Jason Varitek was on the 'list.' It was why so many made it a point to tune into WAAF Wednesday morning to hear the catcher give his side of the story. But why?
By all accounts, Varitek was diligent as ever, going about his business in the same manner he always had. And even though his performance certainly didn't help matters in the Red Sox' historically bad final month -- going 2-for-26 (.077), while only throwing out one of the 20 basestealers he faced in September -- it shouldn't have lumped him in with those who were being identified as bringing the clubhouse down.
No, the reason for the demand that Varitek address the masses was simply because of one letter: 'C.'
The 39-year-old was the captain of the fastest sinking ship in baseball history, thereby surfacing his name among the others. Edward Smith, the captain of the Titantic, wasn't the one who was supposed to spot the iceberg, yet he is front and center of the boat's Wikipedia page. When the historical documents are drawn up regarding the 2011 Red Sox, expect Varitek's name to get similar billing.
Why? Because he's named captain of a baseball team seven years before? This wave of drama has brought a lot of things to light about the way of the world in Major League Baseball, including exactly how silly it is to have a a big league ballplayer wear that single letter on his chest.
No crying in baseball? How about no captains?
At least we knew what Smith was supposed to do. Occasionally help steer the ship. Make sure the crew is properly delegated. Keep in communication with other boats. And occasionally have dinner with Kate Winslet. But, to this day, nobody can identify what Varitek was -- and is -- supposed to do as a result of his title.
Talking to WEEI.com in the middle of September, Varitek said, "They didn't put a 'C' on my jersey to make me all of a sudden someone I'm not."
He later added, "It didn’t change anything I did. If anything, as a person and as a human being, as I’ve evolved in my position, I’ve learned to maybe talk more, maybe communicate more. I don’t know if that’s because of [being a captain] or just because of change. I still need to do all the little things and understand I have to lead vocally, sometimes not, and sometimes just listen.
"It was kind of what I had already done. As I’ve matured more and grown more I’ve learned to communicate more. I’ve played less and I can see more. It adapts every year according to what’s going on. I continue to try and read what the heartbeat is and what is going on. Today, tomorrow, you just continue to do that."
Unlike some in the Sox clubhouse, Varitek stayed true to his approach during the downturn (as did, by most accounts, Sox manager Terry Francona). The problem, in the captain's case, was that talking individually to teammates, and leading by example wasn't what many outside the Red Sox clubhouse wanted from the captain. The demand was more for the person who was going to bring the stool into the middle of the room and distribute a heavy dose of inspiration to semi-fearful gathering.
That's not how baseball works. That wasn't how Varitek worked.
There is more of a sentiment than ever that the backstop has played his last game in a Red Sox uniform, leading some to surmise who might be the next captain. There have been 19 of them in team history, with the organization actually surviving from 1990-2004 without any player carrying the title. Will it be Dustin Pedroia? Somebody else?
This disaster likely will teach the Red Sox more than a few lessons, among them being what a mistake it is to carry a captain.
This isn't football, where practices are much more prevalent than games, and the captaincies are determined on a year-to-year, and even week-to-week, basis that respond to specific circumstances on a team in any given year. Once you give out the 'C' in baseball, there is no turning back. It doesn't matter if the player's role is altered, his responsibilities are tweaked, or if the clubhouse dynamic does an about-face. Like it or not, you have your captain.
In his book, "Watching Baseball: Discovering the Game Within the Game," Jerry Remy -- who was named captain of the California Angels at the age of 24 in '77, puts it succinctly when writing, "There's probably no need for a captain on a major league team. I think there are guys who lead by example. You could name the best player on your team as captain, but he may not be the guy other players will talk to or who will quietly go to other players and give them a prod."
In the world of baseball, it is just a bad idea. Sure, it was great symbolism for the Red Sox throughout Varitek's run, with players seemingly taking comfort in calling the business-like catcher "El Capitan" while genuinely relishing in the idea that their team had somebody carrying such a title.
But there is a reason there will be just two captains in Major League Baseball -- Derek Jeter (Yankees) and Paul Konerko (White Sox) -- after Varitek leaves the Sox. It's simply not worth it.
Konerko has been captain of the White Sox for six seasons. And while he jokes about the reverence of the title, citing the inability to execute such tasks as argue penalties like his hockey-playing brethren, the first baseman seems to possess an authentic ownership of the role. But there is also a reason why if Konerko left via free agency prior to the '11 season the White Sox were going to go without a captain -- it simply is not a necessity.
And even Jeter has felt the hollowness of the title as the years have gone on. In a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal in the middle of the '11 season, Yankees players were asked which Yankee player would be most likely to be voted class president. The shortstop didn't get a single vote.
Times change. Personnel changes. Personalities change.
A baseball clubhouse is an eclectic mix, the kind that needs a division of leadership. It is often difficult for pitchers to be led by position players, and vice versa.
As Pedroia put it when appearing on The Big Show earlier in October: "Everyone’s different. We have a lot of leaders on our team. That’s the thing, when I read, that kind of gets to me. Tek’s the type that leads by example but when you get out of line he’s going to say a couple of things to you and there’s no questions asked and there’s no barking back, you do it. That’s how Tek runs his ship and it’s very effective. He’s pretty scary. You guys all see him.
"I get to the field at 1 and I go to work. That’s what I do. I’m hitting all the time. I’m taking groundballs. I don’t ever have a chance to sit down and think about what I’m doing. It’s always, whatever I have to do today to help us win, that’s what I have to do. … The way I lead I think is more by example but I’m always talking to the guys in situations and stuff like that. Obviously I’m approachable. I’m always talking. I think guys probably want me to shut up but there’s a lot of different types of leaders on our team that do it a certain way."
Varitek was most likely effective in his own ways throughout this process. But in this case, the approach could have used the complementary presences of people like former pitching coach John Farrell -- who would have offered a bigger brand of structure for the pitchers and, to certain degree, intimidation -- and Victor Martinez. While with the Red Sox, Martinez represented the gregarious sort of leader many have wished Varitek would have been identified as.
"One of the most common attributes in leaders is there is a tremendous authenticity in them," Cleveland Indians president Mark Shapiro once noted. "That is Victor."
That is also Varitek. He was who he was, and that never wavered. The Red Sox? That was another matter. That was another problem, one that even the captain couldn't fix.