Two things about Tim Wakefield (the first one you probably won’t care much about, the second you might).
1. For about the last 12 years or so, every time I go to a Sox game Wakefield is pitching. I can’t escape him. I’ve seen him in New York, Seattle, Baltimore, San Francisco, Toronto. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I saw him pitch for the Pittsburgh Crawfords in a 1936 Negro League game vs. the Homestead Grays.
2. Sometime between August 2010 and May 2011 Wakefield is going to pass Cy Young and Roger Clemens to become the winningest pitcher in the 108-year history of the Red Sox.
No, really, it’s gonna happen. Knucksie is at 166 wins after his seven-inning, one-run beaut vs. the Twins on Wednesday. 27 W’s away from taking over the top spot on the list. Raise your hand if you think that (a) Wakefield won’t stay healthy over the next two years or (b) if he’s a couple wins short after 2011 he won’t be back in 2012.
Tim Wakefield signed with the Red Sox in 1995 (a strong No. 4 to the Lowe/Varitek and Pedro trades and Manny signing on the “Best of Duke” chart) after being released by the Pirates, his career seemingly over. His best season was his first, of course, as he won 14 of his first 15 decisions, finishing 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA to finish third in Cy Young voting (the only Cy Young votes he has ever received). Since then it’s been a little up and down, to be honest.
5.14 ERA (1996)
5.08 ERA (1999)
5.48 ERA (2000)
4.87 ERA (2004)
17 wins in 1998 and 2007
2.81 ERA in 2002
Third in the AL in WHIP, 16 wins in 2005.
And a lot of C+-type seasons mixed in (baseball-reference has an average Wakefield season as 13-11 with a 4.31 ERA. It’s actually hard to believe that he hasn’t had a 13-win season. He’s got one 10-win, two 11’s, two 12’s and a 14).
I don’t know, am I the only one that finds it a little strange that a pitcher that at no time in his career has ever been regarded as one of the 20 best in baseball is going to hold one of the five or six biggest records in Boston sports? Look at the other leaders:
Red Sox Home Runs: Ted Williams (521)
Red Sox Hits: Yaz (3,419)
Celtics Points: John Havlicek (26,395)
Bruins Goals: Johnny Bucyk (545)
Bruins Points: Ray Bourque (1,506)
Good casting, right? First-ballot Hall of Famers all. And obviously Cy Young and Clemens are immortals (I’ll ignore the world of misremembering for now). We all know about Clemens, but I sometimes wonder if people even realize Cy Young was an actual pitcher. Well, here’s Cy Young’s first three seasons with the Red Sox:
1901: 33 wins, 1.62 ERA, 38 complete games
1902: 32 wins, 2.15 ERA, 41 complete games
1903: 28 wins, 2.08 ERA, 34 complete games
Young started 327 games in eight seasons with the Red Sox (Wakefield has 370, Clemens started 382). He completed 275 of them. Unreal. And we are now in a world where a Rick Sutcliffe will talk about the “courage” of a pitcher that throws 106 pitches in seven innings and hands the ball over. And that award named after Young? Clemens won seven of ‘em (Three with the Sox, really should have been four—he was robbed in 1990).
So what is Wakefield doing here?
Listen, he’s not Roger Clemens or Cy Young, we know that. Probably he’s not even one of the 10 best pitchers in Red Sox history (Is that true? Let’s list them. Young, Clemens, Smokey Joe Wood, Pedro, Luis Tiant, Lefty Grove (pitched late in his career for the Sox but was great for them. Plus I think he’s the best pitcher in history, so that’s a tiebreaker for sure) Dutch Leonard. You know what? I think that’s it for locks. A case can be made for a handful of guys. Babe Ruth, Carl Mays, Jim Lonborg, Bob Stanley, Derek Lowe, Schilling, Dick Radatz, Doug Bird (maybe not). But there is no huge edge there either way. So Wakefield is somewhere in that 8-12 range).
Here’s what Wakefield has managed to do: Survive on one pitch for 15 years in one the toughest markets in the world to play baseball. Not too shabby. I can only think of one other pitcher over the last 25 years or so that can make a similar claim (And he also made his debut in the AL East in 1995 as a starter. Of course he is now the greatest reliever—and maybe one of the 10 or 15 best pitchers—in the history of the game). Think about what Wakefield has seen. He was teammates with a skinny Barry Bonds and a fat Roger Clemens. He played with Mike Greenwell and Willie McGee. There was Joe Kerrigan, Kevin Kennedy and Jimy Williams. When he showed up in Boston we were Pre Pink Hat. Nomar had never played a major league game. This was Mo Vaughn’s team. Dustin Pedroia was 11 years old. No one hated Jimmy Fallon (I’m sure plenty of people did, but you know what I mean). Wakefield has been on a pitching staff with Brian Rose, Paxton Crawford and Frankie Rodriguez (and I think we have the answer on him—it’s not going to work out at shortstop or pitcher), guys who were there to replace him one day. How’d that go? Pedro, Manny, Saberhagen, Bryce Florie, Reggie Jefferson, Aaron Sele, Wil Cordero, Rod Beck, Rich Garces, Crazy Carl. Wakefield and Jamie Moyer were teammates on the 1996 Red Sox. Moyer was 33, Wakefield 29. What kind of odds could you have gotten that both would still be pitching in 2009? Pre-steroids (or what passes for it now), The Steroid Era and whatever this era is today. The Curse of the Bambino and The Curse of A-Rod. He pitched against Tim Raines and Tim Raines Jr. He has been taken for granted a million times and just kept pitching. Years and years of double-digit wins and 200 innings. Nothing flashy. No incredible highs and no embarrassing lows. No dopey commercials or cameos on sitcoms. The guy has never jumped the shark.
Sure, his postseason record isn’t exactly going to get confused with John Smoltz’s anytime soon (6.75 career playoff ERA) but let me just say this: the two most intense playoff series of my Boston sports life are the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals and the 2003 ALCS. And Wakefield was terrific in that series, winning Games 1 and 4. I chalk all those other lousy efforts to the life of a knuckleballer.
Ah, the life of a knuckleballer. Any reason why Wakefield can’t keep going for another four or five years? Okay, he’ll be 43 at the end of the season. Charlie Hough won 30 more games after turning 43. Phil Niekro won 71 games between the ages of 43-47. Wakefield stays in pretty good shape it seems (which may or may not be important—take a look at Niekro as he wins his 300th game. I think he flew right from that game to the set of Diff’rent Strokes where he completed a three-episode arc as Conrad Bain’s older brother), and he remains one of the game’s great bargains at $4 million a year. He was sixth in the league in WHIP last year and is, as you read this, the ace of the staff for the Boston Red Sox. He was supposed to be a journeyman but never left. There are guys like that, you know.
Don’t they deserve a record?
Five (Mostly Sports) Things On My Mind
(1) I understand that the wound is a little fresh, but can we forever retire the “Paul Pierce is the greatest offensive player in Celtics history” argument? I’m talking about you, Bob Ryan and you, Tommy Heinsohn. I’ll give you the knee jerk stuff first. Larry Bird would never miss the free throws Pierce missed in HUGE spots in both Game 1 and Game 4. Now some statistical evidence. Take Pierce’s career best in major offensive categories and you get this:
47.1 FG, 41.2 three-point, 84.3 FT and 26.8 PPG
Pretty solid, do we agree? Okay. Bird had 11 seasons where he shot better than 47.1 percent from the floor. Three times he bested 41.2 from three. The worst season he ever had from the line was 83.6 (over 88 percent eight times). And he averaged 29.9 (1987-88) points in a season, as well as 28.7 (1984-85) and 28.1 (1986-87). I like Pierce, he’s a Hall of Famer and a top 10 Celtic. But it’s not even close.
(2) Does anyone else think that if the Red Sox left Masterson in the rotation for the rest of the season he would win at least 15 games?
(3) I’m always amazed at the power of possible nudity. I’m convinced that the only reason Obsessed opened at 28 mil is because guys thought Ali Larter finally shows what’s under the whipped cream. This is not the voice of a man that judges, just so you know. My senior year in high school coincided with the Blown Away phenomenon (better known as The Girl From Charles in Charge Gets Really, Really Naked with the Coreys), so I fully understand.
(4) Do I even need to knock Chris Berman here? He’s way past parody now, but I still love it when he feels that he has to weigh in on a pick. “Alex Mack, he’ll be a nice fit in Cleveland”. How exactly would you know that, Chris? And how about Uncle Herm at the kiddie table? Not much over the NFL Network of note, other than Charlie Casserly busting out a special draft toupee that Jon Gruden appeared to be angry at.
(5) I still wish the Pats had moved up and drafted Percy Harvin. Of course, I liked Leaf over Manning, Mirer over Bledsoe and David Terrell over Seymour, so I guess I’ll have to defer to Belichick on this one.