Jason Varitek Makes the Right Choice
It’s never easy to let go of something or someone that reminds us of ourselves. I don’t care if it is an old practice jersey from your days on the high school basketball team, a toy given as a present when Santa Claus was still real, or a blanket that was used when there was no work, no bills, and no responsibilities.
It is simple to see why cutting ties with Jason Varitek is not easy.
But it should be. In recent years, Varitek has not been good. If you wanted to make the argument that Varitek had a place on the 2012 Boston Red Sox, we would have a serious disagreement.
Varitek will make things official on Thursday at Fenway South. The writing has been on the wall for some time. Kelly Shoppach was inked to a one-year guaranteed contract earlier this winter. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia entrenched as the Opening Day catcher and the powerful bat of Ryan Lavarnway waiting in Pawtucket, Shoppach’s signing, for all intents and purposes, marked the end of the Varitek era in Boston.
Ben Cherington handled both the Varitek and Tim Wakefield situations with the cold, objective decision-making ability that is vital to the success of a quality general manager. And it couldn’t have been easy. Many fans would have loved to see both longtime Red Sox members back for one more season, a season that commemorates the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. For all of the negative commentary that focuses on the Red Sox brass putting public relations first, they made two shrewd baseball decisions. The roster spot that Wakefield would have occupied outweighs the production the Sox would have received. The same holds true for the Captain.
Varitek couldn’t throw out Cecil Fielder attempting to steal third base on a bad jump with a left handed batter at the plate. His bat has evolved into an abject weakness, as it should–he’s 39 years old. Despite the fact that it is easy to provide sound reasoning as to why Varitek is both an offensive and defensive liability, it is clear how someone could argue that he is still valuable to not only the Red Sox, but any major league team.
The three-time All-Star knows how to call a game. He sees things that Saltalamacchia will not pick up on in 2012. He is a seasoned veteran that knows opposing hitters as well as he knows the pitchers he works with. And that’s pretty rare.
Josh Beckett agrees.
“He’d call a pitch and I’d shake and he’d throw the same pitch down. I knew he saw something I didn’t see. Obviously he’s closer to the plate and the batter and everything. I knew then I could have conviction in that, that he saw something that he really wanted to do that with.”
There is no point in denying the truth: Varitek provides the guys who toe the rubber with a peace of mind about the pitch they are about to make more than Saltalamacchia or Shoppach will. And there is something to be said for that. Clay Buchholz may not be afraid to throw his changeup in a hitters’ count because Varitek made that decision for him. Beckett may snap his curve ball downward with more authority because he has a sincere trust when ‘Tek is on the receiving end of the pitch. It’s a fair argument, but it also comes with a counterpoint.
The 2011 Red Sox team was too comfortable. Varitek has served as less of a legitimate contributor and more of a caddy to Beckett in recent years. Varitek isn’t stupid. He knows that he hasn’t been the offensive and defensive stalwart he had been in the past. At the same time, Varitek knows (and it’s true) he could still contribute on the major league level–even as a soon-to-be 40 year old.
That’s what makes it so hard.
On Thursday, Varitek, like Wakefield did a couple of weeks ago, will stand up in front of former teammates, members of the media, and admirers to announce that he will no longer play baseball. It must be tough to make the right choice.
And for fans, it is certainly not easy.
As we discard items from our past, it often hurts. The practice jersey from high school may make its way into the trash. The toy from Christmas past will likely make an appearance in a yard sale one day. But before we let go of the blanket that was with us for so long, when things were just too good, we may tear away a piece, just to save–just in case.