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Cabrera Recalls Fateful Deadline Deal

07.31.09 at 2:27 am ET

A seemingly uneventful Saturday afternoon in New England five years ago turned into a dramatic source of change for a baseball franchise. The events of that day altered the course of Red Sox history and, in turn, changed the baseball lives of a handful of players.

One can argue that no player – not even former Red Sox fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra – was more dramatically affected by the landmark four-team deal between the Sox, Cubs, Twins and Expos than former Montreal Expo Orlando Cabrera on July 31, 2004.

The trade winds had been blowing in New England for quite awhile that summer as rumors swirled that the Red Sox were going to deal away fan favorite shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. The trade buzz was just as real in Quebec as Cabrera, then the Expos shortstop, was hearing rumors of a deal sending him to the Windy City in exchange for Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez. When the now-famous deal came through, Montreal manager Frank Robinson played a little bit of a guessing game with Cabrera concerning the shortstop’s new destination.

“He told me ‘€˜you got traded.’ I said, ‘€˜What? Alright,'” recalled Cabrera. “Robinson asks me, ‘€˜Do you know where you got traded?’€™ I said ‘€˜Chicago, right?’€™ The Cubs.

“That whole time all the talk was me and Alex Gonzalez. (Robinson) was like, ‘Guess again.’…He kept asking me to guess again. For 10 minutes, he didn’€™t want to tell me. Then he said, you got traded to Boston.”

That news made no sense to Cabrera. He didn’t understand why the Sox acquire him if they did not want him to play short. Robinson reassured Cabrera that he would be taking his normal spot in Boston, which prompted further confusion.

“‘Wait — Nomar’€™s moving to third?'” Cabrera asked at the time.

“‘No,'” Cabrera recalled Robinson replying, “‘you got traded for him.’ I couldn’€™t believe it.’€

Cabrera credits the trade as a defining moment in his 12-year career. Gone were the days of perennial basement residence in Montreal, and in were the days of playing for a contending ball club in Boston.

“It really put my career on the map,” Cabrera said. “To go all the way and win in the way we won, everybody on our team was put on the map.”

The new shortstop made sure he made the most of his tenure in Boston as a key cog in the team’s 2004 World Series title. Cabrera hit .294 with 67 hits, six home runs and 31 RBI in just 58 regular season games with the Red Sox.

The experience was not merely memorable for Cabrera because of his performance or even just for the championship. The 2004 squad that featured Cabrera was a tight one. That strong camaraderie was something that Cabrera hadn’t experienced in a six-and-a-half-year tenure in the Olympic Stadium clubhouse.

“That was the most unbelievable thing about that team, the chemistry,” Cabrera recalled. “Everybody was pulling for the next guy.”

Was that fraternal atmosphere one of the more important ingredients to the championship puzzle? Cabrera can’t say for sure, but the shortstop believes in the value and strong impact team chemistry have on a team down the stretch.

“I always said that when we talk about chemistry, it’s all about how the others guys respond to the way you are,” Cabrera said.

This sort of baseball brotherhood in Boston was certainly a far cry from the days of 25 guys with 25 cabs. Cabrera recalled that the 2004 Red Sox were big proponents often went out as a collective while on the road, something nearly unheard of among baseball teams before or since.

“We would have dinner in Seattle and the whole team shows up,” Cabrera remembered fondly. “I’d never been on a team like that where everybody was on the same page.”

Prior to the 2009 season, Cabrera and Garciaparra had that 2004 trade as the tie that bound them together in the annals of baseball history. Exactly five years have passed from that trade that changed the course of each player’s careers, and today they’re both wearing the same Oakland green and gold. Cabrera has found the experience of being on the same club as Garciaparra to be thrilling, in no small part because it has brought him full circle to a career-changing moment.

“We share that piece of history. For me, that’s one of the most amazing things. My daughters got to meet this guy. I explained to them, that’s one of the reasons my career jumped from nowhere to be something in the league,” said Cabrera. “This guy is an amazing guy. For me to get to know him, it’s been priceless.”

Alex Speier contributed to this report.

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