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Before Boston ended its precipitous fall in epically disastrous fashion, Tim Wakefield made the surprise declaration that he wanted to return for another year with the Red Sox. “I’ve definitely made up my mind that I definitely want to come back next year,” Wakefield said. Definitely a definitive answer.
With the season now officially over, the Red Sox have a decision to make: at 45 years old, will Tim Wakefield still be able to make a difference in the rotation? Is he worth bringing back for the 2012 season?
Maybe I’m just entranced by the magic of his knuckleball dancing in slow-motion, but I think Wake’s past contributions alone warrant him a roster spot for next year. In 1995, when he joined the Red Sox, Wakefield came in third in the Cy Young voting that year with a 16-8 record, 6 (six!) complete games, a 2.95 ERA, and 119 strikeouts in 195.1 innings. While it didn’t earn him the Cy Young (like Zack Greinke in 2009), it did give him AL Comeback Player of the Year honors. To take a more recent example, he was an All-Star just two years ago. As a knuckleballer, Wakefield isn’t much affected by the workings of Father Time; it’s not like his 75 mile per hour fastball can get any slower. Who’s to say he can’t regain that form, or at least come close to resembling his 2009 self?
Beyond stats, though, he has always been there for the Red Sox, through thick and thin, no matter what. He has been a stalwart taking on not whatever role best suited his talents and his interests, but filling whatever hole appeared in the Red Sox pitching staff. Wake alternated between back-end starting pitcher, long relief man, mop up duty, and extra inning savior. Heck, Wake even closed for Boston in 1999, recording 15 saves that season before Derek Lowe took over. That’s legendary stuff.
I understand why some Red Sox fans may be ready to move on from the Tim Wakefield Era. His 2011 numbers were not some of the most impressive – a losing record (7-8), a 5.12 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP, and 25 home runs given up. But where would the team have been without him? Wakefield ate up 154.2 innings and pitched about as well as Red Sox fans could demand (within the realms of reason and reality – not our strong suit, to be honest). If not Wakefield, who else could have filled the multiple voids created by a devastating myriad of injuries? Even during the stretch where he lost 3 games in 8 attempts trying to get his 200th win, he pitched reasonably well and was in line for the win in at least 3 of those games before the bullpen coughed it up. Sure, he was no vintage Pedro Martinez circa 1999-2000 (who could be, really?). But he was no Kyle Weiland either (thank God).
It comes down to an exercise in managing expectations – fans want Wakefield to put up zeros in every inning like he’s some sort of ace, when really he’s a back-end-of-the-rotation starter whose only responsibility is to pitch deep into games and keep the game close enough so the team has a chance to win. Wakefield even admitted as much:
“My job, as fourth or fifth starter, is to give the club innings and get us in position to win a game. I’ve never claimed to be an ace of the staff. I’ve always wanted to be that anchor. With the knuckleball, over my 18-year career, it’s been innings pitched. I feel like I’ve done that.’
I feel that way, too, Tim. And in a season that proved there is no such thing as too many starting pitching alternatives, every other Red Sox fan should recognize just how important Wakefield was this past season, and will be moving forward.
Okay, I’ll come clean. None of those statistics or logical reasoning really has anything to do with why I want Tim Wakefield to return in 2012. The real reason I want Wakefield back with the Red Sox? I desperately want to see Wakefield chase the record for the most career wins as a member of the Red Sox. As Wake put it…
“I have another goal in front of me that I’d like to accomplish, and that’s the all-time record for the Red Sox in wins. I’m only seven away. I think the fans deserve an opportunity to watch me chase that record.”
Not only do the fans deserve it, but Wakefield deserves the opportunity to chase that record, too. Wake is a classy, upstanding player (he won the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award for outstanding community service). Just like Mariano Rivera was honored after his record 602nd save, I want nothing more than to see the standing ovation Wakefield would receive at Fenway Park when he reaches that incredible milestone.
But perhaps more importantly than the record itself, I want him to take down the man who holds that record for wins. I want Wakefield to wipe Roger “The Filthy Traitor” Clemens from the Red Sox record books. It’s not enough that Clemens has been denounced as a cheater in baseball and disgraced as a liar in court. I want him to be denied from the Red Sox record books, too. That’s where Tim Wakefield comes in. He’s the only one who can make Clemens’s humiliation complete!
And if you’re a Red Sox fan and that doesn’t make you want to bring Wakefield back for another year, then you might as well go ahead and root for the Yankees.