The Boston Red Sox announced the passing yesterday of retired MLB pitcher and former Pittsburgh Pirate Tim Wakefield. Wakefield was a beloved staple of the sport for decades, retiring in the spring of 2012 with 200 career wins and 3226.1 innings pitched, 68th most in the live ball era and 83rd most since 1900.
A member of a now very rare breed of pitcher, the knuckleballer, Wakefield was a struggling infielder when Pirates coaches noticed him fooling around with the pitch and suggested he try his hand more seriously at it and he never looked back.
Making his MLB debut in 1992, he went 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA and threw 4 complete games in 13 starts, finishing third in rookie of the year voting. He was famously going to be the MVP of the NLCS after pitching two complete games in the series before the Atlanta Braves walked off the Pirates in Game 7.
Former teammate Bob Walk spoke on Wakefield’s 1992 season on 93.7 The Fan’s postgame show after the game yesterday:
“I wanted another shot at the playoffs, I knew I wasn’t gonna be around much longer... we don’t get another shot if he wasn’t there.”
He was named the Opening Day starter in 1993 but struggled that season. He didn’t pitch at all in MLB in 1994 and in 1995 he was released by the Pirates. He signed with the Red Sox and played in his first of 17 consecutive seasons in Boston, going 16-8 and finishing third in Cy Young voting. Going on to become a two-time World Series champion.
He was always the consummate professional and was willing to step in and bite the bullet at a moment's notice.
“He was always ready to help out. Any time were we short on pitching, he’d come find me and he’d say, ‘I got my spikes on.’” said former manager Terry Francona in 2012.
He embraced many roles on the field over the course of his career, starting pitcher, reliever, long man and closer but the role he held off of it remained consistent, that of a good human being and a kind man.
He was heavily involved with the Jimmy Fund, a Massachusetts based charity that benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer institute, both during his days as an active player and into retirement. Spending time with both adult and pediatric patients and hosting countless fundraising events to raise money for research.
The Jimmy fund saying in a statement yesterday that Wakefield was “selfless in his dedication” and “always went the extra mile”.
In 2007 he launched a wine called CaberKnuckle with one hundred percent of the proceeds benefiting Pitching in for Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing specifically earmarked grants designed to improve the lives of children across the New England region, raising 100,000 dollars for the charity.
Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner had this to say on the loss.
“It’s one thing to be an outstanding athlete; it’s another to be an extraordinary human being. Tim was both. He was a role model on and off the field, giving endlessly to the Red Sox Foundation and being a force for good for everyone he encountered. I felt fortunate to call him a close friend.”
Former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle paid tribute on his X (Twitter) page,
The best guy you could want to be your friend. The Baseball player was a great teammate and competitor. Another true Ambassador of our game. The husband, father and friend cannot be replaced. He cared and he loved. Thx for your friendship Tim. Love Clint ✝️ pic.twitter.com/FaGH3HdXsf— Clinton M Hurdle (@ClintHurdle13) October 1, 2023
Several weeks ago, he began to have problems with his vision which spurred him to get checked out, where he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer and shortly after had surgery to remove part of the tumor.
The news of his death comes just days after his illness became public knowledge, the Wakefields had intended to keep the matter out of the public eye.
The Pirates and the Red Sox released the following statements;
Our hearts are broken with the loss of Tim Wakefield.— Red Sox (@RedSox) October 1, 2023
Wake embodied true goodness; a devoted husband, father, and teammate, beloved broadcaster, and the ultimate community leader. He gave so much to the game and all of Red Sox Nation.
Our deepest love and thoughts are with… pic.twitter.com/ah5kV2Yt8j
We are saddened by the loss of Tim Wakefield.— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) October 1, 2023
Tim began his Major League career with the Pirates and was a part of our baseball family for six years. He made his debut in 1992 and was a key addition to the pitching staff that helped propel the team to its third consecutive… pic.twitter.com/171nTWEyhC
Wakefield was nominated eight different times for the Roberto Clemente award and was its recipient in 2010.
One of the good ones, Tim Wakefield was 57.