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Voices of the Game, day 16: Nomar Garciaparra to Jimmy Rollins

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Some recently retired players and one of the longest serving players and broadcasters in the game.

Chicago Cubs vs Pittsburgh Pirates - April 15, 2005
What might have been—Nomar Garciaparra
Photo by Sean Brady/Getty Images

We’re up to our top ten television broadcasters. Looks like I’ll finish this week.

If you want to catch up on earlier entries, you can check out the StoryStream. And if you want the rules of the road, check out the first entry.

12. Nomar Garciaparra. Los Angeles Dodgers. WAR: 44.2

It’s hard to remember now how absolutely magical of a player Nomar Garciaparra was when he was in his twenties. He could hit, he could hit for power. He could field, throw and run. Check out this scouting report on Garciaparra when he was in college. Under weaknesses, it just says “none.”

The Southern California born-and-raised Garciaparra went to Georgia Tech for college, where he led the Yellowjackets to the College World Series title game in 1994. (They lost to Oklahoma.) The Red Sox took him with the 12th pick in the first round that year. The other 11 teams messed up.

Garciaparra shot through the minor leagues and made his major league debut in August 1996. He struggled that final month of the season, but he started the 1997 season as the Red Sox starting shortstop. Garciaparra led the league in at-bats, hits and triples while hitting .306/.342/.534 with 30 home runs and 22 steals. He was the Rookie of the Year and finished eighth in MVP voting. Garciaparra was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger Award winner in his rookie season.

It was that year he stopped being “Anthony Nomar Garciaparra” and was simply known as “Nomah” in a thick Boston accent.

“Nomah” was even better the next season and he finished second in the 1998 MVP behind Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez. (A terrible choice, to be honest.) In 1999 and 2000, he won the American League batting title, posting a batting average of .357 and .372 respectively. (Garciaparra was hitting over .400 as late as July 20 in 2000.) He never struck out much and in those two years, he was walking more than he struck out.

It seemed certain that “Nomah” was heading to Cooperstown, but in 2001 he suffered the first of the many injuries that would plague his career. He played just 21 games that year because of a wrist injury that he aggravated by coming back too soon.

Garciaparra came back almost as good as ever in 2002 and 2003. But the Red Sox didn’t win the World Series. New Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein agreed to trade Garciaparra to Texas for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, but MLB nixed the deal.

Still in Boston, Garciaparra suffered an Achilles injury that caused him to miss the first two months of the 2004 season. When he returned, his speed was gone and his defense at short was now poor. Thinking the Red Sox needed to improve their defense to win in 2004, Epstein dealt “Nomah” to the Cubs.

You know what happened next. After an injury-filled year and a half on the North Side, Garciaparra returned to Los Angeles as a free agent. Now a first baseman, Garciaparra had one last All-Star season in 2006, but he missed time with injuries all three seasons with the Dodgers. In 2009 he signed with the Athletics to be their DH, but he was mediocre in that role and retired at the end of the season.

Garciaparra’s career line was .313/.361/.521 with 229 home runs and 95 steals over 1434 games in 14 seasons.

Garciaparra started working for ESPN immediately after retiring. He joined the Dodgers broadcast team in 2013.

11. Jim Kaat. Minnesota Twins. WAR: 45.2

Jim “Kitty” Kaat has been a broadcaster for longer than he was a player, which is pretty amazing since he’s tied for fifth place in major league history with 25 seasons as a player. (Third among post-1900 players.)

Jim Kaat was a big (6’4”) left-hander who relied mostly on his slider and curve. He has a fastball, of course, and dabbled with a screwball, but he mostly stayed away from that to protect his elbow. Kaat was also one of the greatest pitchers to ever play his position in the field. He won 16 Gold Gloves, which is tied for second all-time behind Greg Maddux.

Kaat was signed out of high school in Michigan by the Washington Senators in 1957. He made his major league debut in 1959. He spent the ’59 and ’60 season bouncing between the minors and DC. He moved west to Minnesota with the Senators in 1961 and he started (and won) the sixth game in Twins history.

Kaat became a mainstay of the Twins rotation of the 1960s, regularly winning between 14 and 18 games almost every year. The Twins won the American League pennant in 1965 and Kaat made three starts in the Series, going 1-2 with a 3.77 ERA. He started and lost Game 7 to Sandy Koufax.

Kaat had the best year of his career in 1966, going 25-13 with a 2.75 ERA. He lead the AL in games started, innings and complete games. He would have won the AL Cy Young Award if there was one, but that was the last year of a combined Cy Young between the two leagues and Koufax won that one unanimously.

The Twins won the AL West in 1969, but Kaat didn’t pitch in the Championship Series because manager Billy Martin didn’t like him personally. (Martin was fired after the Twins were eliminated because of this.) Kaat did get a start in the 1970 ALCS, but once again the Orioles swept Minnesota in three games.

By 1973, the Twins were no longer contenders and Kaat made a lot of money for a player in the pre-free agency days. So when the White Sox claimed Kaat on waivers in August, notoriously cheap Twins owner Calvin Griffith let Chicago have him so he didn’t have to pay him.

Kaat won 20 games for the White Sox in ’74 and ’75 and Kaat made his third and final All-Star Game in ’75. The White Sox traded him to the Phillies for the 1976 season and once again, he was on the losing side of a Championship Series that year. Kaat also pitched for the Phillies NL East title teams in ’77 and ’78, but he had poor seasons and didn’t pitch in the playoffs either year.

The Yankees sold Kaat to the Yankees in 1979 and at the age of 40, they converted Kaat into a left-handed reliever. He was pretty good in that role. In April of 1980, the Yankees sold Kaat to the Cardinals where he was a solid relief pitcher. In 1982, the Cardinals won the World Series and for the first time, Kaat was on the winning side of a playoff series. He pitched four games in relief in the Series that year.

Kaat retired after the 1983 season at the age of 44. His career line was 283-237 with a 3.45 ERA over 25 seasons. He had 180 career complete games and 31 shutouts. He had 17 saves at the end of his career. A Hall-of-Fame candidate for a long time, but Kaat has never been elected.

Kaat began broadcasting while he was still a player. He had a radio show in Minnesota in the 1960s. He started calling games in 1986 and has worked for the Twins, the Yankees and many national broadcasts. He retired from the daily grind of regular broadcasting in 2006.

Kaat started working for the MLB Network upon its founding in 2009 and has called many games for that channel. In 2018, he accepted a job as a special assistant in the Twins front office and he steps in a substitute broadcaster from time to time in Minnesota.

10. Jimmy Rollins. Philadelphia Phillies. WAR: 46.3

I think most of you remember Rollins, who last played in 2016. The Phillies drafted Rollins in the second round of the 1996 draft out of high school in Alameda, CA. He made his major league debut in 2000. He was the starting shortstop for the Phillies in 2001 and for 13 years after that.

Rollins was a short switch-hitter with tremendous speed, a great glove and surprising pop.

Rollins finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2001. (He finished behind Albert Pujols and Roy Oswalt and ahead of Adam Dunn. Impressive crop of NL rookies that year.) He led the league in triples and stolen bases his rookie year. He made the All-Star team in 2001, 2002 and 2005. He won the NL MVP Award in 2007. He and the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. Rollins was a very strong defensive shortstop and he won four Gold Gloves in his career. He was also exceptionally healthy throughout his career, only missing significant time because of injury in 2010.

By 2014, the Phillies were going nowhere so the team traded him to the Dodgers in the offseason for Zach Eflin. He had a poor season with the Dodgers and signed with the White Sox as a free agent for the 2016 season. At age 37, Rollins’ skills were gone and the White Sox released him in June. The Bay Area native tried to catch on with the Giants for the 2017 season, but was released in Spring Training.

Rollins finished his career with a line of .264/.324/.418 with 231 home runs and 470 steals over 2275 games in 17 seasons. He also had 115 triples.

Rollins didn’t officially retire until 2019 and he joined the Phillies broadcasts as a part-time color commentator this past year.