Friday, February 17, 2012
Tim Wakefield Bids Farewell to Red Sox, Calls it a Career
Tim Wakefield announced his retirement today. However, the occasion was a forgone conclusion.
The truth is, the 30 teams of Major League Baseball had already made the decision for him; not one of them offered Wakefield a big league contract.
Even the Red Sox, Wakefield's employer for 17 seasons, only offered him a minor league contract, an invitation to spring training and the opportunity to compete for a job.
That had to be a bitter pill for a 200-game winner.
Unfortunately, all careers must come to an end, and that time is now for the Red Sox veteran.
Wakefield is no longer a quality starter and can no longer be depended on. Over the last two seasons, Wakefield has a 5.21 ERA; over the last three it's 5.00. It's the right time to say goodbye.
Wakefield was called into action last season after the Red Sox endured a rash of injuries to the starting rotation. When the season began, it was uncertain where he even fit on the roster and some speculated that he might not even make the team out of spring training.
No one could have anticipated that Wakefield would give the Sox 154.2 innings in 2011. In that span, Wakefield made 23 starts.
The problem was that just eight of them were quality starts.
The 19-year veteran retires with exactly 200 career wins, to go along with 180 losses. Wakefield will be remembered as an above average pitcher. He also finishes with a 4.41 career ERA, the highest of any pitcher to ever win 200 games. Yet, that's not bad considering he played 17 seasons in the AL East.
Wakefield finishes his Red Sox career ranked first in innings (3,006), first in starts (430), first in losses (168), second in games pitched (590), second in strikeouts (2,046) and third in wins (186).
His 97 career wins at Fenway are second only Roger Clemens' 100 victories at the grand old ballpark.
Not bad for a guy who started his career as a first baseman and quickly learned how to throw the knuckleball after being told by a scout that he would never get above Double-A-ball as a position player.
But Wakefield's love for the game prevailed and he carved out a nearly two-decade-long career throwing the elusive pitch.
That one pitch made Wakefield wealthy beyond his wildest dreams and gave him a long and enduring career. It also allowed him an important place in Red Sox history.
In 2010, Wakefield became the oldest pitcher to ever step on the mound for the Red Sox and the oldest to ever win a game for them.
But 2011 proved to be a season of even bigger milestones for Wakefield. And since it turned out to be his last, it was all the more fitting.
Last year, Wakefield became just the 89th pitcher since 1900 to reach 200 career wins. And he was just the fifth player to do so in a Red Sox uniform, joining Curt Schilling (2006), Luis Tiant (1978), Fergie Jenkins (1976) and Lefty Grove (1934).
At 45 years, 42 days, Wakefield also became the second oldest pitcher to ever record 200 victories, behind Jack Quinn, who was 46 years, 339 days.
Earlier in the season, Wakefield became just the second pitcher in Red Sox history to record 2,000 strikeouts.
Wakefield defied the odds and put together a remarkable career.
However, in recent years, it was a bit of a crapshoot every time he took the mound.
When Wakefield threw his knuckleball, even he had absolutely no idea where it was going to end up after it left his hand. There were always an assortment of wild pitches and passed balls whenever Wakefield was on the hill. Moreover, base runners took advantage of the knuckler and ran wild on him.
Over the last two seasons, the writing was on the wall; Wakefield's best days were behind him and he was running out of road. In 2010, Wakefield went 4-10 and posted a 5.34 ERA. The Sox were 6-13 in games he started. Last year, he went 7-8, with a 5.12 ERA.
In recent years, Wakefield became continually less effective. The last season in which he posted an ERA below 4.00 was 2002, when it was 2.81.
Though the last few years were a bit rough, they don't diminish Wakefield's accomplishments.
Wakefield was the classic overachiever. He built an entire two-decade career on just one pitch.
Though his career was not marked by greatness — Wakefield had just four 15-win seasons in his 17 years with the Red Sox — it was marked by longevity, determination, commitment and compassion.
The veteran pitcher was a caring and giving member of the Boston community. For his numerous charitable efforts, Wakefield was nominated for the Roberto Clemente award eight times and won it in 2010.
By all accounts, Wakefield was also a great teammate, selflessly doing whatever was asked of him. He started, closed, pitched middle-relief and even mopped up during his lengthy career with the Red Sox.
That's what we should all remember.
Though he is not a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher, Tim Wakefield ranks among the greatest Red Sox pitchers and has staked his place in the annals of Red Sox history.
Thanks for the memories, Tim. And congratulations on your rather remarkable career.