NEEDHAM — Red Sox team captain Jason Varitek, speaking for the first time since the team's collapse and subsequent turmoil, said this afternoon that reports of friction within the clubhouse were "grossly exaggerated."
In an exclusive interview at his home, Varitek said the Red Sox missed the playoff because of poor performances on the field, not a lack of effort or poor chemistry.
"It's embarrassing professionally that we collapsed the way we did. But it wasn't because we stopped trying or stopped caring about each other. This team was just fine until the end," he said. "We tried everything we could to stop it.
"Every team has its squabbles over the course of the season. But this team got along just fine and I never had a sense that we weren't on the same page."
Varitek said he was "surprised" when former manager Terry Francona expressed different sentiments.
"That's Tito's personal opinion and based on what was going on with him personally and maybe how he related to the team," Varitek said. "But I ever had that sense. We lost because we played poorly and we had some health issues and we probably taxed the bullpen too much. ... We didn't lose because of some issue in the clubhouse. That's a lot of crap."
Varitek also dismissed the idea that some pitchers drinking beer in the clubhouse during games had any effect on the team.
"That's a miniscule issue," he said. "Guys are in the clubhouse all the time. I'm in there watching pitches because I can't see what I need to see from the bench. To me, that is not an issue at all."
The 39-year-old catcher also made it clear that he wants to play in 2012 and hopes it will be with the Red Sox.
"I'm a free agent, that's out of my hands," he said. "But I've bled in this uniform for a long time and I want to continue that. Hopefully that will be the case."
Varitek said he has not contemplated the idea of whether he could play for another team after 15 years with the Red Sox.
"Until I have to make that decision, I can't say. It's too early for me to think about that," he said.
Varitek revealed that he missed the final three games of the season because a piece of bone chipped off his right kneecap, not a bruise as the team reported. He did not require surgery.
More to come.