Band of brothers: Garciaparra and Conigliaro

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Band of brothers: Garciaparra and Conigliaro

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

We rarely mention them in the same breath, and why would we? One was home-grown Massachusetts, the other a transplanted Californian. One was an outfielder in the 1960s and '70s, the other a shortstop in the 1990s and 2000s. One sprinted toward the bright lights, the other sprinted away. Most of us see almost no connection between Nomar Garciaparra and Tony Conigliaro, other than their shared Red Sox legacy and their lost opportunity at immortality.

We should look closer.

The careers of Garciaparra and Conigliaro run on almost parallel tracks with a similarity that's eerie. Ignore the differences in their hitting styles -- Nomar was a line-drive machine in his prime, Tony C. a launcher of fly balls. Ignore the raw statistics, most of which are contextual; put Garciaparra in the dead-ball '60s or Conigliaro in the hitter-happy '90s and their stats would even out.

Instead, follow the broad strokes. You're talking about two guys who almost seem separated at birth, albeit decades apart:

Both broke in with bad teams -- the '64 Sox went 72-90; the '97 crew was the last Red Sox team to finish under .500 -- and became matinee idols, taking the fans' attention away from the carnage on the field.

Both blazed through their first four seasons: Tony C. won the home-run crown at age 20 in 1965, the youngest player ever to lead a league in homers, and Nomar won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000 with averages of .357 and .372.

Both shared the stage -- and in Conigliaro's case, jostled for attention -- with future Hall of Famers: Carl Yastrzemski (who's already there) and Pedro Martinez (who will be).

Both suffered career-altering injuries when they were hit by pitches, injuries that would prove to be the death of their (up to that point, legitimate) Hall of Fame arguments.

Both were sidelined for all (Conigliaro, 1968) or most (Garciparra, 2001) of their fifth seasons.

Both returned for two more full years with the Red Sox, and while they enjoyed success -- Tony C. hit 36 homers, fourth-best in the A.L., in 1970; Nomar batted over .300 twice and drove in 100 or more runs both times -- their post-injury talents were pitched at a lower level.

Both were traded in their eighth seasons: Conigliaro before it began, Garciaparra in the middle. Both deals were prompted by Sox worries about the deterioration of their skills -- the club knew Tony C.'s eyesight had never fully recovered from the beaning, and Nomar's defensive abilities had shattered -- but both had off-the-field elements attached, too. In Conigliaro's case, the Sox were trying to break up a clubhouse that had, in the words of author David Caetano, "congealed into tribes." As for the tightly-wound Garciaparra, he had become the skunk at the Cowboy UpIdiots garden party.

While the analogy seems to break down here -- Tony C. retired midway through a miserable 1971 with the Angels, while Nomar became Nomad as he bounced around the bigs for his final five years -- both came back to Boston to finish things off: Conigliaro in a futile attempt to return as a player in 1975, Garciaparra to say he retired as a member of the Red Sox.

And, finally, both left baseball for careers in television.

Told you it was eerie. And there's more. Both dated actresses as young men. Both had brothers who played professional baseball. The list goes on. And on.

And what makes it even eerier is how different they were as people. (Or, to put it another way: Contrast and compare Nomar's eventual partner, America's sweetheart Mia Hamm, with the woman Tony C. is most remembered for, Hollywood sexpot Mamie Van Doren.) You'd never see Conigliaro pushing the Red Sox to lay red tape around the clubhouse as a buffer between the players and the media. Nor would you ever find Garciaparra on stage belting out "Little Red Scooter."

It was if the Gods created these baseball twins and then messed up by placing each of them in an era that was made for the other.

Tony C. reveled in the spotlight; he would have thrived in these athlete-as-celebrity times. The 247365 news cycle was made for a 247365 star. Nomar, on the other hand, ached for the sort of shadows that existed back when the focus was almost solely on what happened between the lines. When television was only around for 50 or 60 games a year. When sports-talk radio was a contradiction in terms. When Webs were just parts of fielding gloves and only birds tweeted. When reporters and athletes a) liked and b) protected each other.

It all came to mind on Wednesday when a smiling Garciaparra signed a one-day contract in order to retire as a member of the Red Sox.

It was unnecessary; he'll always be remembered as a Sock, same as Conigliaro. But his reconciliation with the organization closed the circle, just as Tony C's unsuccessful attempt to become the Sox' DH in 1975 -- unfortunately for him, the team had just promoted a future Hall of Famer, Jim Rice, who took that very role -- erased some bitter memories of his 1970-71 departure.

Yet another link between two men who, on the surface, weren't linked at all.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Art on Twitter at http:twitter.comcsnne1

CSN CHICAGO: Yoan Moncada 'thrilled' to reunite with Jose Abreu on White Sox

CSN CHICAGO: Yoan Moncada 'thrilled' to reunite with Jose Abreu on White Sox

Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu are back together.

The two Cuban natives were teammates in 2012 when they played for Cienfuegos in Cuba, and now they'll be in the same dugout once again — this time in Chicago.

"To get the opportunity to play with him right now in the United States, it's an honor for me," Moncada said through a translator on a conference call Wednesday. "I'm thrilled with that."

Click here for the complete story on CSNChicago.com

Red Sox notes: Sox did their homework researching Sale's character

Red Sox notes: Sox did their homework researching Sale's character

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- In today's game, teams are sure to do their homework when bringing in a star player. For either a big free agent or trade acquisition, clubs want to know everything they can about the individual.

New starter Chris Sale passes that test for the Red Sox.

"There's always an on-field (personality) and away from the game (to consider),'' said Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox' president of baseball operations. "On the field, he's as competitive as can be. He's got an edge to him - a good edge. His teammates love him.

"Off the field, I've heard a lot of pleasant things about him. I've heard tremendous things from him as an individual. A couple of our guys in the organization know him very well and say real good things about him.''

Sale was involved in two clubhouse incidents last season - one in which he angrily confronted White Sox president Kenny Williams about his decision to limit the amount of time Adam LaRoche's son could spend with the team, and another in which he cut up a throw-back uniform with scissors.

"I think you do your checking to see what causes some things,'' said Dombrowski. "But after I checked things, (I'm) not really (concerned).''

Another benefit to having Sale is that he could potentially take some pressure of David Price, who struggled at times in his first season in Boston and perhaps tried too hard to validate his $217 million contract.

"I think it's always good for a club if they have a number of guys, top of the rotation guys, to take the pressure off everybody else,'' Dombrowski said. "Because you know that everyone has a bad outing here and there, and somebody else picks you up in that case. I think that's helpful. If we didn't have (another No. 1 starter), I'd still have confidence in (Price).''

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It's possible that the Red Sox could go into next season with as many as four lefthanders in their rotation -- Sale, Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz.

"It's unusual to have four lefthanders, potentially, in the rotation,'' acknowledged Dombrowski. "A lot of times, you're looking for one. But if it was four lefties, that would be fine. I think it's more important that they get people out. I'd be comfortable with that.

"I've really never been in that spot before, which doesn't make me feel uncomfortable. I don't have a driving force to make any trades because four guys are lefties. I think they're good lefties.''

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Retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz caused a stir with an Instagram post Tuesday night, kiddingly suggesting that the arrival of Sale was forcing him to re-think his decision to quit.

"It's amazing the number of people who reached out to me,'' laughed Dombrowski. "I know David well enough. I do know that if he really had sincere interest (in returning), he would call. But I also know that he has to stay on the voluntarily retired list for 60 days. So there's rules involved with that. But I know he was just joking.

"When I walk into the clubhouse and I see him working out, I say, 'You could play now. Look at the shape you're in!' But he says, 'Oh, nooooo.' ''

The Sox have yet to officially confirm that they've signed free agent first baseman Mitch Moreland. The two sides are in agreement on a one-year deal for $5.5 million deal, but a slight delay has taken place because of either contractual formalities or added time for medical information to be obtained.

"I can't say much about free agent players,'' said Dombrowski. "We've made some strides with an individual. But I'm not in a position to say much about that for various reasons.''