FORT MYERS, Fla. — Nomar Garciaparra rejoined the Red Sox for one day and then retired, ending a 14-year career in which he won two batting titles with Boston and was once a beloved player in the city.
The shortstop signed a one-day contract with his former team Wednesday before announcing he’s leaving baseball at 36 to become an ESPN analyst.
“From the first day I had the thrill of putting on a Red Sox uniform and playing in front of all the great fans at Fenway Park, I have felt at home in Boston,” Garciaparra said in a statement. “While I had the privilege of playing with other legendary teams, I always saw myself retiring in a Red Sox uniform.”
Garciaparra played parts of nine seasons in Boston. He was a six-time All-Star who captured the 1997 American League Rookie of the Year Award and won batting crowns in 1999 and 2000.
He also has a place in Red Sox lore for being part of a four-team trade in 2004 that helped the club win its first World Series in 86 years.
“I felt like I was there,” Garciaparra said, referring to the championship celebration. “In Boston there’s something greater than an individual player winning a World Series. When I was there I realized there’s something bigger than us winning a World Series. It’s winning a World Series for these people.”
Make no mistake, however, there were rough times and bruised feelings. The build-up to the trade lasted months and the Red Sox used him as offseason trade bait in hopes of landing Alex Rodriguez, who wound up with the Yankees.
Then Garciaparra injured his Achilles’ tendon in spring training, and he was sidelined 57 games. By the time he returned, uncertainty had taken its toll on fans and in the clubhouse. Was he staying or going?
He went, and the Red Sox acquired Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz and Dave Roberts. From the day after Garciaparra left until the end of the regular season, the Red Sox went 42-18 for the best finish in baseball, capping the season with their first World Series crown since 1918.
General manager Theo Epstein, who grew up in the Boston area, was responsible for the trade.
“We’ve been fortunate over the years to maintain a relationship after the trade,” Epstein said. “I think both of us understood at the time that it wasn’t about Nomar and it wasn’t about me. It was just baseball trades that happen. They’re about what’s going on with the team at the time and certain things that had to happen. But, it didn’t change what Nomar meant to the Red Sox.”
Terry Francona, who took over as Red Sox manager in 2004, saw just the last few months of Garciaparra’s time at Fenway Park.
“His last part in Boston was tough,” Francona said. “He was kind of Boston-ed out. It had kind of wore on him for whatever reasons. Sometimes it’s time to move on. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. I think the fact he’s come back kind of shows that.”
Garciaparra’s teammates — the beneficiaries of his acrobatic defense and clutch hitting — found it appropriate that he retired in a Boston uniform.
“He was a Red Sox for a long time and I think he’ll always be remembered as a Red Sox,” said pitcher Tim Wakefield, who was Garciaparra’s teammate for the shortstop’s entire stay in Boston. “For the organization to sign him to a one-day deal and have him retire as a Red Sox is pretty special. I’m really happy for him. I wish he was still playing but sometimes our careers take different paths.”
Garciaparra threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, with Jason Varitek catching. Garciaparra and Varitek were teammates in Boston and at Georgia Tech.
“Nomar will always hold a special place in Red Sox history and in the hearts of Red Sox Nation,” owner John Henry said. “His accomplishments on the field and in the community place him among the greatest players to wear a Red Sox uniform. We are very appreciative that Nomar is ending his career where it began.”
Garciaparra spent the past five seasons with the Cubs, Dodgers and A’s. He had a .313 career average with 229 home runs and 936 RBIs.
Garciaparra was in the thick of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry but always earned the respect of his opponents in New York.
“I always enjoyed playing against Boston because of Nomar,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “I used to enjoy being mentioned with him.”
Added Rodriguez: “I love Nomar. He’s a great player and a friend.”