They broke into the American League almost simultaneously and broke American League pitchers almost immediately, a Trinity of shortstops from whom greatness was expected and from whom greatness was received.
Alex Rodriguez — the youngest of the trio — came first. He barely exceeded the rookie limits in 1995; in his first full season, 1996, he hit .358 with 35 homers and led the league in runs and doubles.
That year Derek Jeter won the rookie of year award. He hit .314 as the Yankees won the World Series and launched a fresh dynasty.
Nomar Garciaparra arrived in 1997, winning his own rookie of the year award by hitting .306 and leading the league in hits and triples.
The new century arrived with three bona fide candidates to supplant Honus Wagner for the title of greatest shortstop ever. There was, it seemed, no limits to what the Trinity might achieve.
But there are always limits. Last week Jeter was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Garciaparra and Rodriguez will not get there. And as great as Jeter was, he was never the dominant force that Wagner was a century earlier.
Jeter’s induction induced some Red Sox fanboys to argue that Garciaparra was the better of the two. And if you drew a line through the 2003 season, I would agree, even though at that point Jeter had four World Series titles on his resume and Garciaparra none.
But at that point a damaged wrist tendon muffled Garciaparra’s skills. The Red Sox traded him away in midseason 2004 — a move that helped them finally win a World Series of their own — and Garciaparra then bounced from the Cubs to the Dodgers to the Athletics, only once playing enough to qualify for the batting title.
His candle glowed brightly, but dimmed too soon for Cooperstown. The ability to take the field matters.
Rodriguez was the most gifted of the three, but there always seemed to be something off with him, a toxic combination of ego and insecurity. He was capable both of a grand gesture of deference — insisting on ceding shortstop to Cal Ripken Jr. for Ripken’s final All-Star Game — and of an equally grand gesture of self-importance — opting out of the game’s richest contract minutes before a World Series game.
Legions of scouts have said that the teenaged A-Rod was the most talented amateur they ever saw. But that same talent was repeatedly embroiled in steroid scandals, which is why a slugger with 696 homers will never get a plaque in the Hall of Fame.
And when Rodriguez finally landed on the same team as Jeter, it was the defensively-challenged Jeter who played shortstop and Rodriguez who shifted to third base. That was a condition of the trade A-Rod sought, that he submit to Jeter’s higher place in the team hierarchy. That probably cost the Yankees runs on the field, as Jeter never had the range Rodriguez did.
We have in today’s game a fresh wave of superbly talented shortstops. Wander Franco with Tampa Bay and Fernando Tatis Jr. in San Diego in particular seem destined for greatness. May they join Jeter in avoiding the detours and pitfalls, internal and external, that afflicted Garciaparra and Rodriguez.
Edward Thoma is at email@example.com. Twitter @bboutsider.