The Boston Red Sox are saying goodbye to their captain.
Catcher Jason Varitek has decided to retire after 15 seasons with the Red Sox, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Monday night. The person requested anonymity because Varitek had not made an announcement.
The Boston Globe first reported Varitek’s decision.
Varitek is expected to make it official Thursday at Boston’s spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla.
A first-round draft pick in 1994, Varitek came to Boston with Derek Lowe in a trade from Seattle for Heathcliff Slocumb in 1997 and spent his entire big league career with the Red Sox. He caught four no-hitters, made three All-Star teams won two World Series titles, all the while endearing himself to the team’s demanding fan base with his unyielding work ethic and a refusal to back down.
Varitek surpassed Carlton Fisk for most games caught in a Red Sox uniform back in 2006 and finished with 1,488 games behind the plate. He has a career average of .256 with 193 home runs and 757 RBIs. His best statistical season came in 2003, when he hit .273 with 25 homers and 85 RBIs, giving the Red Sox the luxury of having some offensive punch from the catcher position.
But it was always about more than numbers with Varitek.
His icy stare, rugged beard and crew cut hairstyle was the perfect look for a rag-tag group that helped end decades of inferiority to the hated Yankees with a magical run to the World Series title in 2004. He caught no-hitters from Hideo Nomo in 2001, Lowe in 2002, Clay Buchholz in 2007 and Jon Lester in 2008.
He was chosen captain two months after the ’04 Series, becoming just the third Red Sox captain in since 1923 — joining Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice and cementing his status as a cornerstone of the franchise.
“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody in there who has played with him who says they’re not going to miss him,” Red Sox ace Josh Beckett said last week when asked about the possibility of Varitek hanging it up. “If ‘Tek doesn’t come back, he’s going to be missed, severely, both in the clubhouse and out in the field.”
The news of his retirement should come as little surprise. Varitek’s production dipped in recent seasons, and he was supplanted as the everyday catcher, first by Victor Martinez and then by Jarrod Saltalamacchia last season. He hit .221 with 11 homers and 36 RBIs in 68 games, and his influence as a leader couldn’t stop the season from collapsing in September amid allegations of players eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during the game.
General manager Ben Cherington put the writing on the wall when he signed Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach to one-year deals this winter to do the catching. As a show of respect for all that Varitek has accomplished with the franchise, Cherington offered him an invitation to camp to try and win a job. But the Red Sox had been practicing for more than a week without him.
“He was one of the greatest players in this organization, in my opinion,” Shoppach, who got his start in Boston in 2005, said last week. “I think that everybody learned from him. The brief time that I was with him years ago, there are still some things that I do in my everyday routine and my preparation that you know can’t help but rub off from him.”
It truly is the end of an era for the Red Sox, who also saw knuckleballer Tim Wakefield retire after 17 seasons with the team just before spring training started.