Varitek (not Cora) should lead Sox

AP Photo/Matt Slocum, FileBoston Red Sox's Jason Varitek, heading back to the dugout after hitting a home run as a player, has just the kind of grit needed to be the Sox manager. Bill Burt says Varitek would be the right choice to get this franchise back on solid footing.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

It was a nothing Tuesday in Tampa, the first week of March.

Other than the fact that the Boston Red Sox World Series contention hopes were unofficially dashed earlier that morning.

It was the day the Red Sox, playing the Yankees in a Spring Training game, were announcing to the world that Chris Sale’s seemingly always-questionable elbow was finished for 2020.

Somber was the mood from the Red Sox brass on hand, including President Chaim Bloom and then-interim manager Ron Roenicke.

But Jason Varitek, the Red Sox special assistant and catching instructor wasn’t somber one bit. He was sitting on the floor of a cramped hallway, next to backup veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy, outside the Red Sox’ claustrophobic clubhouse underneath George Steinbrenner Stadium.

They were going over the Yankees lineup, which consisted mostly of their top guys, sans Aaron Judge.

Varitek had that “late September,” serious look.

Then again, he has always had that look.

“That’s the way he goes about his business,” said Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez. “His work ethic is incredible.”

Which brings us to the middle of October, 2020, and a specific opening on Jersey Street in The Fens.

The Red Sox have a managerial opening, but it’s really more than that. The franchise isn’t in a great state of Boston sports consciousness right now. Not only is baseball a whipping boy, for a variety of legitimate reasons, but the Red Sox, too.

The Red Sox bungled the Mookie Betts trade/salary dump (see David Price) having to reopen it with the Dodgers over the lack of prospects. They bungled the COVID-19 response, particularly with their best remaining pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez. They bungled their season at the start, losing eight of 10 games after winning the opener. And they bungled their “team” having Jackie Bradley Jr.’s back during the racial strife.

The bottom line in 2020 was that by the middle of August few people cared, even about the highlights, like Alex Verdugo’s talent and energy, Bradley’s batting average (hovered at .300 before settling at .283), Xander Bogaerts’ 11 homers, rookie pitcher Tanner Houck’s 3-0 run over the last two weeks and Nathan Eovaldi’s 11 innings of greatness (0 runs, 15 K’s and 100 mph on the radar gun) in late September.

The point is that the Red Sox don’t need a manager. They need a special manager, one who can figure out this all-too-common leap from worst to first (it’s happened 2012-13 and 2016-17).

Alex Cora’s name has been bandied about, including by Roenicke on his way out. In fact, maybe his return has already been verbally consummated.

Varitek, in my humble opinion, would be the better choice.

Cora’s season after the incredible 2018 World Series run epitomized the sophomore slump. Everything he did in 2018 was right. Everything he did in 2019, starting with his plan at Spring Training to give the Sox pitching staff an extraordinary amount of days off and reducing innings, was wrong.

In 2018, it was a 17-2 start. A year later, it was 6-13.

Cora was eventually fired for another reason. He was the key guy, apparently, in the Astros’ cheating scandal, leading to their 2017 World Series title, when Major League Baseball suspended him through the 2020 postseason.

The barrel-banging system was Cora's baby.

Cora is being called a top candidate for the White Sox, a team on the cusp without the experience.

But enough about Cora.

The Red Sox need a big dose of stability to go with a stronger work ethic and a person the players will respect, or put a different way, had better respect.

Varitek adds other elements. He not only understand pitching and preparation, but he has a doctorate in one of the most important defensive positions on the field — catcher.

I was in Fort Myers when the Red Sox began playing Spring Training games at the end of February and first week of March looking to get some time with Varitek.

It was not easy to set up. “We’ll get back to you” was what I heard until the last day I was there. With Roenicke an interim guy back then, I was asking questions about Varitek eventually making the jump to being a full-time coach or, really, manager.

He wanted no part of the discussion, just that he loves working with players, one on one, focusing on getting better at baseball.

His wife, Catherine, answered a few questions about her husband potentially being the Red Sox manager some day on social media.

She noted that, like all managers, he would someday get fired and that that would hurt the love affair he has with Red Sox fans.

A legitimate thought. But a wrong one.

Tommy Heinsohn, for one, won eight titles in nine years as a player and two more as the Celtics head coach. He was fired 18 months after the second championship.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is more beloved around the Celtics organization by fans than Tommy.

If the Red Sox have already made up their collectives minds that Cora is returning, so be it. He has probably learned his lesson in several ways.

If they haven’t, they can end the national search before it starts.

The Red Sox need some grit right now as they find their way with Bloom. And nobody in a Red Sox uniform the last two decades, which have included four championships, exemplifies that better than Varitek.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@gloucestertimes.com.

 

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