Special to Page 2
Editor's note: The following is adapted from Seth Mnookin's new book, "Feeding the Monster," copyright (c) 2006 by Seth Mnookin. Excerpted by permission of Simon and Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This selection follows the fractured relationship Nomar Garciaparra had with the Boston media and the Red Sox ownership until his departure via a trade in July of 2004.
In 2000, Nomar Garciaparra, the Boston Red Sox's superstar shortstop, was in the third year of a five-year deal he'd signed in the spring of 1998, when he had only one full season under his belt. The contract was worth $23.25 million, for an average of $4.65 million a year, and the Red Sox held options worth around $11 million a year for 2003 and 2004. Neither Derek Jeter nor Alex Rodriguez, the two elite American League shortstops to whom Garciaparra was most often compared, had signed this kind of lucrative contract early in his career. Instead, after the 2000 season, both players signed gaudy, long-term deals.
Rodriguez, only 25 and already eligible for free agency, was already seen as the person most likely to be considered the next decade's best all-around player. He had excellent power, intense ambition, good range, and was a threat on the basepaths. Garciaparra was good, to be sure, but he wasn't quite as fast, wasn't quite as savvy a baserunner, hit for a little less power, wasn't as good a defender, and perhaps most importantly, was two years older. In December 2000, Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks offered Rodriguez an incredible $252 million, ten-year deal. It was, many said at the time, a foolish move: Rodriguez's next-highest suitor offered around $100 million less. But Hicks thought Rodriguez would bring him, and the Rangers, instant credibility. That same winter Jeter, who out of the three marquee shortstops had perhaps the highest baseball IQ but the lowest level of natural ability, was signed to a 10-year deal for $189 million. That was also a hugely inflated price, but it was what the Yankees' George Steinbrenner was willing to pay to ensure Jeter, who'd joined the team as a full-time starter as a 21-year-old in 1996, spent most of his career in New York. Those deals came to gnaw at Garciaparra. "He felt like he was in the same category as an A-Rod or a Jeter," says former Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon. "And that he should be paid like that ... At the time when Jeter signed that contract, Nomar was actually considered the better player."
|BUY THE BOOK|
The Nomar Saga is just the tip of the iceberg. Head on over to Amazon.com to find out how the capital of Red Sox Nation operates.
After an injury-plagued 2001, Garciaparra made a near-full recovery in 2002, batting .310 with 24 home runs. By the end of the season, he was back among Boston's beloved, but he couldn't stop thinking about Jeter's and Rodriguez's deals. Even in his rookie year, Garciaparra thought, he'd hit for a higher average, hit more home runs, had more runs batted in, and had more hits than his two rivals. On the Red Sox, both Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez were making more. "You look at your teammates, what they are making," Garciaparra says, speaking in detail for the first time about his contract negotiations with the Red Sox. "Manny's making $20 [million dollars a year]. Pedro's making $17 [million]. You see where you fit in, you see what you do. Alex is making $25 [million], Jeter's making $19 [million]. I mean, where do I fit it in? Let's figure it all out."
As this was occupying the obsessive Garciaparra, John Henry and Tom Werner, the Red Sox's new owners, and Larry Lucchino, the team's CEO, approached Garciaparra and his agent, Arn Tellem, to begin discussions about a contract extension. The Sox still had Garciaparra's two option years, but the team's brass agreed they wanted to find a way to keep the shortstop on the team for the long term. "We saw him as a potentially iconic figure for the franchise," says Lucchino. The three men met with Garciaparra and Tellem on John Henry's yacht during spring training in 2003.
That day, the Red Sox offered a four-year contract extension worth $60 million, which would keep Garciaparra with the Red Sox at least until he was 35. Lucchino says the Red Sox were obviously aware that this was a lower annual salary than Jeter and Rodriguez had gotten a few years before, but they felt it was a fair offer, even a generous one. "We tried to explain that there seemed to be a changing landscape, a changing market," Lucchino says. Indeed, since Rodriguez, Jeter, and Ramirez had signed their deals before the 2001 season, no one else had gotten a deal worth $20 million a year.
"I said, 'Great,'" Garciaparra says. "Four years, $15 million, fine: we agree on that. That is great. What I would like, though, I asked for a signing bonus for $8 million." That would bring the average annual value of his contract to $17 million -- "less than everybody [else]," Garciaparra points out, referring to Boston's two highest paid players, along with Jeter and Rodriguez -- but still enough so that he wouldn't feel resentful. In Garciaparra's mind, the signing bonus would actually be divided up between the next two years of his deal, when he was slated to make about $11 million a year. That way, he says, the four-year extension would feel more like a six-year deal at $15 million a year. In either case, Garciaparra says, he thought that they'd agreed on a baseline from which they'd work off of as they moved forward. "Shoot," he says, "I'm already accepting the $15 [million]."
The Red Sox, however, saw things differently. "We just weren't doing a contract for that kind of money," says Lucchino of Tellem and Garciaparra's $68 million counter offer, "so it was kind of back to the drawing board." The two sides agreed to keep talking, but when no deal had been reached by the beginning of the 2003 season, they decided to revisit the issue at the end of the year. "I thought, great, we're almost there," says Garciaparra. "Let's go into the season and we'll work out the specifics afterwards." In Garciaparra's mind, this would already cost him the $4 million of his requested "signing bonus" which he'd wanted to tack onto his 2003 salary. "My thought throughout the season was, 'One season's over, I probably won't get that $4 million.' I don't know if they really grasped it."
Certainly nothing happened during the 2003 season to make Garciaparra feel that his value had dropped. That year, he made his fifth All-Star team, and even after a horrendous end-of-season slump -- he hit only .170 in September -- he ended the year at .301 with 28 home runs and 105 runs batted in. "It was an exciting year," he says. "Everything was great, and going into the offseason. Now it was just a matter of hearing from them."
On Saturday, October 25, 2003, 23-year-old Josh Beckett pitched a complete game shutout on short rest to lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series victory over the Yankees, four games to two. Two days later, on the morning of Monday, October 27th, the Red Sox told Grady Little that, in the wake of Boston's collapse in Game 7 in the American League Championship Series, he wouldn't be invited back for the 2004 season. Little's dismissal surprised no one. The local media predicted the Sox's search for a new manager would take center-stage alongside the questions of whether to pursue pitchers such as Bartolo Colon and Kevin Millwood, and how the fix the bullpen. "Boston's baseball brain trust is gearing up for one of the hottest offseasons in recent memory," The Boston Globe wrote on October 29th.
|CHAT WITH SETH|
|Chat with Seth about the Red Sox, his insider access throughout the 2005 and his new book, Thursday at noon ET.|
They had no idea. A series of deals made during former Sox general manager Dan Duquette's tenure with the team were all coming due at the same time, and four of the team's nine regular starting players (Garciaparra, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek and the Theo Epstein-signed David Ortiz), as well as two of its five starting pitchers (Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe), had contracts that expired at the end of the 2004 season. Epstein, who had been made baseball's youngest-ever general manager a year earlier, had never agreed with Duquette's approach, with its emphasis on a handful of big-name superstars who invariably demanded enormous contracts. He also thought that one of the team's historic problems was its fixation on immediate gratification. Instead of building a strong farm system that would produce high-quality players under the team's control, the Sox scrambled, year after year, trading away their future for the fantasy of succeeding in the present. Ironically, it was Epstein's very belief in long-term planning that emboldened him to shoot for the moon in 2004. The Red Sox wouldn't sign all of their impending free agents precisely because it wasn't worth paying exorbitant sums for stars on the downsides of their careers. But there was no reason to waste the team they had. It was time for the Red Sox to go for it, and Epstein, by not gorging on high-priced contracts in his first year as general manager, had the flexibility to search for high-impact players.
Already, Boston was deep in talks with the Texas Rangers in an effort to trade for Alex Rodriguez, who, at 28, was projected to have plenty more great years ahead of him. Since arriving in Texas, Rodriguez had performed pretty much as advertised. But the Rangers had gotten worse every year since Rodriguez had joined the team, and had finished in last place in the American League West three years running. Owner Tom Hicks decided he wanted to free up payroll, creating what seemed like a perfect opportunity for Boston. "[Hicks] told me he was interested in moving A-Rod, and Boston was one of the places he was willing to go," says Lucchino. Hicks told Lucchino the Rangers wanted Garciaparra and some of the Red Sox's young pitchers in return.
The day after the 2003 World Series ended, Lucchino and Hicks met at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. The market for Rodriguez, small to begin with, was shrinking: the Yankees had already told Hicks they weren't interested in trading for A-Rod. That day, Lucchino said Boston wasn't willing to part with Garciaparra, but they would consider a deal in which Texas would take on Manny Ramirez, whose agent had recently told the Sox he wanted to be traded to a city where there was less media attention focused on the team. The Sox, according to John Henry, were hoping that should the deal work out, either Garciaparra or Rodriguez would move to second or third base.
Simultaneous to this, Theo Epstein and Arn Tellem were renewing their discussions about Garciaparra's contract. Tellem was still pushing for a four-year deal whose average annual value was around $17 million. Epstein replied that the Red Sox felt that during the course of the season the market had shifted even more. Two-thousand-and-three's top free agent, the Montreal Expos' Vladimir Guerrero, wasn't expected to command a deal for even $15 million annually, and Oakland A's' shortstop Miguel Tejada, the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player, was expected to sign for somewhere around $8 million. (Guerrero eventually signed a five-year deal with the Anaheim Angels worth around $14 million a year, while Tejada signed a six-deal with the Baltimore Orioles worth approximately $12 million a year.) The Red Sox, Epstein said, were now thinking more along the lines of $12 million a year. But Tellem wouldn't budge. If that was the best the Sox could do, he said, then they should simply try to trade Garciaparra before the season began.
When, in early December, the Boston Herald's Tony Massarotti broke news about a face-to-face meeting between Rodriguez and John Henry, there was an immediate frenzy of media coverage around the country. Garciaparra, who was in Hawaii honeymooning with Mia Hamm, whom he'd married just two weeks earlier, says hearing that the Red Sox owner had been personally wooing another shortstop was hurtful and insulting. Within days, Garciaparra and his agent joined in the fray, with Garciaparra calling Boston's sports radio station, WEEI, from Hawaii to say publicly that he wanted to remain in Boston. That same day, Arn Tellem called John Henry's discussions with Rodriguez "a slap in the face to Nomar." Garciaparra's goal, Tellem said, "which we've communicated to the Red Sox, has always been to return to the Red Sox and play out his entire career in Boston." No mention was made of Tellem telling Theo Epstein that the Red Sox would be better off trading Garciaparra than offering him $12 million a year. Henry, furious, responded by calling Tellem's comments "the height of hypocrisy."
Garciaparra says that he hadn't yet learned of the Red Sox's four-year offer for $12 million a year at this point, and therefore couldn't have told Tellem that he was so offended by the offer that he wanted to be traded. (Tellem, who refused to comment for this book, did arrange for Garciaparra to speak in an on-the-record interview.) Multiple sources on the Red Sox have independently confirmed the fact of Tellem's requests to the team, making it seem likely that Garciaparra's agent was fudging his client's position a bit in order to increase leverage with the team. This isn't unusual in baseball, where players rarely insist they be kept informed of every stage of the negotiating process. From the first days of their careers, ballplayers are told that team owners should in no way be trusted; after all, owners want to sign players for as little money as possible, and they don't think twice about trading or getting rid of a player that's no longer useful. Agents often become a kind of all-purpose confidant and advisor, and their advice is rarely questioned.
But the agent's actions and the player's best interests don't always coincide. It seems likely that when Epstein made the Red Sox's four-year, $12 million a year offer to Tellem immediately after the 2003 season, Tellem thought he'd be able to get the team to $15 million a year by telling them Garciaparra would rather be traded than sign such a deal -- there was no reason for Tellem to think at the time that the Red Sox were seriously considering a future without Garciaparra on the team. Instead, the Red Sox took Tellem's request that the team trade Garciaparra at face value. Tellem, says Henry, "made it pretty clear that we wouldn't be able to sign Nomar." The Red Sox might have pursued Rodriguez regardless, but this made the decision a whole lot easier.
Whatever the situation, Garciaparra insists that he still thought the $15 million-a-year, four-year deal was on the table. When, immediately after the spat between Henry and Tellem erupted in public, the Red Sox leaked to the Globe that Garciaparra had turned down the $60 offer million the team had made in spring training, Garciaparra was shocked.
"I was like, 'Whoa, what is going on here?'" Garciaparra says. "Since when did I turn it down? At what point did I reject this? I'm scratching my head." If Garciaparra wasn't upset before, he was now, and the many months of negotiations were only fueling his paranoia. (At one point during the 2003 season, Garciaparra had confided to friends that he thought management was instructing the team's grounds crew to rough up the dirt in front of his shortstop position so he would have a harder time fielding balls. Garciaparra believed this was done so he would make more errors, lessening his value before he was signed a new deal. He also told at least one person he thought the team was bugging his phone.) Just as upsetting as the front office's stance was the press coverage of the potential trade. Everyone, it seemed, preferred Alex Rodriguez. Garciaparra, once seen as the heir to Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, was the golden boy no longer.
By mid December, newspapers around the country were reporting that a Rangers-Red Sox deal was all but completed. Boston would send Manny Ramirez (as well as some cash to help pay out the $98 million still owed him) and minor league pitcher Jon Lester to the Rangers. The Rangers would send Rodriguez to the Sox, and Rodriguez, in return for getting the chance to play for a contender, would reduce the annual value of the years left on his deal. A corollary deal would send Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Magglio Ordonez.
And that was supposed to be that. Garciaparra's teammates readied themselves for a new shortstop, a prospect that they were frankly looking forward to. "When you're talking about a guy who's going to be a leader and be the face of the organization, that's Alex Rodriguez," Kevin Millar said on December 16th on ESPN. "Manny leads in the batter's box and Nomar prepares himself to play hard everyday but you're talking about a leader in Alex Rodriguez ... I mean, A-Rod's the best in the game."
But the deal broke down over disagreements concerning how much of his contract Rodriguez would shave off the remaining years of his deal -- after the Red Sox and Rodriguez agreed on a decrease of approximately $4 million a year, the players union said that was unacceptable and instead proposed an annual decrease of a little less than $2 million. Some incendiary comments by Larry Lucchino made a compromise all but impossible, and by January, the Rangers and the Red Sox had ceased discussions. The Red Sox would start the 2004 season with Nomar Garciaparra back at shortstop.
July 31st is one of the most tension-filled days of the baseball season. A little less than two-thirds of the games have been played, and teams looking to make a playoff run have just two more months in which to prove their mettle. The All-Star game is in the past, pitching rotations have been settled on, and unlikely stars have emerged. It's also Major League Baseball's annual non-waiver trade deadline. Teams that have fallen out of the playoff race look to unload a high-priced star in return for young, cheap talent that can help the team rebuild. Teams convinced they have a shot at making the playoffs try to find that one missing part, a consistent middle-reliever, say, or a potent bat off the bench. And teams like the 2004 Boston Red Sox -- well-paid, talent-laden clubs saddled with the attendant high expectations -- try to figure out what they can do to save their seasons.
Since John Henry and Tom Werner had bought the team, the trade deadline move had become a staple of life in Boston. On July 30, 2002, the Red Sox traded barely used pitcher Sun-Woo Kim to the Montreal Expos for outfielder Cliff Floyd. In 2003, the team picked up two new pitchers -- Scott Williamson and Jeff Suppan -- in the last two days before the deadline. A July trade, explained Larry Lucchino, helped show the players that management was as committed to winning as the players were.
As the calendar moved toward July 31, 2004, there were plenty of rumors swirling around the Red Sox's clubhouse. Despite a remarkably healthy starting rotation -- the fivesome of Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo hadn't missed a start all year -- and a prolific offense, had the season ended on July 29th, the Sox would have missed the playoffs, with the Yankees winning the American League East in a cakewalk and the Texas Rangers snatching the American League's wild card spot. Lowe was perhaps the most-discussed trade chip. The tall right-hander's record wasn't atrocious -- he was 9-9 -- but he had an earned run average of over 5.00, and on many days was the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball. One frequently discussed rumor had Lowe heading to Florida in return for Marlins pitcher Brad Penny.
Behind the scenes, it was Garciaparra, who'd spent much of the first half of the season on the disabled list, who was being discussed most intently at the Red Sox's Fenway offices. On July 24th, the same day as a Red Sox 11-10 walk off win against the Yankees, Henry, Lucchino, and Epstein met with Garciaparra and Arn Tellem. Both sides agreed the meeting would be a good way to clear the air. "The meeting was, 'We want to know why you are unhappy,'" says Garciaparra, who has never before publicly what happened that day. "And I go, 'Et tu, Brute?' Because that is all I've been hearing for the last couple of years: I'm unhappy, I'm unhappy. I go, 'Where are you getting this? What am I unhappy about?' I said, 'Is my performance a problem?' And they are like, 'No.'"
The meeting, suffice to say, did not improve the relationship between Garciaparra and the Red Sox executives. "By that point, there was a high degree of alienation on Nomar's part from the franchise and from the city," says Lucchino. "After the meeting, there was, to me, a near certainty that he would leave at the end of the year. He didn't say it outright, but it seemed clear." Tellem later told Epstein he had to talk Garciaparra out of demanding a trade that day, although Garciaparra insists he never told Tellem he wanted out. "Wanting to be traded out of Boston has never, ever come out of my mouth, publicly or privately," he says.
A couple of days later, while the team was in Baltimore, Red Sox officials say Garciaparra told members of the team's training staff and Terry Francona that he'd need to miss considerable time in August and September because he was still injured. One of the team's trainers says Garciaparra also said his top priority was not playing, but getting healthy for November, when he'd be a free agent. Alarmed, Francona called Epstein to tell him about his conversations with Garciaparra. The Red Sox had already begun exploring potential moves, and this revelation only firmed Epstein's resolve to deal with the situation. "After that conversation," Henry said, "Theo, Larry and I met, and Theo said that we needed somebody to play shortstop."
On Friday July 30, the Red Sox opened up a three-game set in Minnesota against the Twins. Garciaparra, who'd played in the previous five games, was given the night off. With the slick-fielding infielder Pokey Reese out with a strained ribcage, Ricky Gutierrez, already playing on his third team in 2004, got the start at shortstop. The next day, players began arriving at the clubhouse at around two thirty PM, four and a half hours before game time. The trade deadline is at 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, or 3:00 PM in Minnesota. Derek Lowe, easily excitable in the best of circumstances, was particularly geeked out that day -- he was scheduled to start that night's game, but knew he could, in fact, end up on a plane headed to another team before the day was out. When three o'clock finally came, the rumors began flying. Word was the Red Sox and the Cubs had made a trade -- it was Lowe, apparently, who was being sent to Chicago for pitcher Matt Clement. As Lowe waited nervously by his locker to get official word, Terry Francona called Garciaparra into the visiting manager's office and closed the door. He handed Garciaparra the phone. Theo Epstein was on the other end, telling one of the most popular players ever to play for the Boston Red Sox that he'd just been traded to the Chicago Cubs.
"I just felt empty," says Garciaparra. "Just like, no way." He hung up the phone and walked out of Francona's office. "I go to my locker and I see D-Lowe there, and I go, 'Don't worry, it's not you, it's me. See ya, bro.' And word starts spreading around and I'm just trying not to cry." Garciaparra packed his stuff, left Minnesota, and got on a plane to Chicago.
The full details of the trade shocked everyone. In the multi-team deal, Boston had sent Garciaparra and minor league outfielder Matt Murton to the Chicago Cubs and gotten Montreal shortstop Orlando Cabrera and Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz in return. Cabrera and Mientkiewicz were both Gold Glove winners, and their defensive prowess would, Epstein thought, help Boston shore up its infield. But neither had ever appeared in an All-Star game, and the two players combined had hit only 109 home runs and batted over .300 twice. Garciaparra, as everyone in Boston knew, had a lifetime average of over .320, and as recently as 2003 seemed like a sure Hall of Famer. Minutes after the deal had been announced, Epstein's cell-phone rang. It was his twin brother, Paul.
"That's all you guys got for Nomar?" Paul asked. As Epstein explained that it would end up being a good trade for the team, his brother told him about the reaction on talk radio. "You're getting killed," Paul said. "People are furious that Nomar was traded for a couple of .240 hitters."
The trade would test Epstein's mettle like no other since he'd become general manager. In the post-trade press conference, Epstein, sporting several days worth of stubble and looking haggard, patiently explained how the move would improve the team's defense. He went on to tell WEEI, Boston's sports radio station, that, "given what we know from prior negotiations that we weren't going to sign [Garciaparra] ... we were looking forward to the next two months and said, 'Well, what do we have here?'" Since Reese was injured, Epstein said, the Red Sox would be faced with "a situation where we're likely to have Nomar Garciaparra and Ricky Gutierrez playing short and we don't think that's going to be enough. We haven't been playing well, and Nomar's likely to play less over the next month than he's played the last month." If they wanted to make a run at the playoffs, Epstein said, Boston needed to upgrade, even if that meant trading a franchise icon.
Privately, Epstein wasn't nearly so self-assured. A couple of hours after the trade, he wandered back into his office in the basement of Fenway. The baseball operations offices are three floors below the team's executive offices, and the rest of Epstein's crew had headed home for the night, leaving Epstein secluded. As he flicked through the stations on a flat screen television mounted to the wall across from his desk, he passed by ESPN, which had a picture of Garciaparra in a Cubs hat. "It hit me for the first time, emotionally, that there would be real consequences to the organization and to me personally if it didn't work out [well]," Epstein said later.
That evening, Epstein spoke to John Henry on the phone. "It was the right trade, but no one likes it," said Epstein. "You must feel like the loneliest man in America," Henry replied. The next morning's papers couldn't have consoled him any. The Boston Globe wrote, "What the Sox lost was a role model for an entire generation of Little Leaguers ... From Amesbury to Bangor, there were certain to be tears last night." Later that day, the Red Sox lost to the Twins, and Cabrera, despite hitting a home run in his first game with Boston, committed an error that led to Minnesota's winning run. That night, for the first time in his life, a restless Theo Epstein took a sleeping pill.
Seth Mnookin is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He is the author of Hard News, a Washington Post Book of the Year and a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice. For more information go to sethmnookin.com.