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2015 Spring-Training Countdown, Day 5: Nomar Garciaparra

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Ah, what might have been.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

We're now getting into the realm of Cubs numbers that have been worn by very few players, at least after Yosh Kawano created his numbering system in 1960. Here's the all-time Number 5 list:

Johnny Moore (1932), Riggs Stephenson (1933-34), Tuck Stainback (1935-36), Billy Jurges (1937-38), Dick Bartell (1939), Billy Rogell (1940), Bill Myers (1941), Clyde McCullough (1941-42), Johnny Moore (1945), Hank Schenz (1947-49), Bob Ramazzotti (1949-53), Bruce Edwards (1954), Vern Morgan (1955), Frank Kellert (1956), Bobby Del Greco (1957), Frank Ernaga (1957), Tony Taylor (1958-60), Lou Boudreau (manager, 1960), Jimmie Schaffer (1963-64), Whitey Lockman (coach, 1966), Joey Amalfitano (coach and manager, 1967-71, 1978-81), Q. V. Lowe (coach, 1972), Adrian Garrett (1974), Irv Noren (coach, 1975), Randy Hundley (1976), Al Dark (coach, 1977), Gordy MacKenzie (coach, 1982), Ruben Amaro (coach, 1983-86), Jim Snyder (coach, 1987), Chuck Cottier (coach, 1988-91, 1994), Jim Lefebvre (manager, 1992-93), Jim Riggleman (manager, 1995-99), Rene Lachemann (coach and manager, 2000-2002), Tom Goodwin (2003), Tony Womack (2003), Michael Barrett (2004), Nomar Garciaparra (2004-05), Ronny Cedeno (2006-08), Jake Fox (2009), Sam Fuld (2010), Reed Johnson (2011-12), Josh Vitters (2012), Jamie Quirk (coach, 2013), Welington Castillo (2014)

As you can see, from 1960 through 2002 -- 42 years -- it was a coach's or manager's number, with only three exceptions -- Schaffer, Garrett and Hundley. Yes, Randy Hundley wore No. 5 in his return to the Cubs in 1976, because Steve Swisher, starting catcher at the time, wore No. 9. That would never happen today -- a veteran like Hundley, returning to the team, would have likely requested and been given back his old number. But things weren't done that way under the Wrigleys.

Which brings us, somehow, to Nomar, the best post-World War II player to wear No. 5 for the Cubs.

I can still remember the excitement when the Nomar trade was announced. Sure, he'd been injured and hadn't played much for the Red Sox in 2004, but he was coming off a big year in 2003 and had just turned 31. Surely he could recover his former performance level and be the Cubs' shortstop for several years to come. Or, at least help lead them to the playoffs in 2004. (And stop calling me Shirley.)

We all know how that worked out. And Nomar had an unbelievable spring in 2005 -- he was hitting everything in sight. He hit .433 (26-for-60) with seven doubles and six home runs. I remember watching him hit in spring 2005 and thinking, "This guy's going to be a MVP candidate this year."


That was the sound of Nomar's start to 2005. He was hitting .157/.228/.176 (8-for-51, one double) when he took an awkward swing in St. Louis and crumpled to the ground with a groin injury that kept him out for more than three months.

He hit very well after his return. In 48 games he went .318/.347/.531 with nine home runs. If only that production had been available for the 93 games he missed, during which Neifi Perez started most of the games at shortstop. I recall Dusty Baker saying, "Neifi saved our season!", a statement which was ludicrous, because Neifi wasn't very good and the Cubs finished 79-83. Nomar's injury wasn't the only reason the Cubs flopped in 2005, but it was a major factor.

He left as a free agent after the season and most Cubs fans weren't too unhappy about that, as I recall. He played reasonably well for the 2006 Dodgers, but faded away after that. If you look at the first eight years of his career, you see someone on a possible Hall of Fame track. He had 1,231 hits and 173 home runs at age 29 and was an outstanding shortstop. He easily could have had 2,500 hits and 400-plus home runs with a normal career arc, maybe with a bit of luck gotten to 3,000 hits like his contemporary, Derek Jeter, who's going to the Hall.

But the injuries ruined Nomar's career. It's too bad, because he had tremendous talent.

One final note on Nomar and No. 5. He'd worn it all through his Red Sox career, but when he got to Chicago, Michael Barrett was wearing it. The deal was finalized too quickly for Nomar and Barrett to make a deal for the number, so Nomar wound up wearing No. 8 for his first Cubs game, August 1, 2004 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs then had an off day, and by the time they reached Colorado for their next contest, the two had made the swap. Barrett wore No. 8 for the rest of his Cubs career, even after Nomar left.