Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek is expected to announce his retirement on Thursday.
Originally a number one draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1994, he was acquired by the Red Sox at the trade deadline in 1997 along with pitcher Derek Lowe in exchange for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. To this day, it is considered one of the most lopsided trades in the history of MLB.
Varitek came up to the Sox at the end of the ’97 season and played his entire career in Boston. Better known for his defensive prowess, he finishes his career with a lifetime batting average of .256 with 193 homeruns and 757 RBI. His best offensive season came in 2003 when he hit .273 with 25 homeruns and 85 RBI. He was named to three American League All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove and two World Series rings with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. Varitek was named team captain in 2005. It is not known if the Red Sox plan to name a successor in that capacity.
Varitek has the distinction of calling more no-hitters than any other catcher in MLB history. He was behind the plate for no-hitters thrown by Hideo Nomo in 2001, Lowe in 2002, Clay Buchholz in his second MLB start in 2007 (which I saw on TV) and Jon Lester in 2008. He, along with former MLB catcher Ed Vosberg, are the only big leaguers to play in the Little League World Series, College World Series and the World Series.
He was the Red Sox number one catcher for more than a decade until injuries took their toll. Varitek’s playing time began to be curtailed during the 2009 season when the Sox acquired Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians. After Martinez signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Tigers prior to last season, Varitek platooned with Jarrod Saltalamacchia. With Varitek gone, look for Saltalamacchia to platoon with Ryan Lavarnway in 2012.
I don’t see Varitek as a Hall of Famer. There are better catchers who are not in the Hall of Fame such as Bill Freehan and Ted Simmons. But Varitek had a very solid career and had an excellent reputation as a teammate and a handler of pitchers. Salty and Lavarnway have some very big shoes to fill. Varitek, who turns 40 in April, is expected to remain with the Red Sox in some capacity.
Varitek’s announcement will come exactly two weeks after pitcher Tim Wakefield, who had been with the Red Sox since 1995, hung up his spikes. It really is the end of an era in Boston.