Tim Wakefield ruined at least 3 dozen Sundays for me over the years. He caused me financial pain, wasted my time, induced boredom, frustration, and hopelessness. But in the end, he won a big victory for every old guy who ever dreamed of wearing a uniform.
Whenever I ponied up the dough to get into the lyric little bandbox, there was the old man, thick around the middle, slide stepping toward the plate and lobbing his 68 mph slop. I almost never missed being randomly assigned to watch Wake when I went to Fenway. This went on for a decade. Luck of the draw.
Wakefield was never in demand. He was an innings eater. A number 5. He gave a quality start 20% of the time. A mediocre start 35% of the time. A bad start start 30%, and a stinking-baby-diaper -of-a-start 15% of the time. When Wake was bad no starter in MLB seemed worse. So when you saw Wake, you cursed damned luck and wondered who a guy had to bribe to see Pedro.
I longed for a Pedro Martinez start. From 1998 through 2003, no one was better at making AL batters look ridiculous. Later, Schilling arrived to take the Ace position and Pedro ducats loosened up a little.
Try as I might, I was anchored to Wake even though I bought up 12 different games a year and drove 2,500 round trip miles from Connecticut per season.
Amplifying my Wakefield pain was the fact that from 2002 through 2003, John Burkett started most of the other games I saw in which Timmy did not appear.
You can say what you want about Burkett and his 15 – 17, 4.86 record for Boston, but I’ll tell you this: For the first 4 innings of every game John looked like Tom Seaver. When he got to the 5th, he could be as bad as Timmy.
Burkett was better than Wakefield. Everyone except Matt Clement was better than Wakefield.
Red Sox fans knew this and lamented the wasted roster spot. “Just get rid of Wakefield. He stinks !” The cries went up every time he yielded 5 earned runs in 2 or 3 innings. The WEEI phone lines burned with anti-Wake tirades. Fans shouted it in Yawkey Way and on Beacon Street.
And then on June 8th, 2010 in Cleveland, something remarkable happened when Wake K’d Jhonny Peralta in the 7th inning on a 1-2 knuckler. Timmy passed Catfish Hunter on the All Time strikeout list with his 2,012th K.
That milestone magically transformed Wakefield’s paunch into a badge of middle aged super achievement. This guy suddenly seemed built to last and he would strike people out until he qualified for AARP. Fanciful fans wondered if Tim was destined to pitch his way past Palmer (2,212), Marichal (2,303) and Koufax (2,396). Heck, he could do that in just 5 more seasons.
But Father Time said it was not meant to be. Tim pitched only another season-and-a-half after passing Catfish. He K’d only another 143 batters, finishing with 2,156 strikeouts and in 56th place on the all time list.
Father Time also said no to Tim on surpassing Clemens and Young for the all time wins by a Sox starter. Tim’s pathetic string of 5 consecutive losses in 2011 from August 14 to Sept. 7 hastened his retirement as well as the Sox’s September collapse.
And yet, there is much love for Timmy’s contributions to the team and the town. He started. He relieved. He did abundant charity work. He arrived in Beantown when Canseco was the D.H. and Mo Vaughn was the first baseman. He played with Greenwell, Tinsley and O’Leary. He teamed with the Rocket when Clemens registered a 4.18 ERA in “the twilight of his career”, according to Dan Duquette.
Tim stayed through the Nomar-Pedro-Damon-Manny-Schilling-Youkilis-Beckett-Buchholz-Pedroia years.
He stayed for 17 years.
His real accomplishment is durability.
No one stays 17 years with one team anymore except Derek Jeter and Mo Rivera. Varitek pulled 15 years in Boston. Pujols bagged St. Louis after 11 seasons.
17 is a big number.
And for that, Tim Wakefield, I salute you, and hold you in high esteem, willing to forget the time and money that I could have better used than to observe your knuckling.
From one old guy to another, God Bless and Good Speed, Wake.