Jason Varitek’s Retirement and Legacy + Bobby Valentine’s Controversial Start

A guest post by my friend Asif, who writes Uninformed Commentary.

On Thursday, Jason Varitek will announce his retirement. Varitek will likely be most remembered by casual fans for shoving his glove into Alex Rodriguez’s face on July 24, 2004. That moment will forever be enshrined in myth as the moment when the Red Sox began their run to their first World Championship in 86 years. The problem is that like so much else with Varitek’s career, it’s just that, a myth, and that’s a disservice to the man who has been the Red Sox captain for the past six years.

(My Favorite Part of this Picture: Jeff Weaver (I think) looking stoned in the background)

That fight in Yankee Stadium will be remembered as a turning point for the Red Sox. The truth is they continued to scuffle after that game and didn’t really get hot until almost a month later. Varitek will be remembered as a great defensive catcher, the best “game caller” of his generation. The truth is that Varitek’s real calling card was his offense–he was a top-tier offensive catcher in his prime and never better than above average behind the plate. For those of us who loved watching Vartiek play, the mythologizing of him as a defensive whiz should be disturbing, as it will allow critics to chip away at his legacy in the coming years. Game calling is impossible to quantify and there’s some evidence that Varitek wasn’t better than anyone else at it –Clay Buchholz preferred to be caught by Victor Martinez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia while Jonathan Papelbon seemed to throw an endless stream of fastballs with Varitek behind the plate. Further, Tek’s caught stealing numbers were never great. Far better to shed our misconceptions early and focus on the fact that while he may not have been the God of the Pitch Mix, Varitek was a valuable contributors to two championship teams, including the best Red Sox team of all-time (2007).

Another, sadder truth about Varitek’s retirement is that he didn’t want this. Unlike Tim Wakefield who could have provided some value to the Sox (can’t have enough pitching) Varitek had no place on this roster and no other team was willing to offer him a major league deal. The Red Sox already have Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach on their major league roster–superior players on both sides of the ball–and prospect Ryan Lavarnway, who isn’t much of a catcher, but makes up for his shortcomings by carrying a huge stick, waiting in the wings. As for the prospect of another team signing on, Varitek has been on a very obvious decline since the 2007 season. The captain was never a fast-twitch athlete with tremendous bat speed, like Nomar Garciaparra for example, but for the last few years he’s looked as if he were swinging a telephone pole, especially from the left side. It was this declining bat speed that forced him to become a back-up, first to Victor Martinez and then to Saltalamacchia. Although Varitek accepted the role with his usual professionalism, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time.

Varitek was acquired, along with Derek Lowe, on July 31, 1997 in a trade with the Seattle Mariners, for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. It will always be remembered as one of the best trades in Red Sox history. Over these past 15 years, Varitek provided us with a number of positive memories, the best of which are the two World Series that the team won with him behind the plate. Thanks captain.

Bobby V Gets Acquainted

Well, Bobby Valentine’s tenure as Red Sox manager is definitely beginning in true Bobby V fashion, with plenty of bombast and controversy. Valentine has some huge shoes to fill as he’s replacing the best manager in Red Sox history (a guy who happens to be a short drive away in Bristol, CT these days) and he’s not being shy about how he plans to go about his business. No one will confuse the animated Valentine with the stoic Terry Francona and perhaps that’s exactly what this team needs, but Valentine needs to be more careful in how he handles the Boston media.

Bobby may be honest when he talks about things like addressing residual clubhouse anger, and it certainly seems genuine when he says things like:

“Exactly what I told you. Saying ‘Forget it is like saying, ‘Relax,’ you know?’ Those words mean nothing,” Valentine said. “It takes breathing, confidence, all those wonderful things to relax. It takes time and apologies, but apologies come with actions. I don’t think you can say, ‘OK, we’re going to have a meeting. We’re turning the page, it’s over.’ No, thank you. I don’t particularly like it.”

There’s plenty of truth to that statement. Still, Valentine should be lying or not saying anything at all. Right now, Valentine has much more slack with the media than the Red Sox players do. However, let’s consider what may happen if the Red Sox begin the season 0-6 like they did last year. It’s only a matter of time before someone at the Globe or Herald (even money on Shaughnessy) blames Valentine for airing the team’s dirty laundry in the media. Valentine is known for a couple things: wearing his emotions on his sleeves and getting the most out of his teams (take a look at the 2000 Mets’ roster). One thing that Bobby V isn’t known for is media savvy and he better start learning some quickly.

Banning Beer is Stupid

I know that I’m probably in the minority among Red Sox fans, but I wholeheartedly agree with Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky that the Sox new beer ban is a victory for stupidity. The 2011 Red Sox didn’t collapse because some pitchers were having a beer or 12 on days when they didn’t pitch. They collapsed because of a roster with obvious holes and underperformance down the stretch from players such as JD Drew, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, and the entire bullpen, none of whom, as far as we know, were partaking in beer or Popeyes. Was the beer and chicken a bad idea? Sure. Did it do against good taste? Definitely. Is it a Red Herring? Absolutely.

A far more interesting storyline to this Red Sox offseason is Theo Epstein’s departure, a move that’s been brewing since 2005 as the relationship between Epstein and team CEO Larry Lucchino has grown more acrimonious (I highly recommend Seth Mnookin’s Feeding the Monster for an inside look at how Sox management works). Another more interesting story would have been new GM Ben Cherington’s uneven first offseason which included smart moves like dealing for Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey to shore up the bullpen and head-scratchers like trading Marco Scutaro for spare parts with no starting shortstop on the roster. Instead we’ve been talking about beer for four months.

And no matter what Bobby Valentine says, Terry Francona is absolutely right, the ban is a PR move and one so transparent that the Red Sox should just admit it.

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3 Responses to Jason Varitek’s Retirement and Legacy + Bobby Valentine’s Controversial Start

  1. mweisburgh says:

    Actually, I’m thinking that the Red Sox should all be required take a vow of celibacy for three days after any loss. That will probably have a larger effect than banning bear.

  2. Patrick Hopkins says:

    Bobby V is going to be a problem….sooner than later!

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