Varitek Retires After 14 Seasons
He wore the "C" on his jersey. He caught four no-hitters, a major league record. And he gave us one of the greatest moments in the history of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry (Sorry A-Rod).
There was a reason Jason Varitek was the captain of the Boston Red Sox. He was respected by everyone in Red Sox Nation. In fact, he was respected by everyone in Major League Baseball. He was a role model for both rookies and veterans, someone who everyone tried to emulate.
He was the leader of the pitching staff. His preparation was unmatched, with him often worried more about getting back to the dugout to talk with his pitcher than his own at-bats. Countless pitchers who threw to Varitek over the years credited him with making them better. Pitchers came to the Red Sox to work with him and, for the most part, let him call the game.
His battery mate from 1998-2004 and arguably the greatest pitcher in Red Sox history, Pedro Martinez, couldn't have had more praise for his former catcher in an interview with the Boston Globe on Wednesday.
"To be honest, half of my success in the big leagues is because of Jason Varitek," Martinez said. "Whatever I say will fall short of how I feel about Jason and his career and how he goes about his business.
"He was determined to do better for the team than he was for himself. A lot of people take for granted what he did for us."
I write all of this because, after 15 Major League seasons, all with Boston, Varitek, 39, will announce his retirement on Thursday in Fort Myers.
The announcement comes just two weeks after fellow Red Sox legend, Tim Wakefield, declared his retirement. Wakefield was the longest tenured Sox player at 17 years of service, with Varitek right behind him with 15 years in Boston.
Varitek came to Boston in one of the most lopsided trades in Boston sports history. Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette traded reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle in 1997 for Varitek and Derek Lowe, who both became major contributors in ending the 86 year championship drought in 2004.
Duquette praised Varitek, who was the 14th overall pick in the 1997 amateur draft, while speaking in a radio interview on WEEI on Tuesday.
"You'd like to make one of those (trades) every year, but they don't come along every day. I'm just glad we got the opportunity to see those guys during the great years of their career," Duquette said. "Jason had a great career. He really solidified the team for over a decade. He was the captain of the team, but he really earned that captaincy by the way he handled himself on the field.
"He was a clutch player. Obviously, staying healthy and catching the most games in Red Sox history, then being there when they actually won, that's got to be a great thrill and honor for him."
Catching the most games (1,546) in Red Sox history is not the only category that Varitek sits atop of. He is the Red Sox all-time leader in almost every major offensive category for catchers, including home runs (193), doubles (306), hits (1,307), runs (664), at-bats (5,099) and RBI (757). Overall, he is ninth in Sox history in games played and 11th in home runs.
Varitek has also played in more postseason games (63) than anyone in the history of the Red Sox and his 11 playoff homers are the most by a Sox catcher in history.
He is the only player in history to play in the World Baseball Classic (USA), World Series (Red Sox), Little League World Series (Altamonte Springs, MI), College World Series (Georgia Tech), and the Olympics (USA).
A three time All-Star (2003, 05, 08), Gold Glove winner (2005), and Silver Slugger (2005), it's no coincidence that Varitek's best years came from 2003-05, during which the Red Sox had some of their best seasons. He ranked in the top 30 of the MVP voting and led the team to the playoffs in all three seasons.
In 2003, he hit .273 with a career high 25 home runs and drove in 85 runs, while the Sox went on to set offensive records, eventually losing to the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS.
The next year was the magical season of 2004, in which he hit a career high .296 with 18 home runs and 73 RBI. Arguably Varitek's most memorable season, 2004 included his iconic brawl with Alex Rodriguez, that many contend was the turning point in the Sox' season. He also had the game-tying sacrifice fly in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the ALCS against the Yankees, that led to David Ortiz' walk-off hit in the 14th inning and the eventual historic Sox' comeback.
And of course we will never forget him jumping into the arms of closer Keith Foulke after the final out was made in St. Louis to win the World Series.
That offseason, the Red Sox signed Varitek to a four year, $40 million contract and named him captain.
In the years following, he helped lead the Sox to four more playoff appearances and once again jumped into the arms of his closer following the last out of the World Series. This time it was Jonathan Papelbon in 2007 against Colorado.
Perhaps, Curt Schilling, one of Varitek's biggest fans and former battery mate summed it up best on Twitter account, Tuesday.
"(Varitek) was the most prepared played I have ever played with. (He was) a captain in every sense of the word. (I am) honored to call him a friend and teammate."
Everyone who ever played with Varitek is issuing similar praise. It is a true tribute to the career of one of the best Red Sox players in history and while he may not be a Hall of Famer, there is no doubt his number 33 will hang in right field with the other Sox legends, soon enough.
Varitek on Thursday held the last conference that he will ever be a part of as a part of the team, and one thing seemed certain from the meeting. Varitek will forever love and be a part of the Red Sox: "Being part of this Boston Red Sox organization for the last 14 years is something I truly cherish."
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