I saw yesterday that Nomar Garciaparra signed a one year deal with the Oakland A's a couple days ago.
Circa 1996 there was a lot of talk about the new generation of shortstops who would change the game of baseball. Leading this charge was the trio of talented and presumably beautiful young players, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra. Until that point, shortstop was not a position you expected to get much from on the offensive side of the ball. Guys like Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel were considered as good as you could get at that position. Cal Ripken, Jr. had a bit of power, but was objectively limited in both defense and offense relative to what were considered superstars of the game (I'm not trying to front on Cal, he was definitely in the 95th percentile).
Anyway, these guys were gonna change the game. A-Rod was the standout and Jeter was the leader, but the guy who I honestly thought was gonna be the most valuable of the three was Nomar. I love Derek Jeter, but he was never on the same level as these other two gies from a pure talent standpoint. What Jeter brought and still brings to the table is consistency (Jeebus, look at Jeter's 1999 season. I must have taken that one for granted). I thought that Nomar was the best defensive shortstop and the best pure hitter among the three of them.
In 1999 and 2000 Nomar really started to hit his stride. He hit .357 and .372 respectively. For a while in 2000 it looked like he might hit .400. And his OPS in those years was 1.022 and 1.033 respectively. As I understand, an OPS over 1.000 is pretty good (you'll have to ask Open Bar about these new metrics. He's the one who loves Nate Silver). Then in 2001 he had a freak injury. As it turns out, he was never the same again. He was in Boston in 2002 and 2003, and he played 156 games each year, but he just wasn't the same. At the time Boston traded him in 2004, he was hitting .321, but I guess he wasn't really tearing it up in other areas.
The point is that he, in my opinion, had the potential to really be a legendary type of player. A-Rod (steroids aside) and Jeter I think are sure fire hall of famers. Nomar is definitely not. He's turned into a journeyman and a piece of the puzzle, rather than a lynchpin for a franchise.
We'll put him on the list with Grant Hill, Bill Walton, Larry Johnson and Anfernee Hardaway of gies who would have been legendary but for nagging and unusual injuries. Side note: as I understand, Bill Walton, in the one season he was healthy, dominated the league and led the Trailblazers to a championship nearly single handedly. He was also the guy who allowed UCLA to continue its dominance in the 1970s under John Wooden. On a different list is gies like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry who would have been hall of famers except that they self destructed. Bill Walton impression: "It's a shame that Nomar had that freak wrist injury. He was never the same after that. He'll go down in history as the guy with the most talent who got a bad break and had it taken away from him along with guys like Grant Hill, Anfernee Hardaway, Larry Johnson, Demar Bonnemere, Scooter Baskin, and myself."
On a related note: this isn't worth a whole nother post, but look at how far Dontrelle Willis has fallen. I'm not expert, but this particular case was very predictable. His motion was a disaster from the start and now that he's lost control of his pitches, his mechanics seem to be on the verge of irrecoverable.