Our Guy: Jason Varitek
He keeps to himself. He intimidates his teammates. And yet, he’s the most adored guy in town. As the last of the original Dirt Dogs stares down the twilight of his career, we ask: Why are we still so obsessed with Jason Varitek?
SETTING ASIDE VARITEK’S massively muscled legs – which several female fans assured me have at least something to do with his unique appeal – I’ve come to believe our enduring affection for this man is born of four elements. First, there’s the longevity. I’m not talking about the fact that Varitek is the antimercenary, even though he is, or getting hung up on his spontaneous acts of fan appreciation (like the Halloween night he conducted an impromptu autograph session outside his home in Newton). No, what I’m getting at here is that there’s something unique, something very special and tortured about the history of the Boston Red Sox. The fans here understand that Varitek doesn’t just know this, he’s lived it with us. When Manny signed here, he said it was because he wanted to beat the Yankees. Forget the enormous contract – Sox fans were skeptical because what the hell would a guy who’d spent seven-plus years in Cleveland know about needing to beat the Yankees? Varitek, on the other hand, a guy who’d spent his major league career here, knew all about it.
Next comes the general demeanor. Though the unquestioned team leader, Varitek is famously not the rah-rah sort. He is quiet and intense. He leads by no-excuse, no-nonsense example. "He’s kind of intimidating," says former teammate Lou Merloni. Varitek has guarded his privacy, speaking only reluctantly to the press (he never responded, for example, to several requests – made through the team, his agent, and someone who knows him – to be interviewed for this article) and, when doing so, typically offering only the most mundane banalities. This has earned for him a less-than-stellar reputation with sportswriters, but may have added to his legend among fans. Though Bostonians have shown a willingness to embrace certain flashy figures, our preferences tend toward Varitek’s brand of dignified reserve, toward strong, silent types. We’ll take Russell and leave Wilt to L.A. Give us Menino and let New York have Giuliani. Does anyone think John Gotti could have managed to remain undetected for as long as Whitey has?
Then there’s the winning. We’ve all heard the sports cliché about how a particular athlete can "make the players around him better." Varitek has the rare gift of not only getting the most out of his teammates, particularly his pitchers, but also doing it in a way that fans do not so much see as they sense. Some of that, no doubt, is that we’re always hearing about his preparedness, and how he is one of baseball’s best game-callers. We see him walk deliberately, again and again, to the mound to confer with his pitcher, just to make absolutely sure that everyone is on the same page. We read of him forever filling three-ring binders with data about the batting tendencies of opposing hitters. Again, it is difficult to quantify these attributes. But Sox fans seek divine meaning from what’s between the statistics. We understand that, collectively, Varitek’s preparation, leadership, baseball smarts, and toughness have played an outsize role in two world championships.