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Requiem for a knuckleballer

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Requiem for a knuckleballer AP File Photo
Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield calls it a career
It was a sad day in Boston last week. An era came to an end when knuckleballer Tim Wakefield - the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox - announced his retirement.

We all knew (or at least suspected) that this was coming. The 45-year-old Wakefield’s effectiveness has been gradually dwindling over the past few years, and guys simply don’t pitch deep into their fifth decade. But there he was, tossing up that beguiling, twisting knuckleball and infuriating all manner of major league hitters.

I’m going to miss him.

I’m going to miss him because he was a story of perseverance the likes of which you rarely see in sport. He started his professional career as a first baseman, but he could never get his hitting in order. He was on the verge of walking away from the game when one of his minor league coaches saw him messing around with the knuckleball that Wake’s father had taught him once upon a time.

And the rest is history.

Wakefield burst onto the scene back in 1992, playing a key role in what would prove to be the last Pittsburgh Pirates playoff run to date (and if that doesn’t tell you just how long Wakefield’s been playing the game, I don’t know what will). He went 8-1 down the stretch and threw a pair of complete games in the NLCS; he was responsible for two of the Pirates’ three victories in that series. Alas, Wakefield fell apart in 1993 and wound up back in AAA for the entire 1994 season. And that’s when things turned around.

Dan Duquette brought Wakefield to the Red Sox in 1995. In truth, it was a desperation move on Duquette’s part, an attempt to rebuild the club with scrap heap acquisitions. But even Duquette couldn’t have imagined the impact this one player would have on the organization.

Wake was there for all of it. He was there for the humble rebuilding years and the post-Rocket malaise. He was there for the transcendent Pedro years. He was there for the heartbreak of the 2003 ALCS (Aaron F---ing Boone!) and for the twin triumphs of 2004 and 2007. He’s been there for the good times and the lean times, but always, he has been there.

The guy won 186 games in a Red Sox uniform - only Cy Young and Roger Clemens have won more while wearing the uniform. Think about it; he spent 15 years on the Fenway Park mound with nothing more than a trick pitch mixed in with a 70 mile per hour fastball and a Little League curveball. One could even make the Mariano Rivera parallel - the batters knew what was coming, but that doesn't always matter.

He has never been anything but a good soldier. He worked hard and always put the team first. For over a decade, Wake proved willing to fill whatever role the team needed him to fill. He has been a member of the starting rotation, a bullpen/spot starter guy - he even saved 15 games as a fill-in closer one year. He's the ultimate team player, as well as being by all accounts a heck of a nice guy.

There's plenty more where that came from, but honestly? I don't think Tim Wakefield really cares about the praise and the accolades. He was a throwback in a lot of ways - one of the last remaining lunchpail guys in a world that has become packed with entitled egomaniacs and preening primadonnas.

Goodbye, Mr. Wakefield. The world of major league baseball is a little poorer without you in it.

Last modified on Thursday, 23 February 2012 14:57

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