In Jason Varitek's waning years as a professional baseball player, Red Sox fans were calling for the catcher with the slow stroke and aging body to grab a seat on the bench. The captain was on grey side of 30 and the Sox had young, able guys ready to take over behind the dish.
Needless to say, it was time.
Now, less than one year after his retirement and about a month after his hiring, it's already time for Tek to take a permanent seat on that bench alongside new manager John Farrell.
Tek's already a member of the organization. He was named a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington earlier this year. His duties are vague, but they mostly include learning the inner workings of the front office. That's a great idea and a wonderful opportunity to give a future Sox Hall of Famer, but it's not where he belongs. If Cherington wants to "get [Varitek's] feet wet" in different areas of the organization, why not start where he's most needed and where he's most likely to make a post-playing career?
No. 33 was hired when Bobby Valentine was calling the shots. Now — about a month later — Bobby V is unemployed and calling out his former players and Farrell has been summoned to lead the way. Now with Farrell manning the ship, he'll need a dream team support staff to make fans forget about 2012 and 2011. Farrell has reportedly already called upon Torey Lovullo to take over as his bench coach here in Boston. Lovullo was Farrell's first base coach in Toronto and managed Triple-A Pawtucket in 2010 — Farrell's final year as Sox pitching coach. While Lovullo sounds like a great fit for bench coach, it shouldn't rule Tek out for a coaching role.
As Cherington said at the time of Tek's hiring, the 15-year backstop was and will always be respected in the Sox clubhouse, despite what happened in September of 2011. While he was the captain of that team and took blame for that fiasco, why should his leadership skills be tarnished for that saga? Do you blame Derek Jeter for the 2004 ALCS collapse? Should that tarnish any post-playing career plans he may have?
"There's no one more respected in our clubhouse, really still, than Tek," said Cherington. "My hope is that he can be a set of eyes and ears for me and we can expose him to a lot of different things."
Put those eyes and ears — and voice — in the Sox clubhouse and on the bench. In team charters, hotels and buses. Not to be a tattletale or drill instructor, but to be there for guys on the team and fellow coaches on the bench. Varitek overcame injuries, played through pain, won a couple titles, watched the organization turn into a powerhouse and worked the media on a nightly basis for the majority of his career. Those are valuable experiences that can emanate by Tek's being around the squad, teaching players valuable lessons and tricks of the trade through the grind of a 162-game season. But they can't be taught from a meeting room or corner office. He needs to be field level and get back to working with Farrell, whom he spent four years with in Boston, working hand-in-hand with the team's pitching staff.
As it currently stands, the remaining members of the 2012 staff (Tim Bogar, Alex Ochoa, Randy Niemann, Jerry Royster, Gary Tuck) are free to speak with other organizations, leaving everything open: base coaches, bench coach, bullpen coach (although the team reportedly wants Tuck to return to that role) and even pitching coach. Finding a title for Tek may be hard, but is asking Tek to serve as bullpen coach too extreme? That role could prepare him to be Farrell's future pitching coach, as he's regarded as one of the smartest catchers and best "game-callers" to lace 'em up. His control over an entire staff shouldn't be too much trouble to learn on the fly, especially if he's working alongside one of the best in Farrell. Making the transition from MLB catcher to pitching coach isn't too out of the ordinary, as Tony La Russa's longtime right-hand man Dave Duncan caught for 11 MLB seasons before becoming one of the best pitching coaches of the 1980s, '90s and 2000s.
The Sox honored Tek by giving him a chance at continuing his career with the team — now it's time to put his skills to use and get him back in the trenches, grinding it out with Farrell to get this team and culture back to a winning tradition.