When you talk about great Sox catchers, it’s hard not to bring up Jason Varitek. The last captain in the Sox organization, Tek led the Sox pitching staff for over a decade as he built a reputation for calling a great game while demonstrating amazing leadership in the Sox clubhouse.
Born April 11, 1972 ‘Tek certainly has been around the block when it comes to baseball–and he is definitely not a stranger to success. Varitek was a member of the 1984 Little League World Series team, leading the team to victory until their abrupt loss to South Korea. Varitek played short, third, and catcher during his three games in the spotlight although he went 0-7 as he struggled at the plate.
Varitek didn’t stop there though as he went on to play third and catcher for his high school team, eventually being scouted by the Houston Astros. Opting to go to college instead, Jason attended Georgia Tech where he played alongside Nomar Garciaparra for the Yellow Jackets as they went to the College World Series (ultimately losing to Oklahoma). He also played amateur ball during the summers in the Cape Cod Baseball league, playing for the Hyannis Mets batting .371 and winning MVP in 1993. Check out the official scouting report from 1989:
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that he was a member of the 1992 Olympic Baseball team as well–sheesh the guy accomplished more before his big leagie career than most standard MLB veterans do by the time they retire.
Varitek broke into the bigs he was actually drafted by the Seattle Mariners and then traded to the Sox as a minor leaguer back in 1997. When he broke into the Show with the Sox he was used sparingly as Scott Hatterberg (aka Chris Pratt) was the incumbent at the time. 1999 was a breakout year for the big catcher as he batted .269 over 144 games while mashing 20 homers and driving in 76 runs. ‘Tek struggled for a bit before being a made a regular in the lineup in 2002. While he was often shaky at the plate, his managers and coaches took note of the extreme level of preparation he took to each game, along with the sense of respect he commanded in a clubhouse which helped to unify the team. I mean, the dude caught FOUR no-hitters–that’s not just by chance:
2001: Hideo Nomo
2002: Derek Lowe
2007: Clay Buchholz
2008: Jon Lester
And how can we forget this priceless gem:
After 2004 Varitek was rewarded by being named the team’s captain, their fourth in team history, and honestly I don’t think anyone can say that they regret the decision. From then on the legend grew as Jason cemented himself in Red Sox history, and in our hearts. He won his first Gold Glove award and Silver Slugger award in 2005 and in 2006 he set a club record for most games caught in a Sox uniform.
Not to mention he had the sickest walkout song ever:
Unfortunately, Varitek’s career took a bit of a nosedive after 2008 as he struggled mightily at the plate, failing to bat over .250 in his final four seasons. That said, his leadership, defensive capabilities, and ability to bridge the gap between players and management were all invaluable to the Sox. At the age of 39 Varitek called it quits after the 2011 collapse, opting to enjoy a life of retirement after a long and spectacular career with the Sox–just check out the stats:
But wait there’s more! After the 2012 season Varitek was named as a special assistant/consultant in the Sox organization by Ben Cherington, and even worked with pitchers and catchers in Spring Training. While it wasn’t quite the same as in previous years, it was nice to see our old captain on the field during Spring Training wearing #33.