I started following the Red Sox, and really following baseball, during the 1995 season – Tim Wakefield’s first year calling Fenway Park home. Two years later a 25-year-old Jason Varitek joined the club, a young catcher battling for playing time. For 17 years I’ve watched Wake, for 15 I’ve watched Tek, and with Varitek set to join Wakefield in retirement on Thursday their ever-present lockers in the Red Sox clubhouse will be eerily empty. These guys both left it out on the field for the Red Sox, and it’s too bad that neither of them were given the opportunity to leave Fenway Park a final time to a standing ovation.
Jason Varitek is no Hall of Famer. Neither is Tim Wakefield. At the peak of their careers both were second tier players, but their tenure and contributions to the Red Sox far surpassed their skill. I think that Wake will retire and pursue other interests, maybe spend a little time in the color booth at best. Varitek will eventually find his way back to the game, and I’d expect it to be with the Red Sox. His playing days are over, but I don’t think he’ll stay away for too long. I think that both of these guys realized that their ability to contribute to the 2012 Red Sox was greatly diminished – their ships had sailed. But while that’s a difficult realization for any professional athlete, I hope that they captured a degree of solace in leaving Boston with Terry Francona, giving a new era of Boston baseball an opportunity to blossom.
Jason Varitek retires with arguably the most blessed baseball career of any player in the history of the game. He played in the Little League World Series Championship, the College Baseball World Series Championship, and two World Series Championships with the Red Sox. He also played in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic – the only player in the history of the game to play in all five events. He became the third Red Sox captain since 1923 when he assumed the role in 2004, and was a three-time All-Star, and well as a Golden Glove and Sliver Slugger award winner. While Varitek’s best offensive season was likely 2003 when he hit .273 with 25 home runs, 85 RBIs, and 31 doubles, ultimately he should be remembered for his ability to call a great game. If his two World Series rings aren’t evidence enough, the fact that he was on the receiving end of four no-hitters – the most in MLB history – speaks to his abilities.
Wakefield’s career is perhaps even more difficult to quantify. I distinctly remember his 1995 season, when he went 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA. He finished third in the AL Cy Young voting that season, and may have won had Randy Johnson not thrown down a little 18-2 season. Wakefield is second on the Red Sox all-time wins list, just 6 behind both Roger Clemens and Cy Young – pretty decent company. He won the Roberto Clemente award in 2010 and recorded his 200th career win this past season – he was even an All-Star at 43-years-old. Perhaps most importantly, he’s the last of a dying breed on knuckleballers – a pitch that enabled him to throw 140+ innings every year he was in Boston with the exception of 2009.
There guys weren’t the studs – they weren’t Manny Ramirez or Pedro Martinez. But they were a big part of ending the Curse of the Bambino, bringing Boston another championship, and once they landed in Boston they never left. As a fan, what more could you ask? For my generation of Red Sox fans, these guys won’t soon be forgotten – and I’m sure they’ll be cheered on and off the field whenever they return to Fenway Park.