Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, two of the most popular players in Red Sox history, were rightfully inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame last night. The two Red Sox icons announced their retirement and simultaneously tossed out the ceremonial first pitches in the home opener four years ago.
Although Red Sox fans were well aware of Varitek’s significance since his 1998 debut, his rookie baseball card — the 1992 Topps Traded (#123T) — did not receive national acclaim until the Captain’s infamous tussle with Alex Rodriguez that sparked the team’s World Series drive. At the time, this true rookie card sporting the former Georgia Tech star in his Olympic Baseball uniform was selling for $15. Today the same card is a great addition to any Red Sox collection for $5.
On July 31, 1997, the foundation for the the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox World Series teams was put in place. That was the day the Red Sox GM Dan Duquette flee
ced the Seattle Mariners, Heathcliff Slocumb for Varitek and pitching prospect Derek Lowe. Managers, coaches and teammates all confirm that Varitek set the tone for those championship teams.
A catcher with questionable skills in the minor leagues, Varitek became an expert handler of pitchers over his 15-year-career with the Red Sox. He quickly became a fan favorite for his determination and unselfish commitment to winning. As much as anyone, Varitek was responsible for the Red Sox World Series drought ending at 86 years.
So where does Jason Varitek stand in Red Sox history? He caught a major league record four no-hitters, steering Hideo Nomo (2001), Lowe (2002), Clay Buchholz (2007), and Jon Lester (2008) into history. He is the only player in history to have played in the Little League World Series, College World Series, Olympics, Major League World Series and the World Baseball Classic.
The 2007 Upper Deck Goudey “Big League” throwback card (#54) captures one of Varitek’s many unique accomplishments. The card back highlights Varitek becoming the fourth consecutive Red Sox player to hit a home run in an April 2007 game against the Yankees as the Red Sox became just the fifth major league team to smack four straight homers.
The Red Sox Captain has two World Series rings, hit 11 home runs in 63 career postseason games and made three All-Star appearances. His career does not scream Hall of Fame, but he was one of the most significant players to ever wear a Red Sox uniform.
Wakefield also made his mark in Red Sox history. The knuckleballer had 200 career victories, including 186 with the Red Sox, just six shy of the team record shared by Cy Young and Roger Clemens. Wake’s 17 years of service with the Sox is exceeded only by Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams and Dwight Evans. He’s featured prominently on the team’s all-time list: first in appearances (590), starts (430) and innings pitched (3,006); second in strikeouts (2,046).
Not bad for a minor league first baseman turned knuckleballer claimed off the scrap heap nearly two decades ago. Wakefield’s limited 1988 Watertown Pirates minor league card is a great buy for $10.