Jason Varitek retired today after a 15 year-career as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
He was the captain of two World Series winning squads, a three-time All-Star, and a Gold Glove winner. Though he was never an offensive force, he was a switch-hitter with enough power to top the 20 home run mark three times.
He played 1546 games for the Red Sox, amassing 193 home runs, 757 runs batted in and hit for a .256 career average. But his true value to the team was in his knowledge of opponents and his handling of his own pitching staff.
Though his skills diminished considerably in the final three or four seasons of his career, he still means an enormous amount to the franchise and the city. But the Red Sox have a specific set of rules when it comes to retired numbers: the player must have spent 10 years in a Red Sox uniform, he must have retired as a member of the club and he must be in the baseball Hall of Fame.
That last requirment is where Varitek doesn't measure up. He won't be eligible for five years, but even when he is, his numbers don't exactly scream for inclusion.
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The Red Sox have made just one exception to their own rules when the enshrined Johnny Pesky's number 6, but he has was an official part of the team as player, manager and coach for 21 years. So should the Sox make an exception and put 33 on the wall in right field?
Here are five reasons they should.
He was a great safety blanket for pitchers:
Varitek didn't have a cannon arm, but he spent 15 years catching Tim Wakefield's dancing knuckle ball with little fuss and few passed balls. He was so effortless doing it, that it wasn't until the past few years when guys like Victor Martinez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to do it that it became apparent just how good Varitek was.
Student of the game:
Varitek was rumored to keep notes on every lineup in the American League. He spent hours in the film room dissecting opposing batters to know which pitches to call at what time. All that work came to the forefront in the form of a major league record four no-hitters that he was behind the plate for.
In the afterglow of the 2004 championship, the Red Sox named Varitek their captain, a rare honor in baseball. It is so rare that he was just the third captain for Boston since 1923. He was the unquestioned leader of the 2004 team and remained in that role right through the end of his career.
Contribution to the game:
Varitek was a player who played the game the right way. He didn't have any notable media gaffes. He never complained publically about playing time or contract situations. He was even gracious and affable about moving to a bench role and working with younger catchers late in his career.
The A-Rod incident:
In July of 2004, Varitek was the central figure in an incident that may have sparked the Sox on the run that carried them to their first title in 86 years. On July 24, with the Sox 9.5 games behind their arch rival, the New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez was hit by a Bronson Arroyo pitch. Rodriguez took exception and began to yell at Arroyo as he headed towards first. When Varitek intervened, Rodriguez barked at him, and got a face-full of Varitek's mitt for his trouble.
After order was restored, the Sox ended up winning the game on a walk off homerun off Mariano Rivera, a theme that would repeat as the Sox came from a 3-0 deficit to eliminate the Yankees in one of the greatest American League Championship Series of all time.
It was Varitek's act of defiance that has come to symbolize what the Sox accomplished that season and it has become one of the great moments in Red Sox history.