This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
The 2010 season will be the first that Jason Varitek finds himself in the backup role since the days of Luis Alicea, John Valentin and Scott Hatteberg. You do not have to go far back in history to find a successful backup, as Doug Mirabelli thrived in that role(and as personal catcher to Tim Wakefield), he was not the first to have success in the limited role. If Jason Varitek needs guidance on how to be a great backup, he may want to call the man that he filled in for occasionally more than a decade ago.
Scott Hatteberg’s first game as a Red Sox came near the end of the 1995 season, in a rare loss by newly acquired knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. It was the first of 73 subsequent batterymate pairings of Hatteberg with Wakefield over the next 7 seasons. It was the same era that saw the changing of the guard, with the departures of longtime team veterans like Mike Greenwell, Mo Vaughn and Roger Clemens to the next generation of Red Sox like Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek.
Hatteberg was the everyday catcher for the 1997 and 1998 seasons before Jason Varitek took over in 1999. Hatteberg stayed with the Red Sox as the backup for the next two seasons before being pushed back into the starting role in June of 2001 when Varitek busted his elbow sliding for a popup foul. A week after Varitek’s injury, the Red Sox acquired Doug Mirabelli to serve as backup to Hatteberg. Mirabelli flourished in his role, cranking 9 homers in almost a third as many at bats as Hatteberg, who hit 3 homers during the season. Mirabelli’s strong season was one of the only few bright spots during a season that included visits to the disabled list by Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra and the firing of manager Jimy Williams en route to an 82-79 season(including a 6-15 September!).
During the 2001 season Hatteberg injured his elbow and was unable to throw, which essentially provided Mirabelli the chance to assume to the backup role for 2002 and beyond. While Hatteberg resurrected his career in Oakland and Cincinnati as a capable first baseman with some pop in his bat, his days as a Red Sox and as a catcher were over following the 2001 season.
As Varitek looks to assume to role that Hatteberg and Mirabelli succeeded in, it makes sense to acknowledge a job well done(albeit years ago) and wish a Happy 40th Birthday to Scott Hatteberg!