Jason Varitek retired after 15 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, leaving a legacy that seems more substantial than precise quantification would indicate. Varitek was worth 23.1 wins to according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs, at 25.5, is more generous to him. These numbers suggest a solid contributor, but hardly the rock of the Golden Era Red Sox his teammates and others would suggest.
The man had gravitas. (With those quads how could you not?) He could wear a “C” on his chest in a sport that does not award them without looking patently ridiculous. He held esteem to the end when a strikeout was a given and opposing base stealers had a perpetual green light. He would have won a “Red Sox player you would feel most comfortable in a fox hole with” poll each year he was eligible.
His career eulogies reflect that gravitas, as writers try to define it with concocted testaments. He is indeed the only catcher in MLB history to catch four no-hitters. What that reflects is unclear. Participating in a LLWS, a high school state championship, a CWS and the actual World Series better reveals the surface, though it also reveals he played with a number of great players.
We see this in his most famous moment, shoving Alex Rodriguez in the face in 2004. It shows up on no stat sheet, yet it was significant. Or, perhaps, we just want it to be significant. Memory considers it and the subsequent 11-10 win the turning point, though reality would point out the Red Sox 26-5 run that got them to the playoffs began two weeks later, after the Nomar trade.
Defining Varitek is challenging. He was not a great player, yet was an indelible part of greatness. He could be little better than a replacement catcher, yet a presence virtually impossible to replace. He could be a leader of men, a creature of media creation, a placebo or the amalgam of all three. He highlights the limitations of our perception. He points to a mental frontier uncharted by our present statistical metrics.
[Photo via US Presswire]