Like a page-turner of a novel, Garciaparra keeps you eager to see what comes next, especially this season, when he will have the most efficient RBI machine in baseball, free-agent signee Manny Ramirez, riding shotgun with him. Garciaparra is likely to bat third and Ramirez fourth, though close-to-the-vest manager Jimy Williams, who won't reveal the color of the sky until the sun comes up, has made no pronouncements. "What he did tell me was that he's going to make a lineup for spring training and keep it that way," says Garciaparra, the devout disciple of order, who last year grew so weary of Williams's lineup shuffling (the Sox used a major league-high 140 lineups) that he said he pleaded to the manager in midseason, "Just leave me fourth."
Last week Garciaparra declared, "It really doesn't matter to me where I hit, and Manny feels the same way. I'd just rather be kept in the same spot." With Ramirez behind him, Garciaparra could well maintain the trajectory that has characterized his career—a straight line upward. Here are his annual batting averages, beginning with his 24-game cameo in 1996: .241, .306, .323, .357, .372.
His brethren in the fraternity of elite shortstops, Rodriguez and the New York Yankees' Derek Jeter, may have scored contracts over the winter worth a combined $441 million. (Garciaparra has been content with a seven-year, $45.25 million deal, assuming the Red Sox pick up option years in 2003 and 2004.) Only Garciaparra among them can envision as a real possibility an even more jaw-dropping number: .400.
"He will hit .400," says two-time American League batting champion Edgar Martinez of the Mariners. "He's only 27 He's still a baby. I felt like I was at my best when I was 32. That's when you have the knowledge and experience. And you know he will still be in shape. He'll do it. He has a lot of time to do it."
Williams is sure Garciaparra could do it if only he would take 100 walks—he walked a career-high 61 times last year. The idea of taking pitches, though, is anathema to someone who put the first pitch he saw in play 125 times last year, and batted .432 doing it. "They call it hitting, not walking," Garciaparra says. "The way I look at it, you can go up there and stand at the plate looking real pretty, or you can be aggressive and swing. I'm never going to look pretty, so I'm going to hit.
"You know what? Four hundred is possible. It's hard, obviously, but I wouldn't say it's impossible. You need a lot of things to go your way. I think more than anything else, it depends on how the year goes for the people around you."
Do you want to be the one to tell No Nonsense it can't be done? There is an old French fable about hornets and bees that begins with this moral: By the work, one knows the workman. What Garciaparra has made of himself, in uniform and out, reveals who he is. He is a devout laborer, hammer in hand, who keeps pounding, pounding away.
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