The Eve of Improbability

A fantastic story in today's Globe about Tim Wakefield*, who likely will appear in his first-ever All-Star Game tomorrow night.

In 1995, when Wakefield was tearing through AL hitters, such stories were common. Seemingly every newspaper covering the Sox (and that number was much larger than it is today) ran at least one full-scale story about the knuckleballer and his pitch. Wakefield went 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA in his first 17 starts that season. He allowed 139 baserunners in 131 innings. He allowed zero or one earned run 10 times. Only four times did he post a game score below 60. The crowning game was June 4, when he threw all 10 innings in a 2-1 Boston win, with the one run unearned.

Fourteen years later, Wakefield has been largely taken for granted. He's never approached such a long streak of dominance, though he's certainly had his moments. He's simply done everything the Sox have asked of him, and been one of the most consistently good starters in baseball over that time. He's getting his due in what is probably the twilight of his career, to borrow a notorious phrase. It couldn't happen to a better guy.

* with bonus quotes from the manager of our local independent-league baseball team.
8 comments… add one
  • i don’t know anybody that doesn’t like wakefield, though i know plenty of sox fans that get nervous when he pitches…i’m glad he finally made the all star team…while you can probably find plenty of stats that contradict his w/l record, he deserves to go…i prefer not to look at this as a lifetime achievement moment, since that suggests a more deserving [i.e. better first half of season] player is being left out…wakefield’s put his team in position to win 11 of the games he’s pitched, completing 2 of them…not too shabby…i will be rooting for him to do well on tues…for one night anyway he’s on my team…

    dc July 13, 2009, 9:47 am
  • haven’t read he story but i wonder whether his lack of overall celebration is based on his weird contract. because the sox can just resign him up in perpetuity, he never hits the free agent market, never gets the huge offseason buildup of those less-great pitchers who sign big deals, and of course this carries into the regular season. so he basically flies under the radar, even with his excellent numbers and freak pitch.

    YF July 13, 2009, 10:28 am
  • – Love the note about Hoyt to Hough to Wake, regarding the pitch almost like an heirloom and illustrating the longevity of the pitchers who use it.
    – I enjoy Baseball nicknames and frequently lament the dearth of good ones in today’s game, so why am I just now finding out about Wake’s name “The Heavy”? Attention reporters: This is important information!
    – 1995 really was the beginning of the end for the Pirates, wasn’t it? Drop a guy in spring training and watch him rip off 14 wins in 15 starts for the team who got him for free.
    Wakefield’s unusual contract probably contributes to the relative lack of attention he gets, but this is only his fourth year under it. He’s just never had that one epic year to create a stir. His best quality has been an accumulated one, which is harder to make a big deal about.

    FenSheaParkway July 13, 2009, 11:52 am
  • “…he basically flies under the radar…”
    good point yf, but i think some of the lack of attention is partly by circumstance, and partly [his] choice…he’s had a fine career, not hall of fame though, in contention for the cy young award once [3rd in ’95], but power pitching, like power hitting is way more sexy, or so i’m told…he’s probably received the attention, respect, and appreciation he deserves given his career, although i would agree with the argument that he should have made an all star appearance or 2 before this…in addition to that, he’s low key, not a smart-ass, not flamboyant, doesn’t call attention to himself, doesn’t drag himself or his family through off field drama…in short, he’s boring, not the stuff that tickles [most of] the media these days…until paul posted this story, i didn’t realize wakefield was so involved with kids…not that i’m surprised, it makes him that much more admirable…i’d rather read that kind of story than one about who arod’s latest girlfriend is…

    dc July 13, 2009, 11:56 am
  • Yeah dc, Wakefield spends a ton of time at the children’s hospital, and unlike some of the other players he is very quiet about it, not trying to draw attention to his philanthropy. He’s an incredible person, on and off the field. I’m thrilled to see him on the All Star team, even if his numbers (aside from wins) are not the most deserving.

    Atheose July 13, 2009, 12:22 pm
  • Also, for what it’s worth, this is the year the NL wins. And it’s going to be a blowout, like 9-2.

    Atheose July 13, 2009, 2:28 pm
  • i don’t know anybody that doesn’t like wakefield..
    Hands raised. As a pitcher – not a citizen.

    Brad July 13, 2009, 4:47 pm
  • I know some guys who don’t like him in one way: the AL catchers whom Peter Gammons asked about the possibility of catching Wakefield in the ASG:
    4:20 p.m. ET
    I asked Joe Maddon whom he most enjoyed picking for the American League All-Star team. His answer was Tim Wakefield.
    Maddon also said he might have Brandon Inge catch during the All-Star Game. Inge responded to that possibility by saying, “I burned my catcher’s glove last winter. But as Bob Uecker said, ‘The best way to catch [a knuckleball] is to run back to the screen.'”
    When asked whether he would be fine if he gets the chance to catch Wakefield, Victor Martinez didn’t sound all that excited: “I’ll do it, but I’ve never caught [a knuckleball].” Joe Mauer, meanwhile, pretty much echoed Martinez’s words: “I’d rather hit against Wakefield than catch him.”
    –Peter Gammons

    Funny. Whole blog is at http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=4323975&name=allstar_game

    stuck working July 13, 2009, 7:30 pm

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