Tim Wakefield's retirement closes one of the more unique careers in baseball history.
Wakefield was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the eighth round of the 1988 Amateur Draft as a first baseman. Wakefield struggled to develop in the Pirates minor league system and was told at one point that he was unlikely to advance beyond the Double-A level as a position player.
Determined to play big league baseball, Wakefield set about honing a skill he had always had. Wakefield had always been intrigued by the pitch, but it was Woody Huyke the manager of the Gulf Coast Pirates who first noticed that Wakefield's knuckleball had potential and asked him to throw some from the pitching mound.
Huyke liked what he saw and even went to far as to urge Pirates' brass to look at Wakefield as a knuckleball pitcher before releasing him.
As a pitcher Wakefield advanced steadily in the Pirates minor league system and was on the Pirates' major league roster by the middle of the 1992 season. That season the Pirates were one of the National League's best teams, and Wakefield was a key part of that. He went 8-1 in 13 starts with a 2.15 earned run average and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Wakefield did not follow up his rookie season with success and on April 20, 1995 he was released by the Pirates. Wakefield went only six days without a contract, and the Red Sox and general manager Dan Duquette scooped him up on April 26.
Wakefield once again found himself playing a key role in a divisional race. He made 27 starts for the Red Sox in 1995, going 16-8 with an earned run average of 2.95. The Red Sox made the playoffs and Wakefield finished third in the American League Cy Young voting.
To say that Wakefield found a home in Boston would be an understatement.
He would play in Boston for a total of 17 seasons. As of his retirement today. he ceases being the longest-tenured player with a single team in the majors. As a member of the Red Sox, he has the third-most wins in team history behind only Cy Young and Roger Clemens. He is second in all time wins at Fenway Park behind only Roger Clemens and first all time in innings pitched for the Red Sox.
Wakefield's Red Sox career has had its highs and lows. He's started and closed, come out of the bullpen in both short and long relief. Through it all he been a hard working and passionate member of Red Sox teams that advanced to the postseason nine times with two memorable World Series titles.
Wakefield allowed a devastating walk-off home run to Aaron Boone which sent the Red Sox to one of the most painful postseason losses in the team's history. One year later he endured a role as a sacrificial lamb while the Yanks piled on the Red Sox in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS to a 19-8 win. The win gave the Yankees a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead.
The Red Sox would eventually win the series in dramatic fashion. But in the aftermath of the game three blowout manager Terry Francona singled out Wakefield for saving the bullpen from overuse during the 19-8 pounding.
In 2009 Tim Wakefield made his first all star game and at 42 became the oldest major league to make his all star debut since Satchell Paige made the team as a 46-year-old in 1952.
Last season as Wakefield struggled on the field, he still continued to achieve milestones. Wakefield notched his 200th win on September 13th against the Blue Jays.
Wakefield is expected to make a formal announcement from the Red Sox spring training facility this evening at 5 p.m. eastern time.
Wakefield was never the most dominant pitcher but he's been a durable player who Red Sox fans could depend on in almost any role. He was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award eight times and was the winner in 2010. The Clemente Award is given to the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."
That's the type of resume all fans can be proud of, even Yankee fans.
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