The best part of the 2012 Boston Red Sox season has been the on-field ceremonies celebrating former great teams, staff members and ultimately players. Tonight, the Red Sox celebrate the career of the Captain, Jason Andrew Varitek, who gave his heart, body, and soul to lead Boston for 15 years from his usual position behind the plate. ‘Tek is one of the rare players in any sport who played his entire career with one team, representing the Sox from 1997 (after being acquired in a trade along with pitcher Derek Lowe for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb) until his retirement earlier this spring. For 1,546 regular season games, and a franchise record 63 postseason games, the catcher wearing the #33 jersey gave everything he had for this team and for this city. While there have certainly been players with more skill and ability who have come through this town, there may never have been a player who meant so much to his team as #33, and ‘Tek absolutely deserved the ‘C’ on his left shoulder.
As ‘Tek announced his retirement from the game of baseball down in Fort Myers earlier this year, he left the game as the only player ever to play in the Little League World Series, the College World Series, the real World Series, the Olympics, and also the World Baseball Challenge. Just the fact that he earned the right to play in all those prestigious tournaments shows that he was a fantastic player, but that alone doesn’t explain half of what he brought to the table. Varitek is a born leader, and a stand-up guy who does things the right way and though it unfortunately didn’t show during his final month in Boston, he is also a player that brought out the best in his teammates. He was player that helped transform the atmosphere in the Boston clubhouse, demanding greatness from every pitcher that he partnered with while working equally as hard at the plate offensively, grinding out at-bats and making the opposition work hard to get him out (which most of the time his outs ended up being productive outs). In arguably Varitek’s best season, when the Sox won the World Championship in 2004, he typically batted ninth in the line-up and never complained about his lack of at-bats despite flirting with a .300 average (he finished at .296). That’s just the kind of player he was, and the type of guy he is still today.
The Sox brought in Varitek and Derek Lowe from the Seattle Mariners on July 31, 1997. Just a day earlier, the Mariners bullpen blew a 7-2 lead while playing at Fenway Park and in an attempt to bolster that ‘pen Seattle overpaid to get Heathcliff Slocumb, who at the time was one of baseball’s best relievers (he was an All-Star in 1995 with the Phillies). Little did either team know that Varitek would go on to be a three-time All-Star and that Derek Lowe would become a vital part of a World Champion squad, but nonetheless this trade went down in the history books as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history.
It’s no big secret that Varitek was not the best defensive catcher to ever put on the gear (he allowed 992 stolen bases in his career, more than any active player at the time of his retirement), but the way that he managed the game and kept runners off the bases in the first place made up for that. While I’ve never spoken to him personally, if I had to guess Varitek could have told you the tendencies of every hitter in the American League and probably half of the National League as well. He was a player that was always watching film or reading scouting reports both about opposing hitters and about his own pitching staff so that he could help them improve too. There are some players that just know the game inside and out, and Varitek is one of the few who understand what it means to be a professional and to hone your craft. He did win a Gold Glove in 2005, so the managers and coaches that he faced did notice and appreciate what he meant to the Sox organization though his numbers may not have exhibited that.
Offensively is where Varitek set himself apart from many other catchers. For his career, ‘Tek hit .256 with 193 homeruns and 757 runs batted in. In the playoffs he added another 11 homers and 33 RBIs, making him one of the more prominent catchers of his generation. Historically, many teams went with a rock-solid defensive catcher instead of a more prolific offensive catcher and while that’s not always the case today, Varitek may be a catalyst for that change. ‘Tek was a guy who just cared about doing his job and getting on base and his .341 career on base percentage is not too shabby.
As I mentioned before, Jason Varitek was a three-time All-Star in Boston. He was also a key member of both Red Sox World Championship teams in the 2000s (2004 and 2007). He was named captain in 2005 and held that role throughout the rest of his career in Boston, and when he’s inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame he’ll most likely have the ‘C’ on his plaque. In addition to the 2005 Gold Glove Award he also won the Silver Slugger that year, awarded to the best offensive player at each position. He also caught a record 4 no-hitters during his career, a record that may never be broken. In college, at Georgia Tech, ‘Tek also won the 1994 Dick Howser Trophy and the 1994 Golden Spikes Award as he, Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Payton led the Yellow Jackets to Omaha and the final game where they lost to the Oklahoma Sooners after a couple of questionable calls.
For everything that Jason Varitek has done for Boston Red Sox, and everything that he continues to do in the community, I (along with the rest of Red Sox Nation) just want to say thank you. Athletes in general are not the best role models, but there’s a thing or two that we can all learn from Varitek about work ethic, toughness, and battling through adversity. There’s a reason he’s such a likeable guy (unless your name is Alex Rodriguez).