Video essay: A tribute to Jason Varitek
March, 1, 2012
ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes voices the video essay above, which pays tribute to Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who will retire today at 5:30 p.m. after 14 full seasons with the Red Sox. Here's the text of Gordon's essay:
The catcher, the great New Yorker essayist Roger Angell once wrote, "has more equipment and more attributes than players at the other positions. He must be large, brave, intelligent, alert, stolid, foresighted, resilient, fatherly, quick, efficient, intuitive, and impregnable."
For 14 seasons, Jason Varitek was all of these things and more for the Boston Red Sox. He was a rock behind the plate, a mentor and muse to Red Sox pitchers, an inspiration to teammates for his willingness to play through injuries, many of which were never mentioned outside the trainers’ room.
Just as Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson helped to define the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry for one generation of baseball fans, so, too, did Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada for this one. An enduring image of the 2004 season, the year the Red Sox finally won a World Series after 86 years, is Jason Varitek thrusting his oversized catcher’s mitt into the face of Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees in a brawl that many viewed as a catalyst to a special season.
No Red Sox catcher played in more games than the switch-hitting Varitek. No Red Sox catcher had more hits, more home runs, more RBIs, more runs than Varitek.
But the numbers on his baseball card can never define the value of Varitek to the Red Sox. His own performance, especially at the plate, he always said, was secondary to what he was able to do for his pitching staff.
"Maybe it's pride, maybe it's caring," Varitek once said of how he viewed calling a game, "but a catcher has to have the ability to separate themselves from what would appear to be good and glorious to themselves, separate that from helping out other people. If I took my at-bats behind the plate, I would not be able to get the respect of my pitcher. That's where you develop trust."
His game preparation was second to none, a large binder on his lap before every game, page after page of data on that night’s opponent. He caught four no-hitters, more than any other catcher in history. He worked seamlessly with such great pitchers as Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett, all of whom swore by him. He helped to nurture young pitchers, too, like Derek Lowe and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
“How much did Jason Varitek do for me?” Buchholz said this week. “How much time do you have?”
In recent seasons, Varitek’s role with the Red Sox diminished. He was replaced as the team’s No. 1 catcher by Victor Martinez, then by his heir apparent, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. His swing slowed down. He threw out few base-runners. But his commitment to winning never lessened. Neither did his desire to play. Even as he approached 40, he said he felt he could still play baseball’s most demanding position.
But now it is over. Jason Varitek, the man behind Boston’s iron mask, is announcing his retirement. It was an honor, David Ortiz said, to be his teammate. And while his playing career may have ended, Ortiz said Jason Varitek is the kind of man the organization is going to need forever. Why? Because, Ortiz said, Varitek adds nothing but good.