Another Red Sox icon said goodbye this week, as catcher Jason Varitek made his formal retirement announcement on Thursday. While “icon” might seem a strong term to use for someone who won’t be going to Cooperstown, from the perspective of Red Sox Nation it fits. As much as any player, Varitek was seen as the heart and soul behind some of the best teams in the history of one of sports’ great franchises.
It all started in the summer of 1997. The Red Sox were out of contention that year. ’97 was a year they were in limbo, with Roger Clemens have left for Toronto and the team still being a year away from acquiring Pedro Martinez from Montreal. Boston GM Dan Duquette was a seller at the trade deadline, and he had closer Heathcliffe Slocumb to deal. Duquette found a willing bidder in Seattle and in exchange for Slocumb the Red Sox got not only Varitek, but Derek Lowe along with him. And people wonder why some of us think that the sellers are often the ones getting the better end of these deadline deals (for the record, Slocumb did nothing thereafter and neither did Seattle).
Varitek got relatively small amount of playing time in 1998, but the following year he got the job full-time. In light of the fame Scott Hatteberg has gotten in the Moneyball movie, Varitek’s legacy outside New England might be as the answer to the question about who replaced Hatteberg as the Red Sox catcher. Varitek lived up to the organization’s confidence and hit 20 home runs in ’99, while the Sox made the American League Championship Series.