Varitek catching respect at ballot box

Varitek catching respect at ballot box

For the last few years, Jason Varitek has been looked at as the leader of the Red Sox. The switch-hitting captain is a leader in a broader sense at the moment, as he ranks first among American League catchers in the first released results of All-Star balloting.

This is no small feat, as Varitek is competing with Ivan Rodriguez of the Tigers and the Yankees' Jorge Posada, two of the most renowned, all-around catchers in the game.

Varitek, anointed as the captain of the Red Sox after signing a four-year, $40 million contract last Christmas Eve, has taken his game up a notch offensively this season. He clubbed 10 homers in his first 152 at-bats, putting him in prime position to top the 18 long balls he smashed in 2004.

But Varitek's primary value to his team is the way he leads the pitching staff and takes charge behind the plate. Varitek was an All-Star previously in 2003 when he made it on the Final Vote ballot.

Varitek has received 425,878 votes, about 60,000 more than Rodriguez, who ranks second in the balloting updates released Tuesday.

Of course, winning the World Series last year has only enhanced the popularity of the Red Sox, as several players rank high on the ballot.

Menacing slugger David Ortiz -- who made his first All-Star appearance a year ago -- ranks first at DH. With 680,834 votes, he has a large lead over the Yankees' Jason Giambi and the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro.

That's no surprise, as Ortiz is the premier DH in the game. Last year, he clubbed 41 homers and drove in 139 runs. Though Ortiz isn't on quite the same pace this year, he's still off to a solid start.

Left fielder Manny Ramirez, who has been a fixture at the All-Star Game, leads all outfielders with 553,959 votes. The RBI machine is seeking his ninth All-Star appearance.

Leadoff man Johnny Damon, who has been Boston's most consistent hitter in 2005, is fourth in the balloting with 415,882 votes. Aside from Ramirez, Damon trails reigning American League MVP Vladimir Guerrero and defending AL batting champ Ichiro Suzuki. Damon was an All-Star in 2002.

Sox right fielder Trot Nixon, seeking his first All-Star berth, is ninth among outfielders. Nixon, injured for much of last year, is off to a solid start at the plate.

Shortstop Edgar Renteria, in the midst of his first season with the Sox, trails only Miguel Tejada of the Orioles and Derek Jeter of the Yankees. Renteria was a four-time All-Star in the National League.

Though first baseman Kevin Millar has struggled to find his stroke, he is second behind Tino Martinez of the Yankees. Second baseman Mark Bellhorn is third, behind Orioles leadoff man Brian Roberts and Alfonso Soriano of the Rangers. Third baseman Bill Mueller, who won the batting title in 2003, is second behind superstar Alex Rodriguez.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.