I only got to see Tim Wakefield pitch once. That was on September 2 last year against the Texas Rangers when he came in as the relief pitcher for some kid who had already given up a huge lead. The Sox weren’t hitting – it was the beginning of the slide – but who knew that night. Anyway, Wake had a decent night. And as my husband says every time we talk about the game, “Wake should have started.” Whatever. The Sox lost that night and the rest of the season is history.
Christopher Gasper has a wonderful column in today’s Boston Globe which sums up how wonderful and how painful it could be to watch Wake pitch.
It’s not often in sports that you get to say with a reasonable measure of certainty, “Well, we’ll never see that again.’’ But it feels safe to say that we’ll never witness another Tim Wakefield. He has sui generis status in Red Sox history, Knuckleballer Emeritus.
Nudged out the door by the Red Sox’ nonroster (non-) invite to spring training, the noble knuckler called it a career yesterday at age 45 after 19 seasons, the last 17 with the Red Sox. He joined the Sox in 1995 as a reclamation project and exited as the longest-serving pitcher in club history. There is some cosmic mischief in a man who threw the knuckleball, the most asymmetrical pitch in baseball, ending his career with a tidy 200-180 record.
Wakefield is like a Boston sports time capsule. When he was plucked off the scrap heap by then-general manager Dan Duquette on April 26, 1995, Cam Neely was still playing for the Bruins, Curtis Martin, voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this month, had been drafted by the Patriots days earlier, Dominique Wilkins was the Celtics’ leading scorer, and TD Garden was five months away from opening.
But Wakefiled was more than a pitcher winner the Roberto Clemete Award in 2010.
Yes, sometimes watching Wakefield pitch was like getting a root canal without anesthesia, but if it was that tough to watch, imagine what it was like to be the one on the mound. People always got it wrong, the knuckler didn’t make Wakefield’s career easier. It made it harder. Throwing the knuckleball for a living should enhance Wakefield’s legacy, not diminish it.
The converted first baseman pitched his entire career with a chip on his shoulder because of his signature pitch, his successes attributed to the flukes of a fluttering ball and his failures presented as condemning evidence of why a knuckleball pitcher couldn’t be relied upon.
But even knuckleballers run out of gas eventually.
Here are two of the best, Wake and Phil Niekro.
Gaspae gets the last word.
Like the pitch he threw, Wakefield will be missed a lot.