Oh, captain my captain, you are no longer. Jason Varitek's decision to retire from baseball after 15 season, all with the Boston Red Sox, brings up mixed emotions. Most are sad, and yet some feel it was long overdue.
For me, the feeling lies somewhere in between. Varitek has been a member of the Red Sox for as long as I have been paying attention to the team and the sport of baseball. While never my favorite player, Varitek clearly had the 'it' factor. For a while, that 'it' was pure talent. Tek was one of the best all-around catchers in the game at the height of his stardom.
When the talent waned, he still had 'it,' but it showed up in the form of leadership. No longer could Varitek produce on offense like he once could. Instead, he made his impact felt behind the plate, running the pitching staff. There's a reason that Jason Varitek was the preferred battery mate for Josh Beckett, one of the best hurlers on the Sox staff (beer aside).
Varitek served as the Red Sox captain from 2005 through 2011 and was the team's first captain since Jim Rice donned the 'C' on his jersey from 1985-1989. There have been 19 men that wore the 'C' in Red Sox history, and Varitek's reign was longer than 18 of them, with the only man to wear the 'C' longer being the great Carl Yastrzemski (1969-1983).
Now that Varitek is calling it quits, the question must be asked: who should wear the 'C' next?
There are plenty of names that can be thrown into the discussion. After all, this isn't a basketball team -- there are 40 men on the full roster. But then again, this isn't like other sports where captaincy might be mandatory. In baseball, it's an extreme honor. A team doesn't have to have a captain. In fact, the Sox didn't have one from 1990 through 2005.
Alas, there are men who can make a case for the honor. David Ortiz, for one. Big Papi is a Red Sox icon, a man who will never be forgotten and has etched his name into Red Sox lore. But there is too much controversy surrounding Ortiz and not enough playing time left ahead of him. Remember, he used a now banned substance before it was illegal. He has also said before (this offseason, for example) that he may not want to be here. Not captain material.
What about Jon Lester? He's the future of the franchise, and he's already one of the best pitchers in baseball. Lester has thrown a no-hitter and is well on his way to becoming one of the best pitchers in team history. Yet like Ortiz, Lester has his issues. First and foremost, Lester was front and center in the scandal that tore down the Sox as we know them. He was part of that trio of pitchers drinking beer in the clubhouse and eating fried chicken during games he wasn't pitching in. To his credit, he apologized before the season. Still, he isn't captain material just yet.
If not them, then who? Adrian Gonzalez or Kevin Youkilis? Both are leaders in their own unique ways, but they haven't reached that status within the team. Jacoby Ellsbury? Talented, sure, but he's likely gone after his current contract and has had his leadership qualities questioned. Gonzo, Youk and Jacoby are all nice guys, but again, not captain material yet.
The way I see it, there is only one man worthy of wearing that 'C' on his chest. That man is Dustin Pedroia. Pedey has represented everything you want in a captain. He is a selfless player who isn't afraid to get down and dirty to get the job done. He's good with the media, had a good relation with his last manager (and likely will with his new one, too).
When you want to hear the pulse of the Sox, you look to Pedroia. He was the one who talked the most about what went down at the end of last season. Perhaps most importantly, he knows what it takes to win. He's a World Series champion, a former Rookie of the Year and an MVP. Seriously, what more could you want in a captain?
Pedroia certainly has everything on the captaincy check list, but that doesn't mean he should be given the 'C' immediately. It's likely that Pedroia will be in Boston for many years to come, but this next year will show us a lot about his character and his will to change the environment in the clubhouse. There's no doubt that Pedroia is a leader in that clubhouse, and if he can help to change the culture this year and beyond, then he should be rewarded for it.
Let's let Varitek's departure sink in for now. Soon enough, Pedey, you should get that honor.