 years old, and Garciaparra became known as the "Holy Trinity" of shortstops. Until 2000, it was anyone's guess which of the three would have the better career.

But in 2001, Garciaparra suffered the first several debilitating injuries, and although he would remain a decent or even good player up until 2009, he would never again be the dominating force that he was between 1997 and 2000.

The Case for Nomar Garciaparra

His strongest selling point would be his peak, which was outstanding. If you look just at his career with the Red Sox (1996-2003), he hit .323/.370/.555 (134 OPS+) while playing shortstop. He (or Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez) should have won the 1998 AL MVP over Juan Gonzalez, and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting in his four full seasons in the majors. He led the league in batting average in 1999 and 2000, led the league in doubles in 2002, and appeared in six All-Star Games during a period with at least two Hall of Fame talents at the same position and in the same league (Rodriguez, Jeter, Vizquel). If you rank shortstops by their best seven seasons (WAR), Nomar's 43.0 is just behind Hall of Famer Barry Larkin's 43.1 and ahead of Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith (42.3), Bobby Wallace (41.8) and Pee Wee Reese (41.0).

He was a key part of several excellent Boston teams, and was utterly dominant in the 1998 and 1999 postseasons. Garciaparra, along with Pedro Martinez were pretty much the reason why the Indians blew a 2-0 lead in the ALDS. Plus he had those signature quirks in the batter's box:

The Case against Nomar Garciaparra

Nomar's total career wasn't long enough (or productive enough) to even have his great peak come into play. As mentioned above, his best seven seasons stack up against many Hall of Famers, but those seven great seasons is basically all he did. Nomar's total career WAR is 44.2, compared with Larkin's 70.2, Smith's 76.5, Wallace's 70.2, and Reese's 66.3. If Nomar had aged more gracefully, he'd have a compelling case. But instead, he quickly became a corner player with middling offensive production when he was healthy.

My two cents

In his New Historical Baseball Abstract (2001), Bill James ranked Garciaparra and Derek Jeter between #17 and #18 among all-time shortstops, noting somewhat prophetically (at least as far as Garciaparra is concerned) that "We do not know whether any of these men will eventually better seasons than they have already had." Jeter was able to stay a productive player for another 10 seasons after this was written, while Garciaparra had just 2 more productive campaigns.

An unfortunate no.