Former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has died at the age of 57. Tim Wakefield, the knuckleballing workhorse of the Red Sox pitching staff who returned after surrendering a season-ending home run to the Yankees in the 2003 postseason to help Boston win the World Series the following season, has passed away. He was 57 years old.
Sunday, the Red Sox announced his passing in a statement. Wakefield had brain cancer, according to former teammate Curt Schilling, who revealed the diagnosis in a podcast without Wakefield’s permission last week. At the time, the Red Sox confirmed Wakefield’s illness but did not elucidate, citing his request for privacy.
“Being an outstanding athlete is one thing; being an extraordinary human being is another. Tom Werner, chairman of the Red Sox, said in the team’s statement that Tim was both. I am confident that his presence has improved the globe.
Sunday, Red Sox manager and former teammate Alex Cora stated, “We have lost a brother, a teammate, and a family member.” One of the most valuable colleagues I’ve ever had… Tim Wakefield wore his jersey with more pride than any other player I played with.
Wakefield, drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a first baseman who set college home run records, converted to a pitcher after perfecting the knuckleball in the minor leagues after learning it from his father as a child.
Wakefield in 2011 that he learned the pitch as a child from his father, Steve, when the two of them would play catch in the backyard at home in Melbourne, Florida.
“It was something that essentially wore me out,” Wakefield stated then.
He won 200 games in the major leagues, including 186 with the Boston Red Sox, placing him third in franchise history, behind only Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who used the same pitch.
Wakefield won the Roberto Clemente Award for sportsmanship and community service in 2010 and was nominated seven other times by the Red Sox. He was the Red Sox Foundation’s honorary chairman and the team’s first Jimmy Fund captain, visiting patients and raising funds for the pediatric cancer charity.
The Pirates stated, “He was a great man who will be greatly missed.”
But Wakefield’s participation in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry of the early 2000s made him a fan darling whose impact was far more significant than his numbers.
After New York rallied to tie Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, Wakefield entered the game in relief. Aaron Boone hit a walk-off home run on Wakefield’s first pitch to terminate Boston’s season and extend its World Series drought to 1918.
Wakefield remarked at the time, “I just became Bill Buckner.”
Wakefield recorded nine outs in extra innings of Game 5 of the ALCS against the Yankees the following October, paving the way for David Ortiz to win the game in the 14th. The Red Sox completed their turnaround from a 3-0 deficit in the series and then swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first championship in 86 years.
In 2007, the Red Sox and Wakefield again won the World Series.
Ortiz posted on social media, “I cannot express what you mean to me and my family.” “Right now, my heart is broken because I can never replace a sibling and friend like you….”May you rest in peace, brother,”
Terry Francona, who led the Boston Red Sox to two championships, was in Detroit planning his retirement party when he heard about Wakefield. “It’s as if I were kicked in the stomach,” said Francona.
Boone, now the manager of the Yankees, also expressed his heartbreak.
Oh, sir! He stated, “My heart goes out to their family.” “My thoughts to the entire Red Sox organization and the entire baseball community, where Tim was adored. A sad day.”
Wakefield was the second-eldest player (Satchel Paige was the oldest) to be selected to his first Midsummer Classic. In 2009, he was 11-3 and was the second-oldest player to be assigned to his first All-Star Game. Wakefield was the oldest player in baseball at 45 when he earned his 200th victory in September 2011, retiring the final six batters he faced.
Seven victories short of Clemens and Young’s franchise record, he proclaimed his retirement during the following spring training.
Wakefield stated, “I’m still a competitor, but ultimately, I believe this is best for the Red Sox.” “I believe this is best for my family. And to be completely transparent, seven victories will not make me a different person or a better man. Therefore, my family requires me at home.”
Wakefield, selected in the eighth round of the 1988 draft, converted from first baseman to pitcher two years later to revive his prospects of reaching the major leagues. Midway through the 1992 season, he was promoted and went 8-1, finishing third in National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Wakefield wrote in his autobiography, “Knuckler: My Life with Baseball’s Most Confounding Pitch,” that he was dismayed that the Pirates gave up on him as a hitter so quickly. “But then, they told me, ‘You’re going to pitch or you’re going home.’ So I said, ‘OK, I’ll pitch.'”
He pitched two complete games in the NLCS, including one that kept Pittsburgh alive in Game 6. He was voted the series MVP late in Game 7 before the Atlanta Braves won on a single by Francisco Cabrera with two outs in the ninth inning.
“[Wakefield] made his big league debut in 1992 and was a key addition to the pitching staff that helped propel the team to its third consecutive Postseason appearance,” the Pirates said. “Off the field, Tim was always committed to making a difference in the Pittsburgh community. He was an outstanding individual who will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family during this time of difficulty.
In his second season in Pittsburgh, Wakefield went 6-11 with a 5.50 ERA, failing to recapture his previous success. Six days later, he was signed by the Red Sox after the Pirates released him after another journey through the minors.
Wakefield maintained his dominance, beginning in 1995 with a 14-1 record and concluding with a 16-8 record and a 2.50 ERA. After 17 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, he retired as the franchise leader in innings pitched (3,006) and starts (430), as well as second in games and strikeouts.
He compiled a 200-180 record with a 4.41 ERA, 2,156 strikeouts, and 1,205 walks in 3,226 2/3 innings pitched across 627 appearances (463 starts).
Carl Yastrzemski (23), Ted Williams (19), and Dwight Evans are the only three Red Sox players with longer tenures. His 186 wins as a pitcher for the Red Sox rates second in franchise history only to Roger Clemens (192).
Wakefield’s nature as a knuckleballer explains why he ranks first in franchise history for home runs allowed, hits allowed, walks, wild pitches, batters hit by a pitch, earned runs, losses, and hits allowed.
“Tim was more than just a versatile and reliable All-Star pitcher, a highly respected teammate, and a two-time World Series champion,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, citing “the dedicated work he and his family did serving the communities of New England.”
2016 marked Wakefield’s induction into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
“I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to wear this uniform for as long as I have and that I’ve reached a milestone I thought I’d never reach, just… very grateful,” Wakefield said in 2011 after his 200th victory.
Wakefield was nominated eight times for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to a baseball player for exemplary sportsmanship and community service, and was the 2010 recipient. The Jimmy Fund’s Chief Philanthropy Officer, Melany Duval, stated that Wakefield was a frequent visitor to the adult and pediatric cancer floors and met with teen patients during their annual spring training excursion.
“Tim Wakefield was a respected competitor, a generous soul, and a beloved member of the baseball community for more than three decades as a player and broadcaster,” said MLB Players Association President Tony Clark, a colleague of Wakefield’s with the Red Sox in 2002. “The MLBPA and the baseball community mourn his passing.”
Wakefield is survived by his wife, Stacy, and their children, Trevor and Brianna, battling illness.