Whether Varitek will catch that day remains to be seen. In 2010, Varitek will mainly make spot starts while sharing the job with the more offensively capable, 31-year-old Victor Martinez.
Varitek is getting old and has been getting old for quite a while. Perhaps this finally approaching season will be Varitek’s swan song.
Given Varitek’s sharply declining performance over the past few seasons, 2010 should be his final year in a Red Sox uniform, and it should also be his final year in the majors.
If Varitek returns in 2011, it will be with another team, and that would be a sad, sad day for Red Sox fans. Varitek wouldn’t be the first aging athlete to stick around far past his glory days and embarrass himself with a less-than-stellar farewell.
While that certainly remains a possibility for the proud Red Sox captain, most fans would prefer to focus on the glory days, and hope that 2010 spells a dignified, strong curtain call for one of the great Red Sox backstops of all time.
The Glory Days
In 1997, the Red Sox acquired Varitek and Derek Lowe from the Seattle Mariners for potential closer Heathcliff Slocumb. Speaking of glory days, this trade remains one of the most lopsided in major league history.
Varitek didn’t need long to rise among the Red Sox ranks and seize the starting job behind the dish at Fenway. After splitting time with Scott Hatteberg in 1998, Varitek demonstrated enough progress to assume full-time duties in 1999.
Varitek signed his first big contract with the Red Sox prior to the 2001 season. The deal was for $14.9 million over three years. That would take him through his first World Series championship, the one that ended Boston’s 86-year drought.
On April 4th, 2001, Varitek caught his first no-hitter, pitched by Hideo Nomo against Baltimore. On April 29, 2002, Varitek coaxed ground-ball specialist Lowe through another no-hitter during a 10-run thumping of Tampa Bay.
In 2003, Varitek posted career-best offensive numbers en route to his first All-Star selection, but the year was soured when, with Tim Wakefield on the mound and Doug Mirabelli catching in Game Seven of the ALCS, Varitek watched from the dugout as Aaron Boone launched the winning home run into the New York night.
The 2004 season needs no introduction. However, it’s worth remembering how Varitek held up behind the dish in grueling consecutive extra-inning affairs during the ALCS. Night after night, Varitek positioned himself as field general for far more than the usual nine innings.
That workhorse mentality helped shape Varitek into a natural clubhouse leader, and so it was that he joined Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice as only the third captain in the team’s history following that magical 2004 World Series run. It also earned Varitek his second big contract, this one for four years and $40 million.
While the Red Sox struggled to retool in 2005, Varitek made his second All-Star team and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award. During the injury-shortened 2006 season, Varitek won the Heart and Hustle Award.
That year he was one of a handful of Sox sidelined late in the season. Injured on July 29th while blocking Mike Napoli from scoring, Varitek could only watch in proverbial horror as the New York Yankees executed the August “Boston Massacre,” effectively ending what looked like a championship-caliber season.
The 2007 season marked another high point for Varitek, who caught his third no-hitter on September 1st. Again facing Baltimore, Varitek guided the young Clay Buchholz to immortality during only his second major league start. Buchholz provided the “stuff,” and Varitek told him where to put it.
The next month Varitek again led the Red Sox to victory in the Fall Classic. Many of the pitchers had changed, but the man behind the plate remained the same.
On May 19, 2008, Varitek set a major league record when he caught his fourth no-hitter, this time with Jon Lester dominating Kansas City.
That brings us nearly full circle, for the past two years have been increasingly difficult for the beloved Boston catcher.
If anyone needs more evidence of Varitek’s “intangible” value, consider that Boston’s staff ace wants Varitek behind the plate when he’s pitching. Josh Beckett wants wins and is willing to sacrifice Martinez’s bat for Varitek’s game-calling skills.
Beckett gets the nod on opening day against the Yankees, and Varitek should be catching him.