Even this late in the game (pun intended), we’ve got more goodbyes to say. This time, we’ve got to say goodbye to someone who’s been there for most of everything that’s happened in our most recent baseball memory: Tim Wakefield, who retired on Friday at Spring Training. Here’s the tribute.
Obviously I’m one of the world’s biggest sabermetrics fans, but even with sabermetrics, it’s hard to determine how a signing will turn out, and of course it was even harder to do so before baseball professionals saw its light. After what Wake has given us, it’s hard to believe that we picked him up in 1995 after he was released from a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted him in 1988 as a first baseman, if you can believe it. At the time, the signing was a low-risk move, and I doubt that anyone had the foresight to predict what would happen next.
In 1995, his first season with us, he won all but one of his decisions, and thus began one of the best relationships between a pitcher and a team in a long, long time. He’s played all but two of his Major League seasons with us; his career spans nineteen years old, and he retires at the age of forty-five. It’s hard to come by anyone else who embodies the term “veteran” so completely. He has started 463 games and pitched in 627. He has hurled 3,226.2 innings. Those start and inning totals are the highest of any pitcher in club history. He finishes his career with a 4.41 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP, and finally, both literally and figuratively as we all know, two hundred wins. His two hundredth win was the last game he will ever have played: September 13, 2011 at home. His 186 wins in a Boston uniform leave him seven shy of breaking the club record, currently held by both Roger Clemens and Cy Young.
But that’s what’s special about a guy like Wake. He, like Mike Lowell, is the utmost of class and professionalism. Seven wins and breaking the record mattered less to him than bowing out gracefully when his time had come. To me, that demonstrates a heightened sense of self-awareness and self-security with what he accomplished. He feels happy about what he’s done and who he has become; for him, baseball was both a game and a career. And I think the club handled this one wisely. The front office didn’t offer him a contract but also wouldn’t allow a pitcher of his standing and status to compete for a spot during Spring Training like some untested kid. More than that, he was as active off the field as he was on the field. On the field, his skills were always apparent; even on his bad days, you know the next time out he’d have a good day. His knuckleball was second to none; he was a specialist to the utmost and executed his pitch as surgically as he could possibly have executed it (which doesn’t say much, since most of the mechanics of the knuckleball must be left up to chance, but still, if anyone could execute it surgically, he could). He was a competitor, a leader, and a rock who always did what was best for the team, including moving to the bullpen when it became clear that the sun had set on his role as a regular starter. And he took that in stride, and it says something that that was his attitude under five different managers. His dependability and versatility in terms of his role made him absolutely invaluable throughout even the last moments of his career, and it’s rare to be able to make that statement. It’s unclear whether anybody else in his position would have been able to do the same. He was also a rock in the clubhouse who, at all times, exhibited sportsmanship, leadership, and friendship, but he was also a fixture in charity work in the Boston area and made a real difference in the lives of the less fortunate. Nobody deserved the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award more than he did.
And of course we can’t forget what he gave to this city in October. One of the lowest points of my entire baseball life was Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS when Wake gave up the you-know-what to you-know-who. But he bounced all the way back during the following season and, as we know, carried that momentum right through to the finish. We were losing Game Three of the 2004 ALCS, but if Wake hadn’t sacrificed his start during the following game by volunteering to take the mound in relief in order to preserve the bullpen, who knows what would have happened? We might still be without a championship, for all we know. And that right there, that nondescript simple act in which there was nothing for Wake himself, exemplified what kind of a teammate and a man he really was. Then of course those three shutout innings he delivered in Game Five were simply crucial; he won that fourteen-inning epic saga of a contest as a result. And when we won the World Series three years later, Wake had himself seventeen wins that season and became an All-Star for the first time two years after that.
Throughout his career, it was always apparent that he loved it here, and this was where he was meant to play. And he knew it and enjoyed every minute of it. I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that, even though he had his fair share of doozies, we were behind him every step of the way. Even when he was losing, you could always tell that he was trying and that he was just as disappointed in himself as we were in him. He was a real ballplayer in every sense of the world, and he was with us every step of the way. It was here that he started his success and here that he always wanted to finish it:
I just think the time is now. I never wanted to pitch for another team. I always said that I wanted to retire a Red Sox, and today I’m able to do that.
Rare indeed in this day and age of the game is the ballplayer who possesses any sort of special attachment to a particular team that is so deep that he’ll make a statement like this. So here’s to you, Wake. We doff our caps to you like you’ve done to us so many times over the years. Here’s to the elation and grief that your knuckleball has caused, and here’s to what you’ve accomplished over the many years of your venerable career. Here’s to the fact that you were happiest when you were playing here, in this city, for us. We’ll never forget what you’ve done for us and for your team. You’ll most certainly be missed, but the strength of your character shows even in the manner of your retirement. So here’s to you. Congratulations!
Wow. Talk about close calls. That, my friends, was a close call. That was a really close call. Hours before the arbitration hearing was scheduled to take place on Monday, Papi signed a one-year deal worth $14.575 million. That figure is halfway between what he wanted and what we originally offered, and it’s still a raise up from the $12.5 million he earned last season. And it’s still the highest salary ever intended for a DH. It’s a fair deal. He gets a raise, and we maintain our flexibility. Plus, anytime you avoid arbitration, it’s automatically a win-win. We avoided the mudslinging that was sure to come from both sides and, as Ben said, it’s better in the long run to have just resolved it. The no-arbitration streak continues since 2002.
Beckett and Buchholz have reported; today is officially Pitchers and Catchers. As is the case with any good, dedicated team that expects itself to vie seriously for a title, by the time Pitchers and Catchers has rolled around, most of the pitchers and catchers are already down there. For everyone who’s down there, this year’s Spring Training is going to be a bucket of cold water. Bobby V. is a demanding guy who doesn’t take no for an answer. His regimens are strict. He wants to lengthen some games and add others to the schedule. It could be what the team needs, or it could be badness. As always with the changes expected of Bobby V., we’ll see.
Crawford is expected to miss the first few weeks of the regular season as his recovery from wrist surgery continues.
In other news, the B’s lost to the Rangers and Jets but squeaked by the Habs in a 4-3 close one.
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