Friday, November 12, 2004


My two favorite moments of on-field celebration from this year's playoffs actually aren't from any of the clinching games. The first is from Game 5 of the LCS: Doug Mientkiewicz screaming "I'm a bad man!" a la Muhammad Ali at David Ortiz after Big Papi's second game-winning extra inning hit in less than 24 hours.

That one's simple, goofy fun, and speaks to nothing other than the weird forms euphoria can take. The second moment is more significant: Jason Varitek springing out from behind the plate after catching the final third strike in Game 6 with an index finger extended. No, not "we're number one." "One more" is what he had in mind, and what everyone watching at home could read on his lips.

Recall, if you will, how nerve-wracking that last inning of Game 6 was. Keith Foulke bravely running on fumes, only intermittently able to find the strike zone. At the time, that last out didn't feel like a confirmation of emerging superiority. It felt like an escape, the kind of victory you savor because you know you just got away with something. Yet there was Jason Varitek, not only acting like he knew we had it all along, but already looking ahead to finishing the job.

It's that kind of intensity and leadership that makes me want to keep Jason Varitek around even if he hits .250 the rest of his career. I'm just not sure that intensity is worth fifty million over five years, guaranteed. I don't mind him thinking he's worth ten million a year. I'm not convinced he's worth that, but I understand how people, even people other than Varitek and Scott Boras, could come up with that figure. I don't mind him wanting to be here for five more years. It's the combination of the per/year and the length that I find daunting.

Want ten million a year? Fine. You can have it, for three years. Want five years? Fine. You can have it, only at eight million per instead of ten. You might be worth more now, but you're not likely to still be worth that much at thirty-seven years old. It's called compromise, and even though Scott Boras has blacked it out of his dictionary, it's how most worthwhile but difficult things get done.

While I don't think that Varitek is necessarily the most valuable player on the Red Sox, I think he might well be the least replaceable. It sounds like the front office understands this. The contract the Red Sox offer Varitek might not be the most valuable, in terms of economics, but the opportunity to finish the kind of career he's having in this city might be the least replaceable experience in sports. I hope 'Tek, an intelligent and competitive soul, understands that.


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