Monday, March 03, 2008

Nomar Unfriendly, Needs Lessons From Our Father

"Jeff Pearlman is no longer on my Christmas card list."

Jeff Pearlman stood in line for an hour with his Garciaparra jersey in Vero Beach, only to reach the front of the autograph line and have Nomar's sharpie run out of ink. Enraged, Nomar stood up, kicked the signing table over, and stormed away in a huff.

That had to happen, because it's the only way I could explain a piece like this on ESPN.com, in which Pearlman depicts Nomar as an ungrateful curmudgeon who disdains the Dodger faithful. What's more, he contrasts Garciaparra's behavior with that of Steve Garvey, always fan-friendly:

It was Autograph Day at Dodgertown -- the last-ever such event at a facility bidding adieu to the team after a remarkable 60-year relationship. For more than half a century, men like Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, Fernando Valenzuela and Mike Piazza have stood along the first- and third-base lines of Holman Stadium and signed autographs for an endless stream of well-wishers. It comes with being a Dodger at Vero Beach -- the team's way of telling its Floridian fans that, hey, we're all in this together.

Now, with Frank McCourt, the franchise's owner, deciding that an Arizona address will better suit his team's financial needs, Dodgertown is bathed in depression. Fans who have been coming here for 20 … 30 … 40 years hold back tears (but not their anger toward McCourt, a man they liken to Genghis Khan). They eat their $3.75 Dodger Dogs with hangdog glumness, wondering what will become of their Marches once Vero Beach empties for good. "I'm sick," says Pam Lybarger, a Floridian and spring training season ticket holder for two decades. "Words can't describe how heartbroken I feel right now." [...]

If there is one way to slightly numb the pain, it is via player kindness. More so than their peers in Los Angeles, the fans here view the Dodgers as family members. They present the young men with cookies and pies and, in the case of a 67-year-old uberfanatic known as "Dodger Bob" (aka Bob Scholl), homemade figurines. In return, all they ask for is a smile here, a "hello" there. Really, all they ask for is Autograph Day.

Most players seem to understand this. With the sun shining and a soft breeze coming in from the north, reliever Mike Koplove gladly took a 5-year-old girl's baseball and signed it with a smile. Catcher Russell Martin stood and affixed his name to seemingly hundreds of objects.

But not Nomar.

In one of the least fan-friendly displays I've ever witnessed as a baseball writer, Garciaparra spent the absolute minimum amount of time signing. He never looked up. He never said a word. When fans offered a hearty "Good luck!" or said "You've always been my favorite!" he either grunted or pretended the sentiment was never expressed. If someone made the "mistake" of requesting that he sign a ball on the sweet spot, Garciaparra actually went out of his way not to. Though the rope between Garciaparra and the fans was no more than half-an-inch thick, it felt like the Great Wall of China. All attempts at small talk began with a Dodger loyalist's enthusiasm and ended with the Dodger third baseman's body language, which screamed "I'm Nomar, you're not -- please don't touch me."

An hour or so later, another autograph session took place. This one involved Steve Garvey, the legendary Dodgers first baseman who now works as a VIP greeter for the club. Even though he was signing in the middle of an exhibition game versus the Mets, and even though he last played two decades ago, Garvey drew about 300 fans.

The reason? No matter what opposing players (or, for that matter, teammates) thought of the too-good-to-be-true Garvey, he never took the paying customers for granted. They remember that more than the .294 lifetime average or the 272 career home runs.

"If you look back to when I was playing, we embraced the fans," Garvey says. "I still remember when a 70-year-old nurse was having a birthday, and Tommy [Lasorda] got 24 of us to do arches with our bats and sing 'Happy Birthday.'"

Garvey paused, before continuing.

"Do you think that type of thing happens anymore?"

The question was rhetorical.

Sadly rhetorical.

I suppose we all could take a lesson from the Garv', but come on Jeff, ease up! Maybe Nomar was just having a bad day, or someone parked in his designated spot (hopefully it wasn't Andy LaRoche), or he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. We all have bad days. Everybody hurts. I guess that's why they call it the blues.

It's not fair to destroy a player who has been a stand-up, fan-friendly guy for years--including his entire tenure with the Dodgers--based on one afternoon.

Pearlman, author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero," looks like he's out to find his next player to pillory. However, Garciaparra is no Bonds.

photo by David Zalubowski/AP

10 comments:

Orel said...

I guess Nomar's Carne Asada Sundays count for nothing?

Mike Scioscia's tragic illness said...

You know, guys, this doesn't surprise me one bit. I used to work at Fenway Park, and in 2003 I was in the home dugout before a game and I saw him throw a monstrous hissy fit, with more swears in one sentence than you'd think would be possible.

Orel said...

Then there's the infamous dugout sulking incident. Guess the guy's human after all.

Orel said...

Or a phony. Your pick.

Steve Sax said...

All I know is, there's no trash can incident associated with Nomar!

Alex Cora said...

Hey, I still got Nomar to sign a hat and a ball last year two different times. Hey was one of the FEW dodgers that stuck around and signed stuff after BP.

Steve Sax said...

MSTI, what Red Sock wouldn't be throwing a hissy fit in 2003, prior to their first title???

Sons of said...

MSTI: PS what pray tell what your job at Fenway? I've been many times, maybe we've met.

Mike Scioscia's tragic illness said...

I worked for NESN, the TV station that did all the games. In 2003 I ran the scorebox you see on the top of the screen, but before and after games I was on the field as a stage manager for interviews of players and local media.

Here's the long story short on the Nomar hissy fit: one day in the summer of 03, I'm in front of the Sox dugout about 90 min before gametime as we're about to interview a writer from the Boston Globe. It looks like it's about to rain so instead of doing it right in front of the dugout, we turn the camera around and have the reporter sit inside the dugout.

Nomar comes out with the Sox' PR director, sees us sitting there, and freaks out: "who the F are they? what the F are they doing in my seat? that's MY f-ing seat! you know no one is F-ing supposed to be in MY f-ing seat! What the F is this!" and on and on. While we're on the air.

The next guest, waiting for his turn, asks me, "you think he's close enough for the mics to pick that up?" When I said I didn't think so, he said "too bad, he'd finally get what's coming to him."

Just sayin'.

Steve Sax said...

MSTI, that's an awesome story and I hope you can excavate the clip, a la the Berman clips on Deadspin. Good times.

I hope he doesn't take out that kind of anger on Mia and the kids.

I've been exchanging with someone who claims to be Jeff Pearlman since this post, and he agrees with you that Nomar has a history of being a jerk. As you can see from the comments, AC had a different take when he met Nomar.

On the one hand, he wasn't one of the people publicly adding fuel to the fire during last year's tempestuous kids vs. vets spat. On the other hand, I suppose, he didn't take the leadership role to calm the hell out of everyone and prevent the schism. So I don't know.

This is a big season for Nomar. If being a prick to fans means he can focus and hit 40 homers as Andy LaRoche's backup, I'll be happy.