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Tim Wakefield ranks with Red Sox legends

Feb 17, 2012, 12:50 PM EDT

Tim Wakefield AP

Tim Wakefield would never be quite so good again.

He debuted with the Red Sox on May 27, 1995, pitching seven innings of one-run ball in a win over the Angels. Three days later, he used his knuckler to shut out the A’s for 7 1/3 innings in a win. Five days after that, he allowed an unearned run over 10 innings in a win over the Mariners. His incredible run concluded on June 9, with a three-hitter in another win over Oakland.

Wakefield started his Red Sox career 4-0 with a 0.54 ERA. He ended up being the biggest reason the 1995 Red Sox won the AL East (the last time they’d do so until 2007), finishing 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA. None of the team’s other starters had an ERA under 4.00.

The 45-year-old Wakefield announced his retirement Friday after 19 seasons, the last 17 coming with the Red Sox. Depending on how one wants to look at it, he was the active leader in victories with 200 (Jamie Moyer, who is trying to make a comeback after missing all of 2011, does have more).

It’s true that Wakefield was never again great after 1995. He had a sub-3.00 ERA once more, but that was in a 2002 season in which he made 15 starts and 30 relief appearances. He finished his Red Sox career with a 4.43 ERA in 430 starts and 160 relief appearances. He actually had a better ERA in his two early years with the Pirates.

But Wakefield was a rock, one always willing to do what was asked. He saved 15 games for the club in 1999. That was the first of four straight years in which he never really knew his role. Restored to the rotation on a full-time basis in 2003, he went on to win 63 games over the next five seasons. His ERA was always over 4.00, but that was nothing to be ashamed of during the era. His weakest ERA+ during those years was 100, so he was always a slightly above average starter.

While Wakefield’s numbers are a testament to longevity, his durability and consistency — even with the game’s most inconsistent pitch — played a big role in the team’s ability to contend for postseason berths every year (it also helped a bit that he was always willing to take less money from the Red Sox; Wakefield never earned even $5 million in a season). Wakefield ended up third on Boston’s all-time wins list at 186 and second with 2,046 strikeouts.

Obviously, Wakefield is far from a Hall of Famer. But as a person, he rates right up there. His charity work earned him the Roberto Clemente Award from MLB in 2010.

It used to be that the Red Sox would only retire the numbers of Hall of Famers, but they broke away from that in putting Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 on the wall in 2008. Wakefield’s No. 49 should join it at some point within the next  few years. 17 years of service warrants it.

  1. buffalomafia - Feb 17, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    Salute’ to a Buffalo Bison!

  2. canowack - Feb 17, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    I’m going to miss you soooo much on the field Wake! Your legacy will live on in Boston!

  3. Detroit Michael - Feb 17, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    Uniform number retiring de facto standards are so inconsistent from team to team that one can’t really argue the issue.

  4. florida76 - Feb 17, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    Tim Wakefield was a very good pitcher for a long time, but that doesn’t make him a legend. 17 years of service is impressive, but unlike Pesky, Wakefield wasn’t an everyday player. Regardless of which team you root for, I don’t think we shouldn’t water down the process of retired numbers. Wakefield never won 20 games in a single season his entire Boston career. How often was he considered the ace of the staff?

    • ikedavisnose - Feb 17, 2012 at 2:25 PM

      oww your just upset you couldnt have an awesome knuckleballer on your team like Wake or now RA Dickey………………………. BTW Dickey should teach Parnell the knuckler imagine goin from 70 mph to 101 mph he would be the best pitcher ever

    • Bryz - Feb 17, 2012 at 2:31 PM

      A team can retire a number for whatever reasons they want. Yes, there should be some high standards, but as far as I’m concerned, Wakefield is deserving of having his number retired.

      Who cares if he wasn’t “great”? He lasted 17 years with the same damn team! Octavio Dotel has played on 12 different teams in his career. Sticking around that long with a single team is an accomplishment in itself, and while Wakefield wasn’t great, he was, as Matthew said, above average for most of his career.

      • cur68 - Feb 17, 2012 at 3:19 PM

        And had enough great moments, where he was the team’s most reliable pitcher & its most resilient starter, to warrant the number retirement. Having the tools to be an MLB pitcher for 19 years is such a singular feat that the fact that he did almost all of that with a single team makes him worthy of the honor.

    • kwa1430 - Feb 17, 2012 at 3:27 PM

      florida76…while he was never the ace of the staff or won 20 games, he was an important part of the Red Sox both on and off the field. His actions off the field transcend the game. He was very involved in the Jimmy Fund and another local hospitals and was nominated seven times before finally winning the Clemente award. Add in the fact he took considerable less money over a long time to stay with the Red Sox means they were able to add potential aces and players on the field.

      Also, stop comparing pitchers with fielders. Based on your logic, no pitcher should have their number retired. It’s a stupid argument.

      Finally, if they choose to retire his number, it will not water down the process. How many players who have had their number retired have given so much back?

      • florida76 - Feb 17, 2012 at 3:49 PM

        kwa1430, please read my post again, I was comparing Wakefield to Pesky. Teams should think carefully before retiring numbers, and while off field actions are important, Wakefield just didn’t do enough to earn the honor. The Red Sox aren’t the Mariners, they have a storied history, so it stands to reason they would have higher standards. Wakefield did have some excellent seasons with Boston across his long career, but needed more.

        Does Jim Kaat have his number retired? At least Kaat won 20. Everyone just needs a little perspective, Wakefield should be recognized, you don’t need to go overboard here.

  5. kraken887 - Feb 17, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    Tim Wakefield was a steady performer for the Sox. He was a pleasure to watch. Honor him for his nineteen years and give him his special day at Fenway with the retirement of his number.
    Great job, Tim.
    PS. The Yankees suck.

    • florida76 - Feb 17, 2012 at 3:50 PM

      When did being a steady performer become the gold standard for having a number retired?

      • wendell7 - Feb 17, 2012 at 4:01 PM

        Tim Wakefield was so much more than just a steady performer for the Red Sox over the last 17 seasons. If you don’t think that he at least deserves favorable consideration to have his number retired with the ball club, then you know jack-squat about Tim Wakefield.

      • jimeejohnson - Feb 17, 2012 at 7:36 PM

        When a guy named Lou Gehrig played.

  6. mtm1321 - Feb 17, 2012 at 6:45 PM

    Tim thanks for the memories. You did a helluva job, helluva job. You will be missed.

  7. jimeejohnson - Feb 17, 2012 at 7:38 PM

    He’s a humanitarian with a knuckleball. Good luck to you, Tim.

  8. micker716 - Feb 17, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    So, great guy, average pitcher, but a rock – always ready to do what he was asked. Good enough for me, go ahead retire his number, put him in the Hall of Fame, too.

    • aceshigh11 - Feb 17, 2012 at 11:11 PM

      Pretty much sums it up for me. I’m going to miss him.

  9. rondibjwu - Feb 18, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    What’s the love fest with Wake. He’s been terrible since ’03. It’s about time he’s gone and Tek needs to follow the same path to retirement.

  10. johninpa - Feb 18, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    Wakefield was a rare exception to the overpaid prima donnas we see and hear so much of these days. He did whatever his coach asked of him – start, relief or close. No complaints, no scenes with the media, no over-hyped contact demands. He played the game and gave it his all – the way it is meant to be played. His positive attitude continued off the field with his community service. Every young player should strive to develop the work ethic and attitude Wakefield displayed through his long career.

  11. contraryguy - Feb 18, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    The only knuckleballer since Charlie Hough worth watching. Glad my favorite team didn’t have to face him much. As far as the retired number, why not let the local fans decide?

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