By all accounts, Jason Varitek was an above-average player. In 15 seasons, all of them with the Boston Red Sox, Varitek topped 20 home runs three times, won one Gold Glove, one Silver Slugger award and was a three-time All-Star.
But why is “Tek” one of the most beloved Sox players of the last 50 years?
Easy. The catcher served as Boston’s captain for seven seasons, won two World Series, caught four no-hitters and even punched Alex Rodriguez in the face. He was the definition of a Sox “dirt dog,” and fans revere him to this day.
Varitek has hung around the Sox pretty much since he retired after the 2011 season. He took on the role of special assistant to the general manager in 2012, and in 2016, he signed a two-year deal to stay on with the Sox in a more hands-on role. It should come as no surprise that Varitek has been hailed as managerial material for quite some time –– he even interviewed for the Seattle Mariners’ opening in 2015.
All of this has led to the offseason, one in which the Red Sox find themselves with an unexpected vacancy in the manager’s office with spring training less than two weeks away. Immediately after the sudden firing of skipper Alex Cora, fans and media members alike speculated that Varitek could be atop the list of potential replacements.
Placing emotions aside, it is clear that Varitek is not the right man for the job. At least not right now.
The Red Sox are in an incredibly tough spot as an organization. Their beloved, young manager is gone, the league is still investigating alleged cheating, Mookie Betts was traded as I wrote this and fans have largely felt let down after a nearly silent offseason in the front office.
Who would want to step into that mess?
The Sox need not look farther than Houston for the answer. The Astros have somehow had an even worse offseason than the Red Sox –– they lost their manager, GM, $5 million, four draft picks, baseball’s best pitcher Gerrit Cole and all respect of the entire sporting world. And yet, they emerged with Dusty Baker at the helm.
Baker has managed 3,500 Major League Baseball games across 22 seasons and four organizations. He has a career winning percentage of .532, and his teams finished in first or second place in their division 13 times, including a 2002 trip to the World Series. He’s a proven leader with a track record of success and credibility.
No, Baker does not represent the future of the Astros. But at 70 years old, he perfectly fits the profile of a respected baseball mind with the experience to navigate extreme challenges and put an organization back on track.
The Red Sox need their Dusty Baker. Current bench coaches like Tampa Bay’s Matt Quatraro, the New York Mets’ Hensley Meulens and the Sox’s Ron Roenicke come to mind. Unfortunately, Varitek does not fit the bill.
Varitek is young, inexperienced and not well-equipped to face the on- and off-field complexities of the current Boston Red Sox team. Unlike Cora, Varitek is not known as particularly media-savvy or a skilled communicator.
Truthfully, it would be unfair to Varitek to put him in the position. To some degree, the next manager in both Boston and Houston is being set up to fail. It’s just a matter of failing as gently as possible so the franchises can get back on their feet.
What would be wise, however, is elevating Varitek’s role under the new manager — whoever that is.
It is no secret that “Tek” will manage a Major League team one day, and likely soon. And sure, it would be a great story if that chance came in Boston, a city he has loved and that has loved him for more than 20 years. So give the guy some experience. Name him the bench coach under an experienced MLB manager, and let him soak it all in. Cora served as Houston’s bench coach in 2018, learning from AJ Hinch, one of the game’s best. (Allow me to pause here to recognize the irony –– yes, both Cora and Hinch have been fired for a massive cheating scandal.)
Give Varitek, who is only 47, a couple years of such experience, and he would be ready for the job. Bring him back into the dugout. Let him learn the ins and outs of daily coaching at the professional level. Task him with handling and controlling the personalities and routines of 25 diversely talented and needy ballplayers. Then, once he’s proven he’s up to the task, give him the keys to the manager’s office.
When the Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski and replaced him with Chaim Bloom, they explained that Dombrowski was no longer the right person to lead the organization. This was, of course, before the cheating scandals and investigations, but the point remained true. The Red Sox are in a strange limbo –– resetting financially while attempting to remain competitive in the present.
Add some scandal onto that, the departure of the team’s best player and only a handful of days until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, and one thing is abundantly clear: the job of the 48th manager of the Boston Red Sox will be incredibly challenging. The team needs an experienced leader to bring stability and calm as the organization charts its future.
Jason Varitek is not that leader. Yet.