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 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 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 are too.
The Red Sox bungled the Mookie Betts trade/salary dump. 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 by the middle of August few people cared, even about the highlights, like Alex Verdugo’s talent and energy, Bradley’s batting average (hovered .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 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, includng by Roenicke on his way out. In fact, maybe his return has already been verbally consummated.
But what the Red Sox need going forward? Varitek, in my humble opinion, would be the better choice.
Cora’s season after the incredible 2018 World Series run was abysmal. It started with his plan at Spring Training, to give his pitching staff an extraordinary amount of days off and reducing innings and 6-13 start to the season.
Everything that fell into place in 2018, as in several players have career seasons, never materialized.
Cora was eventually fired due to his key role in the Astros’ cheating scandal when Major League Baseball suspended him through the 2020 postseason.
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 understands 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 two championships as a Celtics head coach and 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.
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 email@example.com.