Former Red Sox and Pirates knuckleballer Tim Wakefield passed away today at age 57. Wakefield pitched in 19 MLB seasons from 1992-2011, beginning his career in the Pittsburgh organization before moving onto a 17-year run with the Sox.
In an official statement from the Red Sox, club president/CEO Sam Kennedy said “It’s a rare occurrence for a two-time World Series Champion’s extraordinary personality to shine even brighter than their illustrious career. Tim was undeniably an exceptional pitcher, but what truly set him apart was the ease with which he connected with people. He was an extraordinary pitcher, an incredible broadcaster, and someone who exemplified every humanitarian quality in the dictionary. I will miss my friend more than anything and can only aspire to live as genuinely and honorably as he did.”
The Pirates also paid tribute, saying “Tim began his Major League career with the Pirates and was a part of our baseball family for six years. He made his big league debut in 1992 and was a key addition to the pitching staff that helped propel the team to its third consecutive Postseason appearance. Off the field, Tim always devoted his time to make an impact on others within the Pittsburgh community. He was a great man who will be dearly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”
Many more testimonials have poured in from across social media from Wakefield’s many former teammates, colleagues, friends, and fans, in a sign of just how beloved a figure Wakefield was to an entire baseball generation, particularly in Boston. Wakefield was closely involved with numerous charities and non-profit groups, and was recognized for these off-the-field endeavors by Major League Baseball as the 2010 winner of the Roberto Clemente Award.
Fans are already very familiar with Wakefield’s work on the mound, as his use of the knuckleball made him stand out from the moment he made his MLB debut with the Pirates in 1992. In fact, Wakefield’s entire rookie year was a triumph, as he posted a 2.15 ERA over 92 innings in the regular season, and then threw a pair of complete-game wins for Pittsburgh in the NLCS.
However, the vagaries of the knuckleball didn’t lead to consistent success, as Wakefield struggled in 1993 and didn’t pitch at all in the majors in 1994. Released by the Pirates in April 1995, it looked like Wakefield might’ve been a flash in pan, until he caught on with the Red Sox and rediscovered his form. Wakefield finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting in 1995, which kicked off his 17-year run in Boston with a bang.
No pitcher in Red Sox history threw more innings (3006) or started more games (430) than Wakefield, who became a fixture of the team’s rotation. Never the ace of the staff, Wakefield sometimes wasn’t even a starter at all, moving into a swingman or long relief role at times, and he even had a stretch as Boston’s closer in 1999. Again owing to the difficulties of fully harnessing a knuckleball, Wakefield’s numbers had plenty of ebbs and flows, though he capably filled in whenever the Red Sox had a need to fill in the rotation or bullpen.
As such, Wakefield took part in some of the most memorable moments in Red Sox history, both for good and bad. He allowed Aaron Boone’s walkoff home run in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, yet got some revenge on the Yankees the very next year, tossing three shutout innings and earning the win in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. Wakefield won World Series rings for helping the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox and 2007 Sox win championships.
Wakefield posted a 4.41 ERA and a 200-180 record over his 3226 1/3 career innings, along with 2156 strikeouts. The icon of durability pitched until he was 45 years old, facing (who else) the Yankees in his final game on September 25, 2011.
We at MLB Trade Rumors send our condolences to Wakefield’s family and many loved ones.