May 22, 1998—
It was a mild New England spring day—the thermometer fluctuated in the 50's and a steady wind blew, but not one that was bone chilling. That night, a 26-year-old from Michigan and a 27-year-old from Puerto Rico met for the first time.
They were the latest in a long line of men to strap on a set of bulky catching gear and spend hours crouched in an uncomfortable position while two teams, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees battled it out on the field.
That night, neither Jason Varitek or Jorge Posada had a clue as to how their stories would end.
But nigh, the end is near.
Jason Varitek is poised to announce his retirement from the game tomorrow, following the lead of Jorge Posada and officially putting the latest, and arguably greatest era of the Hatfield/McCoy feud to bed.
Sure, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera still remain for the Yankees and David Ortiz remains with Boston—but the rivalry is different now.
Gone from Boston are Pedro, Manny, Trot, Tim and Nomar. New York is without Tino, Andy, Paul, Scott and Bernie.
Now add Jason and Jorge to the list. Like I said, the rivalry has officially turned a page.
Varitek and Posada went head-to-head as catchers on 122 different occasions—some in the postseason but the majority in the regular season—far more than any of the other catching duos that the rivalry has seen in the past 80 years.
More than Bill Dickey and Rick Ferrell in the 1930s.
More than Yogi Berra and Sammy White in the 1950s.
More than Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk in the 1970s.
In the history of baseball, only nine players have been switch-hitters and caught more than 1,000 games, none more prolific and successful than Varitek and Posada. Between the two of them, they have eight All-Star appearances and six World Series championships.
What they meant to their teams and what they added to the rivalry goes far beyond numbers alone.
Much of what they did never showed up in a box score, was never seen by the public or reported by the media. Whether it was something that they said to a teammate, the way that they went about their craft, something that they did for someone else—the little things that they both did were as, if not more important to their teams' success than what they accomplished on the playing field was.
Now I know a ton of Red Sox fans, so I figured there was no better group to ask a simple question to: "Who is Jason Varitek?"
Without question, this was the most heartfelt, honest and accurate statement I've seen from anyone about Varitek to date:
Jason Varitek wasn't just the leader of the Boston Red Sox team—he was the unquestioned leader of Red Sox Nation. 'Tek bought us through the Grady Little years; he kept the idiots under enough control that we witnessed not one, but two World Series trophies be hoisted—something most Red Sox fans never thought they would see in their lifetimes. His value went beyond his ability to catch, throw and hit, because when those all started to fade, he was still able to bring his pitchers along, If John Henry has half a brain, he will make sure that Jason Varitek is involved with this organization for a long, long time—I smile when I think of the impact that he could have on young players coming up through the minors. He'll never get into Cooperstown, but to millions of us, he's as big a part of Red Sox history as anyone who has ever worn the red B on their head.—Greg Drinkwater
Fans like Greg, like you, like me—those of us who have been emotionally invested in the teams we cheer on for as long as we can remember—those are the people who can truly speak to a player's legacy. It takes a special player to garner the type of response that my question got.
Much in the same way that Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk did, Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada transcended the game.
They became ingrained in the psyche and culture of their teams, their fan bases, and the cities they called home, often being overlooked while their flashier, more talented teammates soaked up all the attention.
The rivalry between the two teams is at it's best when they both have a strong, sturdy leader behind the plate—something that seems to happen every 20 years or so.
When the Red Sox and Yankees are battling each other tooth and nail in a September pennant race, it serves as the best the sport has to offer—it reminds us of what makes sports so great.
Passion. Emotion. Dedication. Camaraderie.
Let's hope we don't have to wait another 20 years for the next chapter to be written.