In the course of the history of baseball, no player can lay claim to having played in the final of the Little League World Series, his high school’s state championship series, the College World Series and the Major League Baseball World Series except for one.
(As a side note, Ed Vosberg, who pitched in parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, is the only other player to play in the Little League World Series, the College World Series and the Major League Baseball World Series. There is no record, however, of Vosberg playing for a state championship at the high school level.)
As this year’s Little League World Series was just completed, we take a look back on Varitek’s rise through the ranks.
As a 12-year-old, Varitek played for the Altamonte Springs, Florida team that won the U.S. Bracket of the Little League World Series. Varitek was 1-for-7 during the Series, but showed versatility in the field, playing shortstop, first base and catcher for the team that would represent the U.S., ultimately falling to a team from Seoul, South Korea by a score of 6-2 in the final.
Of course, for Varitek, that amazing run to the Little League World Series finals and being able to say he was a U.S. Champion was only the beginning of a tremendous championship career. Beloved by Red Sox fans for his work ethic, and holding the title of Red Sox Captain from 2005 until his retirement in 2012, Varitek was helping his teams to dramatic victories long before he reached the Major Leagues. In high school, Varitek was part of a Lake Brantley High team that won the 1990 Class 4A Florida State Championship. His team was down 9-5 coming into their final at-bat and managed to put up five runs, with Varitek himself delivering the decisive blow when he walked the team off with a title on an RBI single to center for a 10-9 victory.
Varitek continued his success into college. Despite being drafted by the Houston Astros in the 23rd round of the 1990 draft, Varitek opted to continue his education and enrolled at Georgia Tech starting in the 1990-1991 school year and played through the 1993-1994 school year. During that time, Varitek amassed several school records that still stand, including the school record for most games played (254), most at-bats (914), most runs scored (264), most hits (351), most doubles (82), most home runs (57), most total bases (610), most walks in a season (76 in 1994, an ACC record,) and most intentional walks both in a career (30) and in a single season (15 in 1993.) Varitek led the Yellow Jackets in all three triple crown categories in both 1993 and 1994, slashing a .406 average to go with 11 homers and 52 RBI’s in 1993, and leading the ACC with 22 homers in 1994 while hitting .404 and driving in 72 runs. Additionally, Varitek was a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Baseball Team that placed 4th at the games in Barcelona and featured a plethora of future Major League talent including fellow Georgia Tech teammate Nomar Garciaparra, catcher Charles Johnson, pitcher Darren Dreifort, power-hitting Phil Nevin and 2000 American League MVP Jason Giambi.
After his junior season in 1993 during which Varitek won Baseball America’s player of the year award and was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Twins, he opted to play his senior season on a team that included future Red Sox teammate Nomar Garciaparra and future majors leaguers Jay Payton and Brad Rigby. The Yellow Jackets had a memorable year and with Varitek putting up incredible stats, Georgia Tech was runner-up in the College World Series, falling to the University of Oklahoma in the final.
Varitek would be drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1994 after winning the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball’s best player. For his accomplishments, Varitek was enshrined in Georgia Tech’s sports Hall of Fame and was the first player to have his number retired by the Tech baseball team.
Varitek, however, would never play a game in Seattle. The Mariners, needing a boost for their bullpen during the 1997 season, traded Varitek and Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. While Slocumb, who had been having a poor year in Boston, struggled to a 4.97 ERA in a season and a half in Seattle, Varitek and Lowe developed into cornerstones of the Red Sox franchise.
Boston, however, was not an ideal place to go for a player hoping to win a World Championship. Whether you’re inclined to blame a curse, bad luck, or as one Bill Buckner apologist made an argument, Calvin Schiraldi, the Red Sox had not won a World Series in about 80 years, their last coming in 1918. While Varitek emerged as the starting catcher and a mainstay behind the plate, eventually displacing Scott Hatteberg, the Red Sox continued to fall short of the rival Yankees in their elusive pursuit of a World Championship. In 2003, mere outs from securing a victory over the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium that would have given the Red Sox a chance at a World Series win 85 years after their last title, Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in a little too long, the Yankee offense came alive, and the Red Sox’ effort was against thwarted, as was Varitek’s closest opportunity to that point to claim the distinction of having played championship baseball at every level.
But 2004 changed everything. With Varitek having one of his best seasons, hitting .296 with 18 homers and 73 RBI’s, the Red Sox again faced the Yankees in the ALCS and, despite starting the series down 3-0, came back to win in seven games. Varitek did his part in the series, hitting .321 with 2 homers and 7 RBIs, while catching the last five games of the series on consecutive days which included 26 innings of baseball while the Red Sox squeaked out wins in Game 4 and Game 5 (which made Varitek’s offensive statistics all the more impressive during the seven-game set.) While Varitek failed to impress offensively during the 2004 World Series, his performance in the ALCS was a large part of why the Red Sox won their first World Series championship in 86 years. Varitek would be named Captain of the Red Sox following the 2004 season, a position which he held from 2005 through his retirement at the end of the 2011 season, and hoisted the World Series trophy a second time in 2007.
Varitek finished his Red Sox career winning two World Series titles and having caught a Major League record four no-hitters. He played in 1,546 games, all for Boston, and posted a .256 batting average with 193 homers and 757 RBIs. Varitek won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2005 and was named to the American League All-Star team three times (2003, 2005, 2008.) Although he had frequent offensive struggles during the playoffs due in part to the wear and tear that a catcher takes over the course of the season, he did manage a .233 career playoff batting average, including 11 homers and 33 RBIs and caught all eight World Series games, all victories, that the Red Sox played in during the 2004 and 2007 post-seasons.