One baseball story that hasn't gotten much attention this year—possibly because its subject is painfully media-averse—is the resurgence of Nomar Garciaparra. Of all the amazing developments in the Dodgers' four-homers-in-the-ninth comeback win the other night, the most amazing might have been Nomar's open celebration of the walk-off homer he hit in the tenth. He circled first base pumping his arms and shouting; for a moment, it looked like he might do a series of vertical leaps a la Joe Carter. I'd never seen him so emotional before.
Jason Gay, an editor here at GQ, describes Nomar in his prime as the best contact hitter he's ever seen, and I think that's about right. Nomar would swing at anything—pitches a foot outside the zone, pitches in the dirt—but his bat was so fast and his coordination so good that he'd almost always hit screaming line drives. Four seasons into his career, people were talking Hall of Fame. Ted Williams, who was close to him, predicted he'd someday hit .400.
Then he was struck on the wrist by a pitch. The Nomar who returned in 2002, after a year's rehabilitation, was no longer capable of hitting .372, as he'd done in his last full season. But he stubbornly kept swinging at everything, refusing to acknowledge his new physical limitations. It was painful and frustrating to watch. Red Sox fans started complaining about his approach at the plate—this, while he batted .310 and .301. That's how great he'd been before his injury.
Boston traded him to Chicago in 2004 and went on to win the World Series without him. The next year, having accepted a humiliating demotion from shortstop to first base, he had the worst full season of his career. He signed with the Dodgers after that; people said he "could still be a valuable role player."
At midseason of this year, to my delight, he'd emerged as a viable MVP candidate. Then he got hurt again. Now he's back, though, and hitting walk-off homers, and the Dodgers are strong contenders for the postseason. I'm really, really hoping to see him there. For Nomar, the playoffs are an opportunity to vindicate himself in front of the entire baseball world, and don't think he doesn't know it.