Thanking Tim, While Being Reminded of Reality
Tim Wakefield announced his retirement Friday at the Red Sox Spring Training complex in Fort Myers.
Wakefield has had an excellent career, and he has made an identifiable mark on the Red Sox record books. I’m not going to spend a ton of time rehashing the milestones that Wakefield has reached during his memorable 17-year haul with the Sox.
If you still need a breakdown of Wakefield’s statistical accomplishments throughout his career, I’d start here.
If you need a bit more context, I suggest clicking here.
Wakefield will always be looked upon fondly by fans in New England because he spent the best part of two decades wearing a Red Sox uniform. To say that that is rare would be a huge understatement. He was a part of two World Series teams. There are not many people that can say that they own two WS rings with the Red Sox logo on them. He was never even close to being the most talented player on any Red Sox squad. At the same time, there are no ugly contract disputes or off the field blemishes that can sully Wake’s reputation in these parts. Fans are drawn to Wakefield because many see themselves in the 45 year old knuckleball pitcher. He was never paid much money, relatively speaking of course. Number 49 was never flashy. He was more blue collar than anything. He looks like a guy that could be behind you in line at Dunkin Donuts, ready to purchase a medium coffee, black. Simply speaking, as a fan, you can easily identify with Wake. He hunts, he fishes, he goes to work, does what he’s asked, and goes home to his family. Clearly, plenty of Wakefield jerseys have been sold over the years.
All of the praise that Wakefield has received over the course of the past few days is well-earned. His performance on the diamond has, at times, been magnificent. His longevity and perseverance will forever go unquestioned. The charitable work that Wake has done without the presence of cameras simply adds a shine his already-pristine reputation. I have to imagine that he will be seamlessly inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Now that we have wiped up our drool, let’s check back in with reality. Wakefield’s decision to retire is mutually beneficial. By not accepting a minor league, non-guaranteed offer, Wakefield cemented his legacy and went out on his terms. It’s a dignifying choice. On the other hand, GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox did the right thing. A reluctant invite to Fort Myers that included no guarantees essentially told Wakefield that you’re not welcome back this season. Kudos to Cherington for making a good, objective baseball decision despite the fact that it may upset many fans. It’s not like the 2012 Red Sox can be absorbing public relations hits on the regular. As a Red Sox fan, you should be encouraged by the decision to not bring Wakefield back on a one-year guaranteed contract. The fact that the team, for all intents and purposes, cut ties with Wakefield shows that baseball still matters more than selling merchandise to the crew on 4 Yawkey Way. Wake could have netted seven wins in 2012, giving him the most victories in franchise history. Safe to say that a few t-shirts would have been sold. Would I have liked to see Wakefield pitch one more summer and vault above Roger Clemens and his 192 wins as a Red Sox? Absolutely. But I know that his time had come and leaving this team was necessary.
I’m sick of personal catchers. I’m tired of giving up walks, past balls, and uncontested stolen bases. Wakefield’s departure certainly does not solve all of these issues, but it doesn’t hurt. This Red Sox team, more than ever, needs a heavy dose of the basics, a strict diet of fundamentals. I don’t care if it is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Lavarnway, or even Gary Tuck behind the plate–it shouldn’t matter. Get on the mound, throw strikes, and execute your pitches. Make it difficult for opposing lineups to push across runs. When Wake toed the rubber, you knew that the Red Sox offense could not be off of their game. It’s safe to say that Wakefield was never a contender to lead the league in WHIP. Guys like Wakefield are valuable. They are durable and largely selfless. However, due to his trademark pitch, Wakefield was not the most economical player to have on a roster. In order for him to be on the mound, Wake needed a guy behind the plate who could consistently corral his pitch. When you think about it, what else is Doug Mirabelli really known for? For 17 seasons, in one capacity or another, the Red Sox needed Wakefield. This year, Wakefield needed the Red Sox more than they needed him. It was time to go.
Fans will debate whether or not the 2012 Boston Red Sox could have used Wake. The one thing, however, that cannot be argued was best summed up by Wakefield on Friday.
“Whatever I was asked to do, I always had my spikes on and was ready to go.”