RIP to Anthony Varvaro, a reliever who pitched for 6 seasons in the 2010s. He retired from baseball in 2016 in order to become a policeman with the New York Port Authority. Varvaro, 37, was killed on September 11 while driving to a memorial event in Lower Manhattan for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A spokesman for the New Jersey State Police said that Varvaro’s Nissan Maxima was struck by a Toyota RAV4 driving the wrong way on the New Jersey Turnpike at 4:30 in the morning. The driver of the Toyota also was killed in the accident.
Varvaro is survived by his wife, Kerry, and four children. “We are together today remembering Anthony’s accomplishments on the field and his service with the P.A.P.D.,” the family said. “But more importantly, how the little things were so much bigger to him, and he cherished every moment spent with friends and family,” his family said in a statement.
Varvaro pitched for the Seattle Mariners (2010), Atlanta Braves (2011-14) and Boston Red Sox (2015).
Anthony Michael Varvaro was born in Staten Island, N.Y., on October 31, 1984. He started his baseball career with the West Shore Little League on Staten Island, as a catcher. Both he and his older brother Torrence were talented athletes. Torrence received a scholarship to play football at Southern Connecticut State University, and Anthony eventually moved from behind the plate to the pitcher’s mound, where his greatest successes in baseball would come. As a student athlete at Curtis High School, he was named to the Staten Island Advance All-Staten Island team three times. He threw a 15-strikeout no-hitter over the heavily favored Lehman in the 2001 postseason, and his pitching helped turn the school from an underdog to something of a powerhouse. It also overshadowed the fact that he was a .400 hitter, too.
Rather than seek out a pro contract as a high school senior, Varvaro signed a letter of intent to attend St. Johns University. He pursued a criminal justice degree and also made his mark with the Red Storm baseball team. St. Johns advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2005, and Varvaro’s pitching was a big part of the team’s success. He won 8 games as a sophomore in 2004 and had a 3.63 ERA. He was named to the All-Big East Second Team. He was 9-3 with a 2.32 ERA in 2005, with 115 strikeouts against just 35 walks. Opponents hit .179 off of him. Among the accolades Varvaro earned that year were the All-Big East First Team and Collegiate Baseball All-America honors.
“His baseball exploits speak for themselves, one of the best pitchers in St. John’s history. He was a quiet leader, fierce competitor and great teammate. He had an arm like a firebolt, but a heart of gold,” said his St. Johns coach, Ed Blankmeyer. Varvaro was recognized by his school with the Alumni Achievement Award in 2017.
Varvaro was projected as a Second Round draft pick in the 2005 Amateur Draft. However, the pitcher suffered an arm injury shortly before the draft and would require Tommy John Surgery. That disclosure caused him to slip to the 12th Round, where he was picked by the Seattle Mariners. After rehabbing from the surgery, Varvaro joined the Mariners’ Rookie League team in Arizona for a few short appearances in 2006. He wasn’t able to pitch a full schedule until 2007, when he became a starter for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League. Varvaro’s career as a starting pitcher didn’t last long and wasn’t very successful. He had a 3-9 record and an ERA of over 7.00 in 2008 with High Desert. His strikeout numbers were impressive as a starter, but he allowed too many hits and gave up too many home runs.
The decision to convert Varvaro into a full-time reliever came in 2009, and it likely saved his career. He made 44 appearances between High-A High Desert and Double-A West Tennessee and saved 12 games. Most of the action came at West Tennessee, where he won 4 of 7 decisions and had a 2.82 ERA. His walk rate was high (50 bases on balls in a combined 62 innings), but he also struck out 73 hitters. He was named to the Southern League All-Star Team, and after the season he was sent to the Arizona Fall League, where many of the game’s top prospects are sent to continue their development. He was also added to Seattle’s 40-man roster
Varvaro reached Triple-A Tacoma in July of 2010. After the Pacific Coast League’s season had finished, the Mariners promoted him to the majors. He debuted with a scoreless inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 24, striking out Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce looking. He appeared in three more games and allowed runs in all of them, including home runs to Texas’ Nelson Cruz and Oakland’s Cliff Pennington. In those four games, he had an 0-1 record and 11.25 ERA.
The Mariners put Varvaro on waivers in early 2011, and he was claimed by the Atlanta Braves. He began the season with the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves and appeared in 38 games as a middle reliever. He had several stints with the Braves, starting with a promotion in late July. He made 18 appearances and lost twice to drop his career record to 0-3, but Varvaro didn’t pitch badly. He had a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings and allowed just 15 hits, holding the opposition to a .183 batting average. He also fanned 23. Varvaro split 2012 with Gwinnett and Atlanta as well. His pitching in the majors wasn’t as sharp, as he had a 5.40 ERA in 12 appearances. However, he did earn his first major-league win on July 14 against the New York Mets. He entered the game in the top of the eighth after Cristhian Martinez had allowed a leadoff double to Andres Torres. Varvaro allowed that run to score on a Ruben Tejada single to make the score 7-5 Mets, but he struck out Jordany Valdespin and David Wright to end the inning. In the bottom half of the inning, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado and Jason Heyward delivered consecutive RBI singles to give Atlanta an 8-5 lead. Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth inning to give the Braves, and Varvaro, the victory.
Varvano made the Braves Opening Day roster in 2013, and he was given plenty of work when the bullpen experienced significant injuries. Johnny Venters underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career, and Eric O’Flaherty was injured in May and lost for the season with his own surgery. Those two workhorse relievers pitched in a combined 130 games for the Braves in 2012, and their loss created massive holes in the team pitching staff. Inexperienced relievers like Varvano were given the opportunities to fill them. He threw 73-1/3 innings, which was tops among all full-time relievers, and he went 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA. He helped Tim Hudson secure his 200th career win over the Washington Nationals on April 29 by throwing 2 no-hit innings to close out the 8-1 win.
Varvaro was one of the rare right-handed relievers who did better at retiring left-handed batters than he did righties. Right-handed batters hit .274 against him in 2013, but left-handed batters hit only .207, with a .281 slugging percentage. The contrast was even more stark in 2014, when lefty batters managed a .149/.198/.284 slash line against him. Really, nobody had an easy time hitting Varvaro that year. He fanned 50 batters in 54-2/3 innings and had a 3-3 record and 2.63 ERA. He threw in 61 games, missing time only for the birth of his second child. Jonathan Andrew was born at 4:04 PM on July 24, 2014. “Now A.J. (their first child, Anthony Jr.) has someone to play catch with,” Varvaro said. “He was smaller than A.J. We were hoping for a catcher but I think we got a second baseman.”
After the 2014 season, the Braves designated Varvaro for assignment. There was no chance that he would pass through the waiver process without going unclaimed, so the Braves traded him to Boston for reliever Aaron Kurcz and cash. The Red Sox loved his success rate against lefties and his high ground ball rate — 49% in 2014. His early games indicated that he would continue his fine work. He had a 1.17 ERA until he took the loss in a game against the Rays by allowing a run in 1/3 of an inning. A couple of other shaky performances sent his ERA upward to 4.09. The Red Sox designated him for assignment, and he was claimed by the Chicago Cubs. He never played a game for the Cubs, and when the team detected medical problems with Varvaro’s arm, the waiver claim was voided, and the pitcher was returned to the Red Sox. Varvaro was placed on the disabled list, underwent another elbow surgery and never pitched again in the major leagues.
In parts of 6 seasons, Varvaro pitched in 166 games, all in relief. He had a 7-9 record and 1 save. He had a career ERA and ERA+ of 3.23 and 118, respectively. He struck out 150 batters and walked 70, and his Wins Above Replacement as a reliever is 1.8.
Varvaro reported to the Red Sox training camp in February 2016 and began the season with the Pawtucket Red Sox of the Triple-A International League. Through 18 games, he won 3 games, lost 2 and recorded a save, to go with a 2.83 ERA. Though he was pitching well, he decided to retire from baseball in June in favor of a dramatic career change. “I kind of felt like my body was breaking down a bit, I felt my career may have been coming to an end,” he told The Torch, St. John’s student newspaper, in 2016. “I probably could have played a little longer, but that’s when an opportunity with the Port Authority Police Department arrived.”
Varvaro was one of 79 graduates of the Port Authority Police Academy in December of 2016. The PAPD patrols New York’s airports, tunnels, bridges, mass transit system and the Port of New York and New Jersey. The former pitcher wasn’t given any special treatment and didn’t want any. “I’m just like the rest of the guys. I’m just a guy with a talent, that’s all.”
Varvaro was an officer for six years. Before becoming a police academy instructor, he had been assigned a post at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan. It was a post he had requested. “To be able to work at that specific location, going back to the day of September 11, 2001, I feel like I’m honoring everyone who lost their lives that day,” he said. Varvaro also chose to give back to baseball by becoming the president of the Snug Harbor Little League in Staten Island. He led a successful campaign to have new lights installed at the fields.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help provide financial support for his family. “Nothing in the world mattered more to Anthony than his family, and this collection will ensure AJ, Johnny, Christian and Savannah are taken care of for the future,” states the page.
For more information: Matthew Funeral Home