erik lundegaard

Jason Varitek, of Varitek-and-Lowe-for-Slocumb, Retires from Major League Baseball

Jason Varitek is retiring from Major League Baseball.

Most baseball fans associate Varitek with Alex Rodriguez because of this fight from July 2004:

Varitek and A-Rod fight, July 2004

He's the one smooshing A-Rod's face.

I associate him with A-Rod for another reason.

During the early morning hours of July 31, 1997, I had a bad dream. I was back in my father's house in south Minneapolis, and the window in my old room was open and there was a nice summer breeze billowing the curtains. On the radio I heard something about a baseball trade. It was fuzzy at first, then had startling clarity. The Seattle Mariners had traded shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the Chicago Cubs for shortstop Shawon Dunston and pitcher Steve Trachsel. The news was delivered in by-the-way fashion, without much commentary, because it was Minneapolis, not Seattle, and no one really cared. So I tried to contact my friends in Seattle who knew the National League better than I did. Dunston? Trachsel? What the fuck? Did this make any sense at all?

I'd like to say I woke up in a cold sweat but probably not. I did wake up relieved, however. Thank God! The M's still had A-Rod! General Manager Woody Woodward hadn't blown it.

Yet.

That happened later in the day when Woody traded our other budding superstar, Jose Cruz, Jr., to the Toronto Blue Jays for relief pitchers Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric.

Several years later, my punchline went something like this: “The worst part? That wasn't even Woody's worst trade that day.”

When we traded Cruz, Jr., he was young and had an OPS of .856 and it seemed the sky was the limit. Turned out .856 was the limit. He retired in 2008 with a .247/.337/.445 line. And while Spoljaric combusted, Timlin endured and won two World Series rings as a solid bullpen member of two Boston Red Sox championship teams.

No, the worst trade that day was to those Red Sox: Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for relief pitcher Heathcliff Slocumb.

The 1997 Seattle Mariners, you see, had been forever blowing ballgames, and not in the manner of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. We had a lineup. A line-fucking-up. Griffey and A-Rod and Buhner and Edgar and Cruz, Jr. and Paul Sorrento. We scored tons. Then our bullpen always blew it. We seemed poised to go to the World Series, to be a dynasty. Then Woody Woodward blew it. At the trade deadline, he finally went for the bullpen help we needed and it wasn't what we needed.

At the time, it wasn't so much what we traded as what we traded for. We didn't know much about these kids, Derek Lowe, who'd had a cup, and Jason Varitek, who hadn't; but Heathcliff Slocumb had numbers. He was 0-5 with an ERA over 5.00 for Boston. Did we really want this guy on a team that was already forever blowing ballgames?

We didn't. We were smouldering, licking flames, and he was gasoline. In two years with the Mariners he went 2-9 with a 4.97 ERA. He would last in Major League Baseball only two more years, by which time Jason Varitek was Boston's regular catcher. By 2003, Derek Lowe would go 21-8 and finish third in the A.L. Cy Young balloting. He pitched the Game 4 comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and then won Game 7 to seal the deal. He was the winning pitcher in Game 4 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals--the victory that finally brought a championship to Boston after 86 years of futility. He was that guy. The guy we traded. Him and Varitek. For Heathcliff Slocumb.

Varitek caught those amazing games. He caught the final strike in the 2007 World Series and jumped into the arms of closer Jonathan Papelbon. After the final out of the 2004 World Series he jumped into the arms of closer Keith Foulke. It made the cover of TIME magazine in October. Here it is:

Jason Varitek and Keith Foulke: Time magazine, October 2004

Here's the 2004 World Series trophy:

That's Lowe is on the left. That's Varitek next to him. Together again and for all time.

In Seattle, we probe the wound. The Bleacher Report named Jason Varitek the 11th greatest player in any sport, and fourth greatest in baseball, who never played for the team that drafted him. ESPN's Page 2 named the Lowe-Varitek for Slocumb trade the seventh-worst deadline trade in MLB history.

In Seattle, at Safeco Field, we count our pennants flapping in the breeze.

Zero.

For Heathcliff Slocumb.

My unconscious was trying to warn me something in the early morning hours of July 31, 1997, but I didn't know what it was. I thought it was A-Rod; but it was the guy smooshing A-Rod's face.

Farewell, Jason. We never knew ye.


Posted at 10:51 PM on Mon. Feb 27, 2012 in category Baseball  
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