The announcement that former Red Sox catcher and current special assistant Jason Varitek would be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame ultimately should have come as little surprise to any Red Sox fan. After all, when you join the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice as the only four captains of the team in a ninety-year span, your value to the team has to be pretty damn high. At the same time, has there ever been a Red Sox player who has been so important to the success of his team, yet remained so steadfastly out of the limelight?
Captain Varitek was not one to spend much time celebrating his own success, even when it was on a historic scale. For instance, the night that Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, and Varitek combined to hit four home runs in a row off of the Yankees' Chase Wright, Varitek's blast off the Sports Authority sign over the Green Monster was the last in the set. However, instead of enjoying the experience, he seemed hellbent on rounding the bases as quickly as possible before making his way back to the dugout, as if he couldn't wait to don the catcher's mask once more.
Then again, most of Varitek's best work came when he was behind the plate. There have been few catchers who have been more integral to the success of their team's pitching staffs. Varitek was renowned for the extent of his preparation against opposing batters, and for guiding his pitchers to success. The best evidence for this is the fact that Varitek was the first catcher to ever be behind the plate for four no-hitters, for Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, and a pair of promising young Sox hurlers: Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester.
However, fans most likely realized the true value of Jason Varitek to the Red Sox in the long days and nights of the halcyon 2004 season. First, there was Varitek's herculean stamina. Watching the marathons of the ALCS, my friends and I were simply astonished about the work load Tek had taken on: how many catchers in their 30's would be able to catch 51 innings over five days without a day off? And who else could have managed to deal with his Achilles' heel—the knuckleball—under some of the most high-pressure conditions ever imaginable in a baseball game: extra innings down three games to one against your most hated rival, trying to catch an unpredictable pitch designed to make everyone look foolish, with disaster looming for even the smallest of mistakes?
That was what Varitek was facing with Tim Wakefield on the mound in the top of the thirteenth inning in Game 5 of the ALCS, after having a runner on third with three passed balls in the frame so far. But, after a short chat with Wakefield, they successfully struck out Ruben Sierra to end the threat and preserve the Sox's hopes of survival. There is probably no other moment in baseball history to which we were not privy which I would have wanted to "listen in on." What sage advice or calming words did Varitek provide—or was it Wakefield? Unless one of them confesses, it will remain a mystery for the ages.
But the moment that will stand out for every Red Sox fan will come from a Sox-Yankees games on July 24, 2004. Bronson Arroyo had just drilled Alex Rodriguez with a pitch in the top of the ninth. Rodriguez started jawing at Arroyo, rather than taking his lawful base. Varitek stepped in to defuse the tensions, but instead, this happened, and we had the truly iconic image of Tek feeding A-Rod a faceful of catcher's mitt. The true meaning of the picture, though, is not getting comeuppance against the icon of one's biggest opponent, but all that it represents about Jason Varitek: the catcher who was always there for his teammates, and willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to support them. His enshrinement in the Red Sox Hall of Fame is a testament to his enduring legacy to the Red Sox.