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Jason Varitek to retire Thursday

October 2010 file/Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Jason Varitek, 39, will bid farewell Thursday, and he leaves a legacy few can match. Among them: He caught four no-hitters with the Sox.

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jason Varitek, one of the cornerstone players in Red Sox history, will announce his retirement Thursday and is expected to take a position with the organization.

The rugged catcher spent 15 seasons with the Sox, the last seven as captain, and was a key member of two World Series champions.

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Only Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski (23 seasons), Ted Williams (19), and Jim Rice (16) had longer tenures with the Red Sox without playing for another team.

Varitek’s retirement announcement will be at JetBlue Park. It will come 12 days after righthander Tim Wakefield retired from the Red Sox, ending his 17-year career.

Like Wakefield, Varitek was offered a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training. But without any guarantees of making the team, he elected to retire.

Varitek, who turns 40 in April, will leave behind a legacy few can match. He hit .256 with 193 home runs and 757 RBIs in his career, was a three-time All-Star, and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2005. Varitek was ninth in team history with 1,546 games.

He also played 63 games in the postseason and was widely respected for his ability to handle pitchers.

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Varitek caught a major league record four no-hitters in his career, guiding Hideo Nomo (2001), Derek Lowe (2002), Clay Buchholz (2007), and Jon Lester (2008) into history.

He is also the only player in history to have played in the Little League World Series, the College World Series, the World Series, the Olympics, and the World Baseball Classic.

Varitek led his high school, Lake Brantley, to the Florida state title in 1990 and the top spot in the USA Today national poll.

A first-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1994 after a stellar career at Georgia Tech, Varitek was traded to the Red Sox on July 31, 1997 along with Lowe for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb.

It proved to be one of the most lopsided trades in history as Varitek became one of the rocks on which the curse-busting 2004 team was built.

It was during that season, on July 24, when Varitek brawled with Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez at Fenway Park. With the Red Sox down, 3-0, and being no-hit in the third inning, Bronson Arroyo hit Rodriguez with a pitch. When Rodriguez stared out at the mound, Varitek got in his way and they began fighting.

“I told him, in choice words, to get to first base,’’ Varitek said at the time. “And then it changed from him yelling at Bronson to [us] yelling at each other, and then things got out of hand.’’

The Red Sox came back to win the game, 11-10, with three runs in the ninth inning. It proved to a catalyst as the underdog Sox advanced to the postseason.

Down three games to none against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, the Sox rallied back for a historic victory, then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series for the franchise’s first title since 1918.

Varitek had three home runs and 11 RBIs in that postseason. Photographs of his fight with Rodriguez occupy prominent spots in barrooms across New England.

Varitek also played a prominent role with the 2007 champions, hitting 17 home runs and driving in 68 runs that season.

The trade for Victor Martinez in 2009 marked the end of Varitek being an everyday catcher. But he slid gracefully into a reserve role, serving as a mentor to Martinez and then to Jarrod Saltalamacchia last season.

A fractured right foot limited Varitek to 39 games in 2010. He returned last season and played in 68 games, hitting .221 with 36 RBIs.

Varitek said he wanted to return for another season but new general manager Ben Cherington signed Kelly Shoppach to be Saltalamacchia’s backup, effectively ending Varitek’s career with the Sox.

Varitek is one of only five players to catch at least 1,400 games for a single franchise while spending his entire playing career with that club. The others are Johnny Bench (Reds), Bill Dickey (Yankees), Bill Freehan (Tigers), and Jorge Posada (Yankees). Posada retired earlier this year.

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Jason Varitek by the numbers

2: World Series championships, in 2004 and 2007. Varitek hit 11 home runs in 63 career postseason games.

3: All-Star Game appearances: 2003, 2005, and 2008.

3: Players who had more than Varitek’s 15 seasons in Boston without going elsewhere: Carl Yastrzemski (23 seasons), Ted Williams (19), and Jim Rice (16).

4: No-hitters caught by Varitek, a record. He teamed up with Hideo Nomo (2001), Derek Lowe (2002), Clay Buchholz (2007), and Jon Lester (2008).

5: Players who caught at least 1,400 games for a single franchise in their career: Varitek, Johnny Bench (Reds), Bill Dickey (Yankees), Bill Freehan (Tigers), and Jorge Posada (Yankees).

9,10: He leaves Boston ninth in team history in games (1,546), doubles (306), and extra-base hits (513). He is 10th in plate appearances (5,839) and RBIs (757).

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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