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No room for neutrality

It feels like the Tuna Fallout all over again. New England sports fans are lining up on opposite sides of a thin red line (not unlike the crimson carpet stripe Nomar wanted in front of his locker to keep the media at arm's length).

You are on one side of the line or the other. You either believe Nomar Garciaparra when he says he always wanted to play for the Red Sox, or you believe management when it tells you the Sox knew long ago that Nomar had no interest in staying here. You either believe Nomar when he says he wasn't withholding services to get himself ready for November, or you believe the Sox, who claim he no longer shared the goals of the team. You are a Nomar guy or a No, No Nomar guy.

This is what it was like in those days, weeks, and months after Bill Parcells bolted a Super Bowl team to coach the New York Jets. In those days, you were either a Tuna Guy or a Bob Kraft Guy.

Now this.

For the record, I was a Tuna Guy and now I am a No, No Nomar guy. I never believed Garciaparra when he said he loved Boston and wanted to stay here (strap him to a polygraph and the machine would explode). Buying Nomie's standard slogans on all things Red Sox is like nodding your head in agreement when Bill Clinton says he didn't inhale.

I buy the club's version that Nomar forced last weekend's trade by telling the Sox training staff (and manager) that he might miss significant stretches of the last two months because of his Achilles' tendon injury. Why else would the team deal a great shortstop and come away with a shortstop who is not as good?

In the meantime, it's easy to understand why most fans will side with Garciaparra. He played his butt off here for every out of every inning, raised his hand for local charities, and took time to sign autographs almost every day. He's also wildly talented.

But his actions behind the scenes demonstrated his desire to get out of Boston. Start with him turning down the $60 million over four years and every other club overture since the spring of 2003. Beyond that, there was his comportment when the TV lights were turned off. He became a virtual recluse in the clubhouse, rarely interacting with teammates, occasionally angry about official scoring decisions, and forever feeling persecuted for reasons no one could fathom. He knew about the A-Rod negotiations but pretended he first heard about them on ESPN. This season, he became difficult about small matters. He demanded to be compensated (and was accommodated) for the use of his image in "Still, We Believe." He feuded with Major League Baseball over a standard MLB sticker on the back of his helmet -- childishly smearing it with dirt after MLB fined him for peeling it off.

Things were never right after the night of July 1 in New York. Long before the Sox got to Yankee Stadium that night, Nomar told his manager he could not play. The Sox had lost two straight, Garciaparra had made some errors, and he wanted to rest on the night of the series finale. Manager Terry Francona said he gave Garciaparra "every opportunity" to start, but the player wanted to sit. And sit is what he did, even when TV cameras showed the rest of his team standing on the top step of the dugout as the drama unfolded. Players on both sides were astounded when Nomar sat for the entire 13 innings -- even after Derek Jeter broke his face diving into the stands.

After that night, there were questions throughout the organization about Nomar's commitment to the Red Sox. And that is why the Sox were so desperate to move him. That's why they failed to get value-for-value for the best shortstop in franchise history. They can say what they want about tweaking the club to improve the defense; they made this deal because it was the best they could do, given their commitment to moving Nomar at all costs.

In his conversation with the Globe's Gordon Edes Monday night, Garciaparra said, "If they don't want me, fine. They traded me. Why can't that be enough?"

He knows better. The club has some explaining to do because it didn't get enough for him in the trade. The club needs to explain to fans why this trade had to be made. John Henry and friends have had a pretty smooth ride since buying the team 2 1/2 years ago. This is the new regime's boldest move to date, and it risks the eternal wrath of the Nation by dealing a player of Nomar's popularity.

Two points of clarification regarding Sunday's column: 1. Nowhere in this space was Garciaparra characterized as a "cancer" in the Sox clubhouse. The word "polluted" was used (which admittedly may be harsher for some), but you won't find "cancer" tossed about casually here. 2. Nomar's dislike for the media has nothing to do with my take on his intentions or sincerity. One more time, people: Regarding the media, players can be helpful or not; it doesn't matter. It's not their job to help us do our job. Please, no more insipid e-mails saying, "Nomar wouldn't talk to you so you got even with him."

If being cooperative with us were all it takes, Lou Gorman would have been hailed as the greatest general manager in baseball history. And Jim Rice wouldn't be getting my Hall of Fame vote.

There. Nomar now plays for the Cubs. The Red Sox have two months to win a wild-card playoff spot. Let's all move on -- even if we are forever split over who's to blame for the departure of one of the greatest players in Red Sox history.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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