Oh Captain, My Captain! Why Jason Varitek is Irreplaceable

Don SpielesCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2008

As the American League Championship Series went from one game to the next, reporters came to Jason Varitek, the captain and catcher for the Boston Red Sox, with the same question.

"Will these be you last days in Boston?"  Each time, Varitek refused to comment. "That's not something I'm thinking about right now," he said more than once, referring to his free agent status that will begin this offseason. 

It occurred to me, even at that point, that Jason Varitek was once again showing why he is the captain of his team.  Rather than distract even a short bit of attention away from the task at hand (beating the Tampa Bay Rays,) 'Tek stayed mum and in turn did his part to keep everyone focused.

How refreshing is that?  How tough will those shoes be to fill?

If you know anything about Jason Varitek and the way he has performed in Boston, you'd probably agree that "Doing My Part" would be a great title for his eventual autobiography. This season has been full of perfect examples. 

To say that Varitek has struggled offensively this season is an understatement.  His .220 batting average was his lowest as a professional. His 13 home runs and .313 on-base percentage were also among his lows since starting with the Sox in 1997. 

But all the while, Varitek continued to be the leader of the team, both on and off the field.

He intelligently guided his pitching staff to another above average year (including catching his fourth no-hitter.)  During the Manny Ramirez fiasco mid-summer, Jason Varitek was one of several stabilizing forces helping to keep problems to a minimum.

Perhaps the most telling detail was the lack of emotion that he showed over his offensive woes.  As the catcher, coming back out in your gear with a bad at bat you just had stuck in your head is a problem. It wasn't a problem that 'Tek seemed to deal with. 

When you're the leader of the team, especially a team with so many young players, losing your cool when things go bad can be detrimental to success, or lack there of.  Again, not an issue for Varitek. 

Keep in mind that this was his contract year.  As we have all learned from so many others, having a good year right before you become a free agent equals dollars.  And while so Manny (I mean many) proved obsessed with maximizing their financial portfolios, Varitek seemed to keep his mind on only on winning.  Even with Scott Boras as his agent.

While Varitek, who will turn 37 this coming April, is no spring chicken, with the reputation that he has as an super solid defensive presence and leader extraordinaire, it is reasonable to think that he could sign with another team for some above average dough. 

Perhaps a club with young pitchers who need a stabilizing force on a team that will give him more than a couple years in return for his experience.  The Sox are rumored to be interested in no more than two years.

So where does Varitek really feel he'll be next year?  Only he and a few people close to him could have a clue.  But if anything tells me where his heart is, it was the interview he gave after Sunday night's season-ending loss to Tampa Bay.

When asked how proud he is of his team, he answers simply, "Extremely proud." 

When asked about his future with the team, he manages to stifle his surfacing emotions long enough to say, "I'd rather not talk about that."

While many Red Sox fans have reached the place where the taste for winning leaves them more pragmatic, I still tend to be the hopeless romantic. 

I like the fact that the Red Sox have a player who fights back emotion at the thought of ending 10 years with the team.  I like that Varitek seems to put the team's needs above his own, regardless of what the situation. If I could have a couple of more 'Teks on the team, not making the World Series as often wouldn't seem so awful (I'd still like to get there every so often, though.)

Most of all, I like the feeling I get when my five-year-old son recognizes 'Tek as the Red Sox catcher and says, "I'm Jason Varitek," when we play catch.  Jason Varitek is a role model for my son I can be content with.  He's what I wish baseball really was, though I know it really isn't.