In 1997 when John Valentin was forced to move off shortstop for a hot-shot rookie he was understandably annoyed. However, once he saw the dynamic shortstop play, he quickly got over it. In his rookie campaign Nomar had 209 hits, 30 home runs and hit .306/.545/.875 all at age 23. Wow.
Over the 7 full seasons he played with the team, Nomar was one of the most popular players in the history of the Red Sox. I remember lustily cheering "NoMAR's BETter" at Sox/Yankees games whenever Jeter would come to the plate, and it was true. Until he took an Al Reyes fastball off his wrist, Nomar was one of the most exciting and complete players in baseball.
As a Red Sox player, Nomar hit 178 home runs, hit .318, was a 5-time All Star, won the Rookie of the Year (Deivi Cruz finished 4th!) , earned back-to-back batting titles and played some stellar defense. Nomar LOVED baseball.
Unfortunately, Boston is a demanding place to play and Nomar's relationship with the media was never particularly strong. Steve Buckley and John Tomase at the Boston Herald were the most vocal in their displeasure with Nomar, because he wasn't accommodating to their needs. Because of that, they started writing hatchet jobs of him in their paper, leading to some fan backlash and definitely helping to lead him out of town.
I remember July 31st, 2004 vividly. I was heading into my second job at a restaurant and the douchiest waiter there was dancing around, "We traded Nomar!" he gleefully squealed. I was not as excited. I thought the deal was fine, it seemed a little light in talent, but fair enough. Intellectually I understood it, but I was not ready to just celebrate the team jettisoning it's most popular star. The Red Sox were Nomar; 1997 was the dawn of the Nomar age, 1998 was the arrival of Pedro and the two of them were the team.
Today, Nomar is signing a one-day minor league contract with the Red Sox and will then retire to join ESPN and Baseball Tonight. He played 14 seasons in the majors, finishing with a .313 career average, and an OPS+ of 124 and never saw a first pitch he didn't want to hit. A favorite of Ted Williams, Nomar was a hitting machine who could also play an excellent shortstop.
It's a bit surprising Nomar is choosing to join the media, considering his contentious relationship with the press in the past, but today I'm sad I'll never get to see him make a rocket throw across his body and the diamond to nab the runner by a step. I'm sad I'll never see a line-drive double fly off his bat, I'm sad to see Nomar go. Sure the last few seasons have been painful (to watch and for Nomar) but he's always been a favorite, someone I've followed no matter what.
This past summer, when Nomar arrived for the first time ever as a visiting player to Fenway Park was magical. The long, well-deserved, applause swelled around the stadium as Sox fans finally got the chance to say "thank you." It was special, just like Nomar.