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 said two days after the season that the players weren’t supportive of each other and he couldn’t reach them.
“I didn’t agree with that. I believed that this team, regardless, pulled for each other and those things have been so grossly distorted. It’s just baffling that you can feel that way,” Varitek said.
“That’s a personal feel because it still always comes down to us performing. He can’t hit for us. He can’t make a pitch in the ninth inning for us. The only thing he can control is putting us in situations that allow you to be successful.
“That’s Tito’s personal opinion … and maybe how he related to the team. The personal perception for him maybe could be that he couldn’t reach the team. But I didn’t see him change. It always comes down to our performance. When somebody becomes a scapegoat, it makes things difficult.”
A question about whether pitchers Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester were drinking in the clubhouse had Varitek shaking his head.
“It’s normal that guys would be in the clubhouse. People go back and forth. The perception that there’s rampant drinking going on is frankly just [expletive],” he said. The magnitude of those things are minute in the big picture of an entire season.
“We’ve won here for a long time. We’ve had problems here for a long time. Whether it be players with coaches, players with trainers, players with players. We’ve handled them always in house and we’ve won and we’ve won a lot. All of a sudden you have a collapse and things are looked at differently and people are trying to find a cause.
“Are people working out? Are people not working out? … It’s not lack of effort or lack of desire. It’s lack of results. If you’re never on the bench, if you’re never around supporting your teammates, that would be a problem. I never saw it as a problem.”
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.