Nomar Garciaparra's career is an excellent object lesson in the non-inevitability of immortality.
In his first season with the Red Sox, Garciaparra was named Rookie of the Year (unanimously) after leading the American League in hits and triples.
In his second season, Garciaparra finished second in the MVP balloting and should have finished first.
In his third season, Garciaparra batted .357 and won the American League batting title.
In his fourth season, Garciaparra batted .372 and won the batting title again.
Garciaparra was on his way to the Hall of Fame ... but he wasn't alone.
In those four seasons, Garciaparra had hit .337/.386/.577 ... and yet somehow wasn't universally regarded as the best shortstop on the planet. Or even in the American League.
There was Alex Rodriguez, who hit .304/.372/.560 without the benefit of playing half his games in Fenway Park.
There was Derek Jeter, who hit .325/.402/.479, also without the benefit of Fenway Park (but with four World Series rings locked away somewhere).
But for a moment in time, Garciaparra was the darling among them. In that fourth season (2000), Garciaparra went 3-for-5 in the first game of a mid-July doubleheader in Baltimore -- I was there -- to lift his batting average to .403.
Garciaparra went 0-for-5 in the second game that evening, stayed in the .390-.400 range for another few weeks, then batted .346 from Aug. 14 through the end of the season to finish at .372. Still ...
What we didn't know was that Garciaparra had a wrist injury. A serious injury. In 2001, he didn't play until late July, struggled in 21 games and shut things down for the rest of the season. There was a surgery, and it was "successful" ... but Garciaparra would never again be that player, never again a threat to win a batting title or an MVP award.
In each of the next two seasons, Garciaparra played in 156 games; he'd never done that before. In both of them, he topped .300 and in one of them he hit 56 doubles. He was still, it should be recalled, on a path to Cooperstown. There were still a few twists and turns to be navigated, but Garciaparra's body of work before turning 30 was right in line with that of past Hall of Fame middle infielders.
Then, 2004. Still with the under-new-management Red Sox, Garciaparra hit when he played, but he didn't play a great deal. And when he played, that new management considered him a liability with the glove. Whether because of the injuries or the fading spotlight or management's attitude or the big contract offer that he'd rejected -- perhaps foolishly, it then seemed -- Garciaparra wasn't happy with the Red Sox and the feeling seemed to be mutual.
Something had to give. Just before the trading deadline, Garciaparra went to the Cubs in a four-team transaction that brought Orlando Cabrera to Fenway Park to play shortstop.
Cabrera didn't play any better than Garciaparra had. But Garciaparra's teammates didn't miss him, the Red Sox went on a 22-3 run in mid-August and eventually won (finally) the World Series. Everything else is details, which for Garciaparra have included two more teams and a depressing assortment of nagging injuries.
For all of the bad feelings in 2004, the parties reunited today for a fond farewell. This story doesn't have the ending we expected, 10 years ago. But a happy ending is a happy ending.