Thank the baseball god, he's gone. We no longer have to watch Nomar Garciaparra pretend that he cares about the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox.
This is a strange story. No one ever played harder, or gave more, to the Boston Red Sox and the citizens of Red Sox Nation than Nomar Garciaparra. He was probably the most popular Sox player since Ted Williams, and rightfully so; no player was more worthy of your applause. But at the same time, no player polluted the clubhouse more than Nomar, and in the end, he was the ultimate non-team guy.
He had to go. He was more miserable than any athlete I have ever seen. In the Sox clubhouse, he was as happy as Michael Moore at a Bush family reunion.
His misery dates back to before this season. After the Sox beat the Oakland A's in the fourth game of the 2003 Division Series, the Sox boarded the team bus for the first leg of their journey back to Oakland for the series finale. Everyone was buoyant and gripped with the prospect of going to Oakland and winning Game 5 . . . everyone except for the star shortstop. He got on the bus, turned toward the excited throng, and said, "Why is everyone so happy? As soon as we lose, everyone's just going to rip us."
That was Nomar. The ultimate downer. The wonderful talent who hated playing in a place where people cared too much.
In the end, general manager Theo Epstein talked about upgrading the Red Sox defense and CEO Larry Lucchino talked about getting some value for a player who had no intention of re-signing with Boston. But the real reason that Nomar had to go was because he was dragging everyone down. He was an angry athlete who wanted nothing to do with his teammates and nothing to do with the cause. The Red Sox lost a great bat yesterday, but they liberated 24 players who can move forward with the traditional understanding that everyone in the clubhouse is working toward a common goal.
It was not that way this year with Nomar. Already unsure about his desire to stay in Boston, he was irreparably wounded by the Alex Rodriguez trade efforts of last winter. He was unable to focus on the job at hand.
He can say whatever he wants in front of the camera and he can flash that insincere smile, but make no mistake: He hates Boston and he hates the Red Sox and you should be glad that he's gone. If you are a Red Sox fan, he is not your friend.
That's not to say that he won't be missed on the field. It's impossible to predict that the Sox will be better for this in 2004. They have a new shortstop and first baseman. They have Gold Glovers where they had Cast Iron Glovers. But they lose an offensive force. They no longer have an All-Star shortstop capable of hitting .370 and beating the opposition with his bat, glove, base running, and toughness.
"We were not willing to lose Nomar Garciaparra and get nothing in return," Lucchino said last night, after the deal was announced. "Part of it had to do with his attitude toward re-signing. He was too valuable to get nothing in return."
There is no doubt that this is one of the biggest deals in the history of the Red Sox. Trading Nomar is a bold, brash move by the new front office. This was a megadeal of the highest order. But Nomar asked for this. He was an Army of One -- totally disengaged from the 24 people he took the field with every day. Baseball is a selfish, individual sport, but Garciaparra took that to a new level. That's why he had to go.
"He was struggling," admitted Lucchino. "I had a feeling his health raised uncertainty about his availability. He did seem to struggle. There was a lot of pressure with the injury. There were times the injury was reflected in this kind of pressure . . . and what kind of teammate changes the mood or has the ability to impact the club?"
Lucchino is being polite. The Sox brass wanted to get the angry shortstop out of here. And now he is gone. After seven-plus great seasons.
Had he liked it here, he could have been our DiMaggio. He was that good. But he hated being famous and he hated being a prime-time ballplayer in a region that cares with relentless passion.
So now he is gone. It was a great run, but life goes on without Nomar. It hurts. But it was the right thing to do.
The Red Sox traded a great player. But they have a chance to be a better team without him.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.