ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- His story never wavered. From the beginning, Nomar Garciaparra attributed the tendinitis in his right Achilles' tendon to a ball striking him in batting practice before an exhibition game between the Red Sox and Northeastern University March 5 at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla. But Garciaparra said he never knew who hit the ball. And no one else in the organization acknowledged hitting the ball or witnessing the incident.
As it turns out, the episode may not have happened. Two sources familiar with Garciaparra's case said yesterday that Garciaparra told a different story to club officials, but the team never contradicted the shortstop's story, even though club officials were aware it wasn't accurate. One source said he was told Garciaparra was injured before spring training.
Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, called the assertion "absolutely, positively [expletive]. Totally, unequivocally, positively false."
Garciaparra, after initial projections he would be out for just a few days, missed the first 57 games because of the injury. Sox general manager Theo Epstein said he traded Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs last Saturday after the shortstop told manager Terry Francona and team trainers three days earlier that he would probably need to miss "significant" playing time this month because of the injury and would likely require more time on the disabled list. The day after the trade, Garciaparra denied saying that.
Francona and Epstein last night declined comment on the latest development, saying the Sox had agreed the night before with Tellem to halt a public dispute that centered on Garciaparra's physical condition and the reasons why the club and the five-time All-Star were unable to agree on a contract extension that would have kept him in Boston.
Why Garciaparra would shield the exact nature of his injury is unknown. One possible explanation is that his value on the free agent market could be diminished if he suffered from a chronic case of Achilles' tendinitis rather than from an injury from a specific trauma. Another possibility was that he wanted to avoid additional questions about the rigorous training program for elite athletes in which he participates each winter at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz.
Why the Sox would participate in masking the cause of Garciaparra's injury also remained in question, though teams have been known to shade the exact nature of player injuries.
The circumstances surrounding Garciaparra's injury initially were so vague team officials said he was suffering from a bruised heel. He played the first game of the exhibition season against the Twins March 4 before he said he was struck by the ball the next day. At first, the injury was described as so minor that Garciaparra was expected to miss only a day or two.
"It's nothing serious," he said. "I just got hit by a ball in BP."
When he was unable to play March 7 against the Yankees, he became irate when a reporter asked him if he were ducking the game, refusing comment as he walked away. Yet he continued to maintain the injury was minor.
"It's not bad at all," he said. "If this was the season, I'd be in there."
Garciaparra returned to action March 9 against the Reds and played again March 11 against the Orioles. Then he sat out until March 17, when he played his final exhibition game against the Indians. He went hitless in eight at-bats in four exhibition games.
The Sox ultimately shut him down in spring training, hoping he would be ready to play by early April. But they placed him on the 15-day disabled list March 31, saying he would need three weeks of rest and rehabilitation before he could be reexamined and possibly cleared for a minor league rehab assignment.
"It's a long season," Epstein said at the time. "It's a long career. We want to make sure we put this behind us so it doesn't become more chronic."
Garciaparra returned June 9 and continued to report lingering problems with the Achilles'.
Before the trade, Epstein said he shared all of Garciaparra's medical information with Cubs GM Jim Hendry, who said he was satisfied the Sox had given him all relevant information. The trainers for both teams talked on the morning of the trade.
Cubs trainer Dave Groeschner told the Chicago Sun-Times that Sox trainers told him Garciaparra might need the odd day off, which is not what Epstein said he was told when he talked to Francona and the trainers. Epstein said he was so alarmed by what he was told about Garciaparra needing significant time off that he called principal owner John W. Henry into his office to participate in the discussion.
"I talked to the [Boston] trainer several times about all this," Groeschner said. "They told me exactly what Nomar did when he got here -- that he may need a day off once in a while. We're comfortable with where he is right now."
Garciaparra, in Colorado with the Cubs to play the Rockies, repeated his denials there to Chicago reporters.
"I have heard a lot of stuff," he told reporters. "Earlier in the year, I heard I was faking it. I was like, `Yeah, I want to sit out for a month in a year when I'm a free agent.' That makes a lot of sense."
For the first time, Garciaparra also addressed the reason he remained seated on the bench during the Sox' 13-inning loss to the Yankees July 1, the one he sat out after telling trainers he could not play because the tendon was sore.
"My teammates told me to go sit down in a specific spot so we can go score some runs," he said. "Then I heard I'm unhappy there and I wanted out. I was like, `Man, if I wanted out, why did my wife and I buy a new home [in Boston] in the offseason?' I don't know where it comes from."
Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.