Saying Good Bye to Tek

It was July 24, 2004.  The struggling Red Sox entered the day 52-44, 9.5 games behind the division leading Yankees, and in desperate need of a spark.  Down 3-0 in the top of the third inning, Bronson Arroyo plunked Alex Rodriguez on the left elbow.  After taking a slow stroll down to first base, staring down Arroyo the whole way, Rodriguez started spewing a few choice words beginning with “F” and rhyming with my last name.  It was at this moment that Jason Varitek stepped in to protect his pitcher, and supposedly uttered six famous words to A-Rod, thereby causing a bench clearing brawl.

“We don’t throw at .260 hitters.”

Ok.  Jason Varitek didn’t really say that, but that’s how I’ll always choose remember it.  I’m sure many of you reading this will feel the same way.  At the very least, it certainly makes for a fun, interesting piece of baseball lore.  Regardless of what was said or wasn’t said on the field, that brawl seemed to deliver the Red Sox the spark they needed to make a move in the standings.  Over the final 66 games, the Red Sox put together a league best 46-20 record, earning them the Wild Card and a playoff berth.  The rest was history.

Varitek was initially drafted in the 23rd round of the 1990 amateur draft by the Houston Astros, but later decided to attend Georgia Tech on a baseball scholarship instead.  In 1993, he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins with the 21st pick, but he eventually decided to return to Georgia Tech to play out his senior year.  When he re-entered the draft in 1994, he was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the 14th pick.  As a negotiating ploy, his agent, the enigmatic Scott Boras, used a series of loopholes in the draft process to allow Varitek to sign with the St. Paul Saints in the independent Northern League, rather than sign immediately.  (This would be a tactic he would later use for other clients, including J.D. Drew in 1997 and 1998.)  While he eventually came to terms with the Mariners for $650,000, Varitek wouldn’t end up playing his first professional game until the 1995 season.

At the trading deadline in 1997, the Mariners held a slim lead over the challenging Anaheim Angels in the AL West.  To bolster their roster, they dipped into their farm system and traded Varitek and promising starting pitcher Derek Lowe to the Red Sox in exchange for Heathcliff Slocum, an experienced closer.  This trade ultimately backfired on the Mariners, and later became one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history.  Slocum struggled with his control and inconsistent performance during his tenure in Seattle, and ended up losing the closer role by the start of the 1998 season.  He was allowed to leave via free agency prior to the 1999 season, and never pitched another baseball game after 2000.  Varitek and Lowe, on the other hand, had their most productive seasons ahead of them.  Lowe would eventually pitch 7+ seasons for the Red Sox producing 23.5 fWAR, and Varitek produced 24.8 fWAR over his 14+ seasons.   More importantly, they played key roles on the 2004 club that brought Boston home their first championship in 86 years. Both players would become free agents after the 2004 season, but only Varitek would return; signing a four year deal worth $40M.

Early in his career, Varitek’s career was marked with ups and downs.  After a strong spring training in 1999, Varitek assumed the starting catcher role, and put together a break out offensive season producing a .346 wOBA and 20 home runs.  Unfortuantely, the 2000 and 2001 seasons represented a step back.  He struggled offensively in 2000, and had a promising season cut short due to an elbow injury in 2001.  Determined to prove himself, he came back strongly in 2002; thus beginning an incredibly productive four year stretch in which he would leave a distinctive mark on Red Sox history.  During that stretch he produced a .357 wOBA, and provided 13.9 fWAR in value.  He became the bedrock of the pitching staff, masterfully calling games, and becoming one of the most trusted men behind the dish in the game’s history.  More importantly, he was the silent leader of “The 25″– the team that helped break the so-called, fabricated Curse of the Bambino that had supposedly been holding the franchise hostage.

In 2005, after years of being considered the clubhouse leader, Varitek was officially given the title of Captain.  The designation made him only the third player in the franchise’s history to be bestowed such an honor.  Carl Yastrzemski (1969-1983) and Jim Rice (1983-1989) were the other two players.

Soon after, his skills fell into rapid decline.  His offensive game crumbled first, and his defensive skills declined soon after.  He managed to maintain the trust of his pitchers, and has been widely lauded for his game calling abilities even to this day.  Still, his arm strength had declined to the point where he became a liability.  Base runners ran at will to the point where it was actually embarrassing to watch.  He maintained his job as the starter until August 2009 when the Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez at the trading deadline.  He’s served as both the backup and Josh Beckett‘s personal catcher since.

Tek wasn’t the greatest player we’ll ever see, and he’s certainly not a Hall of Famer.  Still, he was both our Captain and an invaluable member of two teams that brought home a championship to Boston.  For that, we’ll always be grateful for his contributions.  On behalf of the staff at Fire Brand, we wish you well Jason.  Thanks for the memories.  The last fifteen seasons wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Jason Varitek

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

10 Responses to “Saying Good Bye to Tek” Subscribe

  1. topherdd February 29, 2012 at 9:52 AM #

    Jason Varitek is a class act and was a fine ballplayer. His place in Red Sox lore is secure and time will surely enhance it. 'Tek' is a close 2nd to Carlton Fisk (the original Pudge) as far as all-time Sox catchers are concerned. Someday in the not to distant future he will be ushered into the Red Sox team Hall of Fame and his # 33 may even have a prominent place high above rightfield.

  2. Bruce February 29, 2012 at 10:35 AM #

    One of the most interesting stats that you don't mention is that he caught 4 no-hitters in his career with Boston. I think that is the most in MLB history. And for a club without the best pitching in baseball.

    • ChipBuck February 29, 2012 at 10:48 AM #

      Those no hitters were a testment more so to the pitchers than Varitek.

      • Jim from NY February 29, 2012 at 11:53 AM #

        Not really, if you look at what Clay Buchholz had said about his…. He had said that the first couple of innings he shook off Varitek and missles got hit that were caught, after that he just went with whatever Varitek put down.

        • hammyofdoom February 29, 2012 at 1:21 PM #

          Well… yes, but its kind of like giving a pitcher credit for a hitter going for the cycle. Yes he was involved, but it was the other persons talents and trade that made it happen

        • ChipBuck February 29, 2012 at 3:27 PM #

          Even still, it's possible Clay's location was slightly off after the first couple of innings, and he corrected it in later innings. You're suggesting that correlation equals causation. Honestly, the defense behind Clay probably had more to do with keeping the no hitter in tact than Varitek did. Catchers can affect the game in terms of pitch calling and pitch framing, but the impact is somewhat limited. They can't the velocity, movement, or location of a pitch. Furthermore, they have absolutely no control over what happens after a ball is put in play. (Unless they're the ones fielding it, which is rare.) The catcher is primarily a target.

          • Jim from NY February 29, 2012 at 10:20 PM #

            Well played sir, well played…… I just like to think he had that big of a factor because he is probably my favorite player for the Red Sox and always will be!

    • corelin March 4, 2012 at 8:48 AM #

      Don't forget the 5th no-hitter he almost caught but Curt Schilling shook him off in the 9th. While ChipBuck is right that pitchers are more inmportant, catchers often know best how to keep a hitter off-balance.

  3. mattymatty March 2, 2012 at 4:08 AM #

    Well said, Chip. Here's to our Captain.

  4. donna March 2, 2012 at 2:11 PM #

    I know i am biased, as I just can't stand to think of the RS without Jason Varitek…but… i do think that he might be the one type of player who should be able to challenge the norms of election into HOF (not jut RS HOF). The "intangibles" he brought each day – even when not playing… those should have some merit to get him into HOF.
    Aren't his gear from the 4th no-hitter he caught on display ??
    y'all gonna call me just a sentimental old fool, but, i remain convinced that the HOF should consider him, and/or create a new category of "selfless team player/unsung hero/stats-don't-tell-everything" inductee.