Emotional Varitek calls it a career
Red Sox praise longtime catcher at retirement news conference
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Standing just in front of home plate instead of behind it -- where he served as the rock of the Red Sox for 14 years -- Jason Varitek formally ended his playing career late Thursday afternoon.
This time, there was no mask or chest protector. Instead, Varitek sported a gray suit and purple tie. All the grit that had been on display for so many years was replaced by gratitude and emotion.
The longtime Red Sox captain announced his retirement at JetBlue Park, ending a Major League career that was spent exclusively with Boston.
As Varitek strode on to the field with his family, his familiar walk-up song -- "Kryptonite" by Three Doors Down -- played on the stadium speakers. This time, it was his walk-off song.
Varitek became the second cornerstone member of the Red Sox to retire in the past two weeks, joining teammate Tim Wakefield.
"My decision to retire wasn't something that I took lightly," said Varitek, who routinely paused as he became emotional during his retirement speech. "This has probably been the most difficult decision that I've had to make in my career. But the opportunity to be able to start and finish my Major League career in one place is why I'm standing here today."
Agent Scott Boras wouldn't even field offers from other teams because he didn't want to mislead any of them. Varitek was simply never going to put on another uniform.
"That was big for him," said Joe Varitek, Jason's father. "There were probably other opportunities. We'll never know. We'll probably never care."
Just like the two Red Sox captains who preceded him -- Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice -- Varitek would never find out what it was like to wear another team's uniform in a Major League game. In fact, Ted Williams, Yaz and Rice are the only players to spend their entire career with the Red Sox, and they did so for longer than Varitek.
"As a former captain of the Red Sox, I can appreciate the way he approached the game," said Yastrzemski. "His leadership set a fine example for his teammates and the Red Sox organization."
There were many elements to Varitek's impact, making him one of the unique leaders in Red Sox history.
"One of the most loyal and respected men ever to wear a Red Sox uniform will take off his gear and call it a career," said chairman Tom Werner. "And what a career it has been. It's quite a statement to be the catcher on teams that reached postseason play eight times in just over 14 years. It's a statement to earn the 'C' as captain as you lead your team to two historic and remarkable world championships.
"It's a statement to catch four no-hitters. In fact, it's a Major League record. Four different pitchers, but just one catcher. Jason, you have not only been our captain, but you've been our rock. You have personified the rugged, fiercely competitive style of play that has characterized our club during your tenure."
Therefore it was no surprise that nearly the entire team attended Varitek's news conference. Wakefield also made the drive from his home in Melbourne, Fla., to watch Varitek retire on the same field he did two weeks earlier.
"'Tek epitomizes what a true professional should be. He's been a great teammate, but more importantly, he's been a better friend," said Wakefield. "The way he prepared and led the Boston Red Sox over the last 15 years has been an inspiration to all who have watched. Although his leadership will be missed, his legacy in Red Sox history will be forged forever. It has been a true honor to have played with him for this long, and I wish him nothing but the best as he starts a new chapter in his life."
Varitek will remain with the Red Sox in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.
"Management has all been very good about making sure that that part of the process was known," said Boras. "That this wasn't about Jason leaving the organization, that it was about him advancing to a different part."
Until finally deciding to retire earlier this week, Varitek was tempted by the idea of accepting Boston's offer to come to camp as a non-roster invitee.
"Yeah, look at my hands," said Varitek, who had worked out in his typically rigorous manner all winter.
But just like Jorge Posada, the Yankees catcher he opposed for so many years, and Wakefield, Varitek went out on his terms. Nobody had to rip the uniform off him. Instead he took it off with grace.
Varitek was flanked at the news conference by a strong support system, including his parents, his wife and his three daughters.
"I'm very proud of him for all of his endeavors and all of his accomplishments," Joe Varitek said. "I was just proud of him the way he handled himself today and the way he delivered his speech today. He remembered everyone, and that's so important. My hat's off to him. I have a lot of respect for him."
Jason Varitek thanked the Red Sox's owners for making sure he remained with the club all these years. He thanked general managers Dan Duquette and Theo Epstein for valuing him as a player. He thanked his youth coaches as well as the three men who managed him for the Red Sox -- Jimy Williams, Grady Little and Terry Francona.
"I'd probably not be standing here if it wasn't for Jimy," said Varitek. "Jimy one day walked up to me before a game started in New York when I first got called up and said, ''Tek, you're going to be a baseball player. You're going to have a long career.' It was just the vote of confidence I needed to get me over the hump. I'll never forget him for it."
Williams, who managed the Red Sox from 1997-2001, was rewarded for that early confidence.
"I think he was born to be a catcher," Williams said. "I was with him when he was a rookie. I remember seeing his first Major League hit. To me, he was an overachiever, but had a great work ethic and leadership qualities. He was always goal-oriented in achieving the best. He is an outstanding person and outstanding teammate. Definitely the type of player to win championships with. Bottom line -- he's a baseball player."
Varitek became the captain following the club's World Series triumph in 2004, Boston's first title in 86 years, and he helped the team to another championship in 2007. The three-time All-Star caught a Major League-record four no-hitters.
Ask any pitcher Varitek ever caught -- from Pedro Martinez to Curt Schilling to Jon Lester to Josh Beckett -- and they'll tell you that record is anything but a coincidence.
"In my 23 years of professional baseball, I never played with or against a more selfless and prepared player than Jason Varitek," said Schilling. "The ultimate team player, never hesitating to forgo personal success for the greater good, I'm proud to call him a friend and former teammate."
Now that it's over, can Varitek say what his favorite moment was?
"I can probably now appreciate them more than I did when I was playing," he said, "because I was always looking to the next thing and pushing forward. Winning the World Series here was unbelievable, and it was a hard one to match, but the uniqueness of [Jon] Lester's no-hitter and Clay [Buchholz's] no-hitter are going to be hard to forget."
Varitek was that rare player who could win a game just as easily at the plate or behind it as he could in the clubhouse.
"You did own that clubhouse," said Werner. "You were our leader every single day -- offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse."
"It is rare that a great athlete is regarded as much for his contributions as for his achievements," said principal owner John Henry. "Boston Red Sox players will tell you how year after year Jason made them better -- made us better -- how he gave of himself to help ensure that his teammates were prepared to win. While he did not seek to lead. he, in fact, led us to two world championships. He does not need a face mask, a chest protector, nor shin guards to continue to contribute to baseball and to the Red Sox. We congratulate him, we thank him, and we expect that he will always be a part of the Red Sox family."
In all, Varitek hit .256 with 193 home runs in his 15 seasons, and he took home an American League Gold Glove Award in 2005.
Numbers or awards really never did serve as much of a gauge in terms of Varitek's worth.
"He's a true professional and was always the most prepared," said Johnny Damon, who played with Varitek from 2002-05 and knew him long before that. "He taught me how to be a leader and showed me how to be a champion. He should be a Red Sox Hall of Famer, and it was an honor and a pleasure to have been his teammate, and I was a huge fan of his since our high school days in Central Florida. I wish him all the best in the future."
What will Varitek's immediate future entail?
"For now, I plan to attend a lot more soccer practices and soccer matches, and maybe mix in a few tennis matches," said Varitek, stressing his desire to spend more time with his daughters.
He leaves the game with no regrets.
"As I walk away from this game, I can look at the man in the mirror and be proud I gave everything I could to this game, this organization, my teammates," said Varitek. "Once again, I just want to say thank you."