I had to take a few minutes to acknowledge today’s news that Tim Wakefield is retiring after 19 years in Major League Baseball, 17 of them with the Red Sox, at the age of 45. Wakefield never set the world afire with his pitching, but there are few athletes more loved by Boston fans.
He was never flashy. He threw the knuckleball, an oddity even before the age of sabermetrics and precise conditioning. He made the All-Star team once, in 2009. He never dazzled, but his remarkable consistency has put him third on the Red Sox all-time win list (186), behind only Roger Clemens and Cy Young; second in games (590); and first in innings (3006) and starts (430).
Wakefield was knocked out of the starting rotation time and again to make way for hot rookies or flashy trades. He started, he pitched long relief, he closed (22 saves). No matter what his role, he showed up, behaved professionally, and did whatever the team needed him to do. It must have stung, being the odd man over and over again, and you could almost feel the disappointment on him sometimes, but he always set his ego aside and kept any hard feelings to himself.
In the community, he has quietly and consistently done more charity work than anyone, working primarily with children’s charities including Pitching in for Kids, Touch ‘Em All, and the Franciscan Children’s Hospital, among numerous others. He would bring patients to Fenway Park to catch a game and always took the time to meet with them; he runs a celebrity golf tournament every year; and he won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2010 after eight nominations.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so impressive – he showed up every day, he did his job, he didn’t make it about him, he gave back to the community – but in modern professional sports, Tim Wakefield was one in a million.
All the best, Wake. Don’t be a stranger.