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11 years after being drafted, Kelly Shoppach belatedly replaces Jason Varitek

Dec 14, 2011, 4:27 AM EDT

Jason Varitek Reuters

When the Red Sox made Kelly Shoppach their first pick in the 2001 draft, the thinking was that he might someday take over for Jason Varitek behind the plate in Boston. Of course, then GM Dan Duquette probably didn’t see it happening 11 years and two Red Sox World Series championships later. Nor did he know that it’d be his last draft at the helm of the team.

Shoppach, a polished catcher out of Baylor, was selected 48th overall in 2001 after Boston lost its first-round pick for signing Manny Ramirez. He proved solid right away, hitting .271/.369/.432 in high-A ball in his pro debut in 2002.

Varitek turned into an institution in Boston, but at the time, he was a 29-year-old with only one really good season under his belt. He hit .269/.330/.482 with 20 homers and 76 RBI for Boston in 1999, but he fell off to .248/.342/.388 with just 10 homers in 2000. His 2001 season was ruined by a broken elbow suffered just two days after the Shoppach pick was made. Varitek returned in 2002 and had another modest season (.266/.332/.392, 10 HR) before really coming into his own and making his first All-Star team in 2003.

Of course, the story from there took a dramatic turn. While there was much speculation in the 2004 postseason that Varitek and Pedro Martinez might be playing their final games for the Red Sox, Varitek got a four-year, $40 million to stick around. It was a choice made easier by Shoppach taking a step backwards in his first year in Triple-A. Shoppach rebounded in 2005, hitting .253/.352/.507 with 26 homers for Pawtucket. He was then shipped out as part of the much ballyhooed Andy Marte-for-Coco Crisp swap with Cleveland, a move that proved a letdown on several levels.

Now Shoppach is back in Boston, pushing the soon-to-be 40-year-old Varitek out the door. It should be an upgrade, though Varitek was just fine offensively in his two season as a backup for the Red Sox. Boston, however, needed a catcher capable of throwing out a basestealer every once in a while, and Shoppach is a big plus there.

Of course, Varitek will be missed. The Red Sox eased their restrictions to retire the number of a non-Hall of Famer three years ago, when they put Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 up on the wall. They may want to consider doing the same to Varitek’s No. 33 someday, because while Varitek won’t sniff Cooperstown, he had a terrific ride.

  1. roverboy1949 - Dec 14, 2011 at 6:17 AM

    As a life-long Sox fan, I have seen many,many catchers come and go. Although he was not of the caliber of Mr. Fisk, Jason was the soul of the team for a lot of years. Having your number on the wall means more than just how you played the game, it shows how you lived the game. There are quite a few HOF players that didn’t mean as much to their teams as he meant to the Red Sox. It’s never easy to move on from someone like JV, but time passes all of us. All we can do is remember the times he made the big hit, or made the great stop, or tagged the guy out at the plate. Those memories give us a reason to want to see his number up there with the other great Red Sox players of our past.

    • wendell7 - Dec 14, 2011 at 7:08 AM

      Tek’s biggest contribution over the years has been his ability to work with his pitchers’ strengths and his game-calling behind the plate. Plus, his no-nonsense approach has always appealed to me. I’ll miss him

      • proudlycanadian - Dec 14, 2011 at 7:56 AM

        No Tek! No Drew! No Lackey! No Papelbon! No Wakefield! No Francona! No Theo! With the player turnover and management turnover.The Red Sox will just not be the same.

      • cur68 - Dec 14, 2011 at 12:10 PM

        Who are these guys and what have they done with the Red Sox?

  2. stackers1 - Dec 14, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    You still have Poppy, Pedroia, Beckett & that big freak Youkilis.

  3. skeleteeth - Dec 14, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    I will miss the staring contests with Aceves….

  4. Ari Collins - Dec 14, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    If Varitek and Wakefield are gone, then I believe that Ortiz is now the only player left from the ’04 team. Then again, it’s 8 seasons later. If too many players were still around, it wouldn’t be a very good team.

    (And yeah, Youkilis was on the team, but only as a part-time player.)

    • wendell7 - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:02 AM

      Is Wakefield officially not returning to Boston? Last I knew he said he wanted to return but I have not heard if the club has any plans to bring him back. Maybe if he were to get into “the best shape of his life” ?

  5. kopy - Dec 14, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    Little did Duquette also know that some clubs (read: Red Sox and Yankees) would invent the position and responsibilities of MLB team “captain”, and that Varitek would fulfill that role with all of the many trying duties it requires – namely wearing a special patch.

    • lovesmesomeme - Dec 14, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      The “c” on the jersey has always bugged me. Especially if reports are correct that he was involved with the KFC posse. As captain he should have been in the grill of the ringleader. If Jeter don’t wear it than he don’t need to wear it. And before you chowda heads pile on I lived through Bucky effing dent, Buckner, and Aron effing Boone

    • bozosforall - Dec 14, 2011 at 3:33 PM

      The Yankees nor the Red Sox “invented” the position, moron.

      In the 19th and early 20th century, the captain held most of the on-field responsibilities that are held by managers and coaches in modern baseball. For example, according to the 1898 official rules, the captain was responsible for assigning the players’ positions and batting order, for appealing to the umpire if he observed certain violations (for example, if the other team intentionally discolored the ball or its players illegally left the bench), and for informing the umpire of any special ground rules. During a period when teams didn’t carry full-time coaches, the captain and one or more other players could serve as “coachers” of the base runners; the lines setting off the section where they were allowed to stand were designated as “captain’s lines.” If the umpire made a decision that could “be plainly shown by the code of rules to have been illegal,” the “captain alone shall be allowed to make the appeal for reversal.” The rules state that the captain must be one of the nine players, implying that a non-playing manager would not have been allowed to act in the captain’s role. In contrast with modern baseball, the 1898 rules do not mention the managers having any rights to interact with the umpires. The rules allowed managers to sit on the team’s bench during the game, but were otherwise silent with respect to rights and responsibilities of managers.[6]

      In early baseball, many teams had playing managers who had both the off-field responsibilities of managers and the on-field responsibilities of captains. The held the title of “manager-captain.”[7] In contrast, teams that had non-playing managers hired a player to serve as captain. For example, in early 1902 Jack Doyle was signed as captain and first baseman of the New York Giants while non-player Horace Fogel was manager.[8]

      And in addition to Varitek and Jeter, Paul Konerko is also currently a captain for his team, the White Sox. Of course, only Varitek wears the obnoxious “C” on his jersey.

  6. hammyofdoom - Dec 14, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    Jason Varitek was always one of my favorite players to watch, and he is one of those greats for me that I really wish I didn’t see in his twilight years. Seriously, I remember his key triple in the world series, being able to lay down perfect bunts and beating it out, and definitely not being bad at throwing out basestealers. Now he cant outrun anything, his big looping swing is hard to watch, and he’s damn lucky to get the ball to 2nd base on the 3rd hop. I love V-tek and everything he did for the Red Sox…but it’s time my friend

  7. bozosforall - Dec 14, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    Two articles about a hitter who struggles to get above the Mendoza Line? Must be a really slow news day.

    • teaspoon1731 - Dec 14, 2011 at 11:01 AM

      You and the hall of fame may disagree, but there actually is more to a baseball player that his ability to hit.

      • bozosforall - Dec 14, 2011 at 3:30 PM

        Neither Shoppach nor Varitek are HOF material.

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