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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tim Wakefield enjoyed an incredibly rare career, and we all enjoyed it with him

Tim Wakefield defines class. In an era where it oftentimes seemed like players were more concerned with steroid-pumping and gum-flapping than they were with baseball, Wakefield approached the game the way everyone should. For the better part of 19 seasons, Wakefield took the ball every fifth game, did his best to help the Red Sox win, and always said the right thing. If you’re a parent of a ballplayer, Tim Wakefield is the type of guy you hope your son or daughter takes after.

On Friday, Wakefield announced he is closing the door on one of the most admirable careers a player has ever assembled. Wake’s 430 starts and 3,006 innings are the most in Red Sox team history. He fell a mere six wins short of Roger Clemens’ team record of 192 and will finish second on Boston’s all-time strikeout list with 2,046. And he did it all using a knuckleball.

As a starting pitcher, Wakefield took the mound 430 times. Each time he did, hitters knew exactly what they were in for. On very rare occasions, Wakefield would mix in a crummy curveball or a 71-mph fastball.  For the most part, guys knew what pitch they were going to see. It was going to flutter and float and take forever to get to the plate, and it would still be one of the most difficult pitches to hit in baseball.

If it’s high let it fly and if it’s low let it go. That was the scouting report on Wakefield’s knuckleball. There were times when he was lit up for 10 runs in two innings on a night where I’d look at my friends right out of the gate and say, “He doesn’t have it.” Those days and nights, however, were infrequent enough that an annual world series contender continued to bring him back season after season.

Considering he threw one pitch his entire career, the feats Wake accomplished on the field are worth a lifetime of praise. The way he carried himself off of it should make him an honorable mention at the next Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Hardly anyone lasts 19 years as a professional athlete. Even less survive that length of time in a media market like Boston. Icons like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Terry Francona, and Theo Epstein all had a Fenway Park expiration date. Wakefield survived because he simply wanted to pitch and help a team win. Here’s hoping Tim Wakefield isn’t the last Tim Wakefield baseball ever sees.

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