Seasons in Boston: 1997-2011
Honors: 2x World Series Champ, 3x All-Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger
Red Sox Numbers: .256/.341/.435, 193 HR, 664 R, 757 RBI, 25 SB, 99 wRC+, 21.6 fWAR
Signature Season (2004): .296/.390/.482, 18 HR, 67 R, 73 RBI, 10 SB, 125 wRC+, 4.1 fWAR
This selection is not going to blow you away purely by the numbers numbers. Sure, Varitek was an excellent offensive catcher for the majority of his career, but that’s not the primary part of why we all remember him. Catcher is one of the more unique positions on the diamond. Behind the plate you are involved in just about every play and need to have a cerebral knowledge of the pitching staff on your team. Varitek had all this and much more. His on-field actions helped lead a generation of Red Sox fans to believe that beating the Yankees was possible.
Varitek shined as a defensive stalwart, master game planner, clutch offensive threat, and team leader for 15 seasons, all with the Red Sox. Varitek ranks behind only Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Jim Rice, and Dwight Evans in terms of consecutive seasons with the team and also ranks first in Red Sox history in games started at catcher with 1372. Carlton Fisk is second down at at 968. From 2005 until the end of his career in 2011, he served as team captain, an honor that hadn’t been held previously since Jim Rice and Yastrzemski.
Few in baseball have had a journey like Varitek, who achieved team success at every single stop. As Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe noted, he has played in the Little League World Series, the College World Series, the World Series, the Olympics, and the World Baseball Classic. While in college at Georgia Tech, Varitek was a first team All-American in 1992, 1993, and 1994, winning both the Dick Howser and Golden Spikes Awards (both awards for the best college player in the nation) during his 1994 season. He also hit over .400 three years in a row, including a .426 mark in 1994. Following this historic year he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners 14th overall in the 1994 draft.
Both Varitek and longtime teammate Derek Lowe arrived in Boston in 1997 as part of one of the more lopsided trades of all-time, coming over in exchange for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. At the time of the deal, Varitek was not dominating the minors like many expected a player with his track record would. Of course, catchers are notoriously slow to develop, but by Vartiek’s second full season in 1999 he was well on his way to becoming a star. By far the best thing about Varitek was his ability to call games for his pitcher. John Farrell said in a New York Times interview, “He’s got a photographic memory and just a true feel for what the hitter is doing in the batter’s box in a given at bat, Second, third, fourth time through the lineup, he’s well aware of the sequences that he’s called in the previous at-bats. If adjustments are needed with pitch selection, he has the recall to make that on the fly.”
Over the course of Varitek’s career he would end up catching four regular season no-hitters from four different pitchers, more than any other catcher in major-league history Only Carlos Ruiz of the Philadelphia Phillies has matched his total, with one of his coming in the playoffs. The first for Varitek was the first regular season start for Hideo Nomo in a Red Sox uniform. It was the second no-hitter of Nomo’s career but this one was remarkable because he had only ever thrown to Varitek a few times previously during spring training.
The second no-hitter Varitek called was thrown by Lowe, who of course was with Varitek in the aforementioned trade from Seattle. On April 27 Lowe was set to face the Rays just one start removed from giving up five runs to the Royals. He threw a no hitter in a 10-0 win and would go on to a 21-8 record with a 2.58 ERA on the season just one year removed from having been a bullpen arm.
The third no-hitter of his career was thrown by Clay Buchholz, who was making just the second big league start of his career. That night the prospect struck out nine batters, and as Varitek had shown with Nomo, he didn’t need much time at all to get into a rhythm with his battery mate. He also proved he was able to coax confidence out of young players and guys changing roles, just like he had with Lowe.
The fourth and final no hitter caught in Vartek’s career came on May 19, 2008 vs the Kansas City Royals. Jon Lester, who had just beaten cancer and was in his first full season, dominated the Royals. Varitek once again proved he was a master at helping young players unlock their potential sooner than most believed was possible. This record-breaking fourth no-hitter cemented Varitek’s already impressive legacy as one of the game’s best at navigating a lineup.
There were two notable near misses as well. Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling both were guilty of the same mistake calling off Varitek in the 9th inning and both seeing immediate consequences. Pedro’s came on August 29 during his historically great 2000 season. With just three outs to go Pedro worked a 2-2 count to batter John Flaherty. Two things then happened, Pedro’s chain broke and with the next pitch he shook off the curveball call from Varitek. He finished with a 13 strikeout one hitter. Schilling fell victim to Shannon Stewart of the A’s on June 7, 2007. With just one out to go in the ballgame he shook off a slider call and Stewart notched a single. Schilling said afterward, “We get two outs, and I was sure, and I had a plan, and I shook Tek off, And I get a big ‘What if?’ for the rest of my life.”
If those two things had gone according to Varitek’s plan then all of a sudden we are talking about the only player in history with an unimaginable record of six called no hitters! Varitek also had 11 postseason home runs in 63 postseason games, three of which came in the magical 2004 run. Fans remember the happiest moments of their Red Sox lives with Keith Foulke and Varitek jumping into each other’s arms in elation. More than anything he did fans will always remember Varitek for the facewash he gave A-Rod on July 29 in 2004 which gave everyone in Red Sox nation the confidence that this team would take no shit from the Yankees ever again. That picture (above) now rightfully rivals the famous shot of Bobby Orr flying through the air as the most famous in Boston sports history.