Jobu compares Jorge Posada and Jason Varitek, cornerstones behind the dish and at the front of the rivalry between their respective teams for the better part of the last fifteen or twenty years.
As I mentioned in this week’s Shots of Rum, the Red Sox recently signed Kelly Shoppach to a major league contract. It appears that they have the former Tampa Bay Ray slotted as their backup catcher for 2012. Since they already have Jarrod Saltalamacchia installed as the starting backstop, and youngster Jeff Lavarnway knocking on the door with his 30+ home run potential, it is safe to say that Jason Varitek might have seen his last game as a Red Sox. He now joins the much talked about (at least on this site) Jorge Posada as yet another aging catcher looking to find a place to play for one more year. This raises an interesting question. Both of these men spent their entire careers becoming fan favorites and icons for their respective teams, so who will walk away from the game with the strongest legacy?
To show that I’m not a complete Yankees homer, i’ll begin with the man they call “Tek”. Unlike Posada, Varitek once belonged to another organization, but let’s go further back for those of you who don’t know anything about him. The 39 year old was born in Rochester, MI, and got his first taste of the national spotlight in the 1984 Little League World Series, during which he played shortstop, third base and catcher for an Altamonte Springs team that won the US championship bracket before eventually losing to Seoul, South Korea in the finals (Varitek went 0-7 in the finals, but that’s neither here nor there).
Despite those epic failures (I keeeed!), Varitek had a stellar high school career and eventually played for Georgia Tech University, where he reached the College World Series title game… which his team lost, which at least prepared him for his future on the Red Sox (totally keeeeding, I swear!). Tek was actually kind of a monster in college. He was asked to play for the 1992 U.S. Olympic squad and was named the 1992 and 1993 college player of the year by Baseball America. To this day, he remains the only player to in the school’s history to have his number retired. He was so good, in fact, that the Seattle Mariners made him the 14th overall pick in the 1994 draft. It’s not every day you can find a solid defensive catcher who can hit for power from both sides of the plate (although this post involves two of them), and the Mariners didn’t pass him up.
In a different world, Varitek may have been one of the best catchers in Mariners’ history. He might have played with such greats as Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martínez and Ken Griffey, Jr. Fortunately for Tek, Woody Woodward got drunk (speculation) and traded him and Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for reliever Heathcliff Slocum at the 1997 trade deadline (one of the silliest trades ever). Later that season, the twenty-five year old Varitek made his major league debut, knocking a single in his only at bat of the year. He spent 1998 as a backup to the great Scott Hatteberg (he eventually became one of the poster boys for Billy Beane’s Moneyball strategy), before taking over as starter in 1999.
Jason Varitek’s name was tattooed into the lineup at catcher for the better part of the next twelve seasons before he was relegated to a backup role the last two seasons. Overall, the switch-hitting Varitek hit .256 for his career, amassing 1,307 hits, 193 HR, 664 runs and 757 RBI. While these numbers might not jump out in comparison to other all-time Red Sox greats, he was one of the better hitting catchers of the early 2000s and always seemed to have the ability to come up with big hits when the Red Sox needed him to. He made three all-star teams, won a silver slugger award and even a gold glove, but most of what Tek brought to the table was intangible. He was named team Captain in 2005 because of the leadership role he took on in the clubhouse, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard any complaints about him being hard for pitchers to work with. He was a Captain in every sense of the word, keeping his pitching staff in line on the field and his teammates in line in the clubhouse. My fondest memory of Tek, if I can really call it fond, came in 2004 when he punched Alex Rodríguez in the face during a regular season game. As much as I hate to admit it, that showed me that the Red Sox weren’t going to take the Aaron Boone home run from 2003 laying down. Eventually, Varitek helped the Red Sox break the curse that season. You can add the 2007 World Series to that as well, and it’s clear that Varitek was one of the cornerstones of the Red Sox mini-dynasty in the mid-2000s. He might not be headed to the MLB Hall of Fame, but he will be a first ballot HAWL OF FACKIN’ FAMAH in Boston.
Jobu’s Note: His hair is pretty awesome too. It looks like a block of charcoal. I don’t think I ever saw it move!
Career Stats: .256/.341/.435, 664 Runs, 1,307 Hits, 306 2B, 193 HR, 757 RBI
Career Highs: .296 AVG (2004), .390 OBP (2004), .512 SLG (2003), 70 R (twice), 39 2b (1999), 25 HR (2003), 85 RBI (2003)
It’s no secret that, here at Jobu’s Rum, we have a love-hate relationship with Jorge Posada (well everyone except for Boston Jerry I guess, he probably just hates Jorge). I myself have written a few articles about Jorge. Some were positive, some were scathing, all were written from the heart of a lifelong fan of the big-eared lummox. But again, let’s go back to where it all began for the now 40-year-old signal caller.
Jorge was born in Puerto Rico to a Cuban father and a Dominican mother and became an all-star shortstop in high school. He attended Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama, where he starred, was selected all-conference and even elected co-captain in 1991. Unlike Varitek, Posada did not have first round pedigree. The Yankees drafted the then infielder in the 24th round of the 1990 draft. That’s literally hundreds of picks after Varitek. The Yankees decided he wasn’t going to go anywhere at shortstop (they drafted Derek Sanderson Jeter in 1992), so they moved Jorge behind the plate after his first season in the minors. Looking at his minor league stats, you probably never would have thought Jorge would be anything too special. In about 600 games, Posada hit only .258 with 63 home runs, but the Yankees loved his ability to draw walks and call a good game defensively (plus that power potential was there waiting to be tapped).
Like Varitek, Posada only played one game his rookie season, but oddly enough it was as a pinch runner late in the 1995 (imagine that today and have a good laugh). He actually didn’t receive any significant playing time until 1997, when he was officially given the job backing up Joe Girardi. By 1998, Posada and Girardi had switched places, and young Jorge started to arrive. He hit 17 home runs in only 358 at bats that season, and then 12 in 379 at bats in 1999. In 2000, the Yankees shipped out Girardi and finally handed the reigns to Posada. At age 28, Posada had a monster year, hitting .287 with 28 home runs, 86 RBI and 107 walks. It was the first of five straight seasons with 20 or more home runs and 80 or more RBI (career highs in both came in 2003 with 30HR and 101RBI). He would do the same three more times during his Yankees career, finishing up with a .273 AVG, 275 HR, 900 runs and 1,065 RBI (he even hit .338 in 2007 at age 35!). Jorge’s effots were well recognized by the league, as he made five all-star teams, won five silver sluggers and even finished third in the MVP race in 2003. Then, of course, there’s the five World Series rings that Jorge owns (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009). That, along with his numbers, could sneak him into the Hall some day.
Jorge’s shortcomings always came on the defensive side, although until 2008 or so he was serviceable, if not solid behind the dish. After that, he started losing some of his skills back there, and his ability to call a game was also often called into question (could have just been baby bitch pitchers, though). Last season, his last in pinstripes, Jorge was used exclusively as a DH, enduring a huge early season slump to end up still hitting 14 home runs in 344 at bats. He also got a clutch hit in the 8th inning of a game against the Rays which ended up clinching the division. When the season ended, the Yankees made it clear that they would not be bringing Jorge back for 2012, and he began the process of deciding if he wants to play somewhere else.
Career Stats: .273/.374/.474, 900 Runs, 1,664 Hits, 379 2B, 275 HR, 1,065 RBI
Career Highs: .338 AVG (2007), .426 OBP (2007), .543 SLG (2007), 91 Runs (2007), 42 2B (2007), 30 HR (2003), 101 RBI (2003)
So… Who Was Better?
If you base this analysis purely on statistics, Posada wins hands down. Posada’s career highs and career numbers flat out dwarf Varitek’s. I was actually surprised that Tek’s numbers were so low, because i remember him being such a force over the last fifteen seasons. Posada has a significant career lead over Varitek in just about every offensive category. It’s not even close. I think the difference comes in temperment and leadership. As I said before, I have never heard Varitek’s leadership called into question. This could be because I am not exposed to as much Red Sox media coverage, but I don’t think so. The guy was named captain for crying out loud. I feel like Posada was a good clubhouse leader, but his strong character kind of faded a little bit towards the end of his Yankees career. He often came off as a little selfish or pouty, especially when he refused to play this season when Girardi asked him to bat ninth in a game. I think Tek has Posada beaten hands down in the leadership and game-calling aspects of the game.
At the end of the day, I have to go with my guy Jorge as the one that is leaving behind the greater legacy when he decides to call it quits. I feel like Varitek will be remembered up there with the Ted Williamses, or Jim Rices of the world in the eyes of Boston fans because he truly meant that much to their team over the years. To me, Posada has an outside chance at the Hall of Fame if his numbers are compared to other catchers in the Hall and his five World Series Rings get the recognition they receive as well (OK so 1996 doesn’t really count, but still!). These two men will always be linked in my mind, so it is fitting that their major league career paths have pretty much taken the same arcs. Whoever you think is better, I think both players will be remembered fondly for years to come. I’ll miss Tek’s ugly mug in the Red Sox dugout almost as much as I’ll miss that sweet Posada swing at Yankees Stadium.
Where would you rank these two?
Collision image courtesy of: REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine
Varitek image courtesy of: http://www.ebay.com/
Posada image courtesy of: http://www.checkoutmycards.com/
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