Today pitcher Tim Wakefield announced his retirement after seventeen seasons with the Boston Red Sox.
The team extended Wakefield an invitation to Spring Training, but would not guarantee him a roster spot. Immediately, I thought back to 1990, when the Red Sox released another of their all time great (and under appreciated by baseball) players, Dwight Evans. In 1990, of Evan’s departure, Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston globe wrote, “This decision marks the close of a classy era at Fenway Park.” I can think of no better way to describe Wakefield’s departure today.
Before coming to Boston, Wakefield pitched two seasons in Pittsburgh, highlighted by an 8-1 rookie season in 1992, which earned him the The Sporting News National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year Award. In the postseason that year, he threw two complete game wins against Hall of Famer to be Tom Glavine in the NCLS.
Following a disastrous start to the 1993 season, Wakefield spent most of that year and the next in the minors before being released and signed by the Red Sox.
He began his Red Sox career posting a 14-1 mark through seventeen starts in 1995 earning himself the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
In his seventeen years in Boston, Wakefield threw more innings than any other Red Sox pitcher in history, and is second only to Roger Clemens in wins and strikeouts for the team. He recorded his 200th career win and 2000th career strikeout last season. Not bad for a guy who threw a 75 mph fastball.
In 2010 Wakefield won the Roberto Clemente award.
He was the active leader in career wins in the major leagues when he retired.
Of course, the numbers and awards don’t really tell the true story of what he’s meant to this team. Wakefield was the longest tenured Red Sox player when they won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004. He started game one of that World Series, when just five years earlier after he was left off the 1999 American League Championship Series roster completely. Injuries held him to won ineffective start in the 2007 postseason, but his 17 wins in the regular season was a big reason they go their.
I will never forget watching him walk off the mound after Game Seven of the 1993 ALCS after giving up the series ending home run to Aaron “bleeping” Boone on a pitch he should never have had to throw. It’s a shame that is the last image we have of that season (which ESPN plays all too often) when he won two games during that series and during the season, tied for the team lead in starts and was second among starters in quality starts, innings, strikeouts, strikeouts per nine innings, WHIP, and ERA.
But to me, the most memorable moment of Wakefield’s career in Boston was when he gave up five runs on five hits in 3.1 innings in game three of the 2004 ALCS. He volunteered to pitch that night, sacrificing his scheduled start in game four to save the bullpen during the 19-8 blowout. I think what Wakefield did that night often gets forgotten when that series is talked about, lost among Millar’s walk, Robert’s stolen base, Mueller’s single, Ortiz’s walk offs, Schilling’s ankle, Lowe’s wins, and Damon’s home runs. But it is no less important than any of those moments. In fact, I doubt any of them would have even happened if not for Wakefield’s selfless actions that night.
It’s unfortunate that his 200th win was marred by the number of tries it took Wakefield to win it, but that was far more a symptom of the team falling apart than Wakefield’s pitching. I think he had more baseball left in him, and he deserved better from the Red Sox than he got.
I heard the question asked on EPSN today, would Wakefield be a Hall of Famer? I don’t recall who it was who answered, but their answer was no. To me, the Hall of Fame is about more than numbers. Find me one other pitcher during the last twenty years to throw a knuckleball better than Tim Wakefield. If you can’t, then in my book, with 200 wins, he’s a Hall of Famer.
The Hall of Fame will likely never recognize Wakefield for his accomplishments, but I am quite certain that he will be elected easily to the Red Sox Hall of Fame. The team has always been hesitant to retire players’ numbers, but we can hope that they will begin to retire some of the deserving Red Sox players not in the Hall of Fame, and I can think of no one better to start with than Wakefield.
Congratulations to Tim Wakefield on a wonderful career, and good luck in all his future endeavors.
Thanks for reading!