Do not be surprised to see Jason Varitek in a Red Sox uniform again. However, it will only be as a coach or, perhaps down the road, a manager. The captain reportedly will retire Thursday in Fort Myers, joining Tim Wakefield in this spring’s parade of goodbyes.
Varitek, who turns 40 in April, played all 15 of his seasons with the Sox after coming over in the infamous Heathcliff Slocumb deal in 1997. He caught more games (1,488) than any player in a Boston uniform and is one of only five catchers in Major League history to catch at least 1,400 games while spending an entire career with one team. The three-time All-Star also ranks among the top 10 in Red Sox history in doubles and RBIs and is one of three Boston catchers (Carlton Fisk and Tony Pena are the others) to capture a Gold Glove Award behind the plate.
That said, anyone who saw Varitek play just once knows his legacy extends far beyond mere statistics and accolades. He was a trusted receiver, a rock in the clubhouse and trademarked the home run sprint. Boston has a policy of only retiring the numbers of players who have reached Cooperstown, a rule that was brushed aside to allow for Johnny Pesky’s introduction in 2008. They may have to bend the rules once more if and when Varitek falls short of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Here are a few other notable aspects of Varitek’s career:
1. He was the first man to hug Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester when each of them threw no-hitters for the Sox. That’s because Varitek was the man on the receiving end, the only player in baseball history to catch four no-hitters in a career.
2. Perhaps the best testament to Varitek’s overall value came in 2001. Boston had averaged over 90 wins over the previous three seasons, making the playoffs twice, and was in first place at 34-24 on June 7. That’s when Varitek, at home against Detroit, fractured his right elbow on a dive for a foul pop. He missed the rest of the season and had to watch from the sidelines as a relatively talented bunch went 48-55 and all but quit after pitching coach Joe Kerrigan took over for the fired Jimy Williams in mid-August. Up one game when Varitek was injured, the Sox finished 13 games behind New York.
3. Countless cubicle walls, screensavers and man caves throughout New England are adorned today with an image of Varitek stuffing his mitt into Alex Rodriguez’s face on July 24, 2004, a watershed moment in a memorable run to the franchise’s first World Series crown in 86 years. The ensuing brawl was part of a come-from-behind 11-10 victory that ignited a 46-20 run to end the season. But you knew that.