Tim Wakefield, a beloved figure in the world of baseball, has tragically passed away at the age of 57. For many, Tim Wakefield was more than just a player; he was a source of inspiration and a symbol of resilience. While he may not have been the most celebrated player in the game, he was undoubtedly one of the most relatable and endearing.
What set Wakefield apart was his extraordinary knuckleball, a pitch that seemed to defy the laws of physics and make the art of pitching appear deceptively simple. His journey through the world of baseball reads like a story straight out of a fiction novel, but every twist and turn was a reality. It is heartbreaking that his remarkable story had to conclude with such a tragic ending.
In the early stages of his baseball career, Wakefield was a first baseman in the minor leagues, batting a modest .189 in his inaugural season in 1988. His future in the sport was hanging in the balance, and he faced the possibility of being cut from the team. It was at this critical juncture that he proposed trying out the knuckleball, a pitch he had always been toying with. His request was granted, and he got the opportunity to pitch in 18 games as a pitcher during the next season in low A ball—a chance that changed the course of his life. While he wasn’t exceptional, he showed promise.
Wakefield dedicated five seasons to perfecting the art of the knuckleball in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut at the age of 25 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His performance was so remarkable that the Pirates couldn’t overlook this unique talent any longer. His call-up on July 31st marked the beginning of an incredible journey. During that season, he went 8-1 with a remarkable 2.15 ERA, leading the Pirates to the National League Championship Series (NLCS). In the playoffs, he threw two complete-game wins, although the Pirates would eventually lose the series to the Braves.
However, what truly endeared Tim Wakefield to fans was not just his on-field accomplishments, but his ability to rebound from setbacks. In 1993, he struggled, and the Pirates, who had recently lost star player Barry Bonds to free agency, were relying heavily on Wakefield. Unfortunately, he couldn’t replicate his earlier success, and he didn’t even make it to the major leagues in 1994. But he refused to give up. He persevered, seeking guidance from knuckleball legends like Phil and Joe Niekro. He put in the work, and then some more.
At the age of 28, Wakefield found a new home with the Boston Red Sox, where he would etch his name in the team’s history books. He became the all-time team leader in innings pitched and ranks third all-time in wins, trailing only Cy Young and Roger Clemens. In fact, during the 2004 season, no Red Sox pitcher had more wins in franchise history than Tim Wakefield. He demonstrated the ultimate act of selflessness during the 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS) when, in the midst of a 19-8 defeat to the Yankees in Game 3, he offered to give up his start the next day to preserve the bullpen. It was a testament to his dedication to the greater good of the team over personal glory—an example we can all aspire to emulate in our daily lives.
Tim Wakefield’s journey was not without its challenges. He faced ups and downs, including being shuffled in and out of the rotation from 1999 to 2001, and even briefly served as the team’s closer in 1999. Through it all, he remained unwavering in his commitment and continued to be a stellar teammate.
Beyond his contributions on the field, Wakefield was known for his generosity. He was actively involved with the Jimmy Fund, offering support to sick children and their families. He understood that cancer is a battle that affects not only the individual but the entire family. Tragically, it was cancer that ultimately claimed his own life, underscoring the importance of continuing the fight against this devastating disease.
I never had the privilege of meeting Tim Wakefield in person; my admiration for him was based solely on his performances on the baseball diamond. However, that admiration was genuine, and it led me to name my dog after him. It wasn’t because he was the best pitcher; it was because he exemplified the qualities of a remarkable person who also happened to be a pitcher. His life journey serves as an inspiration to us all.
Tim Wakefield’s legacy reminds us to be great teammates, to show kindness, to be charitable, and to approach our work with dedication and determination. Even on the days when we may falter, his story teaches us that we can still find success tomorrow.
In bidding farewell to Tim Wakefield, we say, “Godspeed.” His memory will live on, not only in the annals of baseball history but also in the hearts of those who admired his character and his extraordinary journey.