- August 2, 1966
- 6' 2"
- 210 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 7-31-1992 with PIT
- Allstar Selections:
- 2010 RC
Wakefield began pitching with the Red Sox in 1995, making him the longest-serving player currently on the team.
At the start of the 2011 season, Wakefield was in third place on the Boston Red Sox career wins list with 183, trailing only Cy Young and Roger Clemens who have 192 each; ranked second in all-time wins at Fenway Park with 95, behind Roger Clemens' 100; and ranked first all-time in innings pitched by a Red Sox pitcher, with 2,881.1, having surpassed Roger Clemens' total of 2,777 on June 8, 2010.
Wakefield has been nominated eight times for the Roberto Clemente Award, winning the award in 2010. He is the first Red Sox player to win the award.
Wakefield was born in Melbourne, Florida on August 2, 1966. He attended Eau Gallie High School and then attended Florida Tech. At Florida Tech, he was named the Panthers team MVP as a first baseman in his sophomore and junior years. He set single season records with 22 home runs and 71 RBI, as well as the career home run record at 40. In 2006, his number 3 was retired by the college.
After a scout told him that he would never get above Double-A ball as a position player with his skills, (he was drafted as a first baseman in 1988 by the Pittsburgh Pirates), Wakefield began developing the knuckleball that has made him so well-known, at the time stating "I just want to be able to say I tried everything I could to make it."
The following season, Wakefield made his professional pitching debut while playing for the Single-A Salem Buccaneers. His immediate success led to a full conversion to pitcher in 1990 when he would lead the Carolina League in starts and innings pitched. Wakefield advanced to Double-A in 1991 and continued to improve, leading all Pirates minor leaguers in wins, innings pitched, and complete games when he went 15–8 with a 5.36 ERA.
In 1992, Wakefield began the season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons of the American Association. He registered a league-high 6 complete games by July 31—winning 10 games with a 3.06 ERA—and was called up to the majors. In his major league debut Wakefield threw a complete game against the St. Louis Cardinals, striking out 10 batters while throwing 146 pitches.
Down the stretch, Wakefield would provide a boost for the playoff-bound Pirates, starting 13 games and compiling an 8–1 record with a 2.15 ERA, a performance that would win him the National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year Award from The Sporting News. After winning the National League East division, the Pirates would face the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. Wakefield won both of his starts against Braves star Tom Glavine, throwing a complete game 5-hitter in Game Three of the NLCS and another complete game in Game Six on three days' rest. With the Pirates leading the Braves in Game Seven, Wakefield was poised to be named NLCS MVP until the Braves rallied for 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth off Stan Belinda.
During the first month of the 1993 season, Wakefield walked nine batters twice and ten in another start. After losing his spot in the starting rotation, Wakefield was sent down to Double-A. He was recalled in September and struggled again, but would finish the season with two straight shutouts.
Wakefield spent most of 1994 with Triple-A Buffalo. He led the league in losses, walks, and home runs allowed. Wakefield was recalled to the Pirates in September but he did not play due to the players strike. The Pirates released Wakefield on April 20, 1995.
Boston Red Sox
Six days after being released from the Pirates, Wakefield was signed by the Boston Red Sox. He worked with Phil and Joe Niekro, two former knuckleballers, who encouraged him to use the knuckleball as an out pitch. In Triple A Pawtucket, Wakefield went 2–1 with a 2.53 ERA.
With the Boston Red Sox rotation struggling from injuries to top of the rotation starters Roger Clemens and Aaron Sele early in the 1995 season, Wakefield was called up from Triple A, and soon proved to be their most dependable starter. He began the season with a 1.65 ERA and a 14–1 record through 17 games - 6 of which were complete games. He ended the year 16–8 with a 2.95 ERA, helping the Red Sox win the American League East division title, and capturing the Sporting News American League Comeback Player of the Year. He finished third in the A.L. Cy Young Award balloting.
Over the next three seasons (1996–1998), Wakefield won 45 games and had ERA's of 5.14, 4.25 and 4.58 over the three seasons as a starter. In 1997, he led Major League Baseball by hitting 17 batters faced.
In 1999 Boston's closer Tom Gordon was injured and manager Jimy Williams installed Wakefield as the new closer during the middle part of the season. On August 10, 1999, he joined a select group of pitchers who have struck out four batters in one inning. Because the fluttering knuckleball produces many passed balls, several knuckleballers share this honor with him. He recorded fifteen saves before Derek Lowe emerged as the new closer and Wakefield returned to the starting rotation.
Because of his success out of the bullpen, Wakefield was regularly moved from the position of relief pitcher to starter and back again over the next three seasons (2000–2002). After being moved back into the rotation in late July 2002, Wakefield became a permanent regular starter.
Wakefield pitching for the Red Sox
In the 2003 ALCS, Wakefield allowed three runs over 13 innings against the New York Yankees. He started Games One and Four of the Series against Mike Mussina and won both starts. He was also called in to pitch in extra innings of Game Seven, after the Yankees tied the game. The Red Sox had been leading 5–2 in the eighth inning. After retiring the side in order in the 10th, Wakefield gave up a home run to Aaron Boone on his first pitch of the 11th, sending the Yankees to the World Series. Wakefield apologized to fans after the game.
In 2004 Wakefield threw the slowest fastball in the majors among starters, averaging 75.9 miles per hour.
Wakefield (right) and 2004 World Series Trophy.
In 2004, Wakefield helped the Red Sox win the ALCS against the Yankees, a best-of-seven series to advance to the World Series. He pitched 3⅓ innings in a blowout Game Three defeat, which put the Red Sox in a 3–0 series hole. Derek Lowe started Game Four of the series, which the Red Sox ultimately won. In Game Five, Wakefield was the winning pitcher in a 14 inning game, throwing three shutout innings as the Red Sox won 5–4. He pitched Game One of the 2004 World Series but did not get a decision as Boston defeated the Cardinals, 11–9.
On April 19, 2005, Wakefield agreed to a $4 million, one-year "rolling" contract extension that gave the Red Sox the ability to keep Wakefield for the rest of his career. In the 2005 season, Wakefield led the Red Sox pitching staff with 16 wins and a 4.15 ERA. On September 11, 2005, he set a career high in strikeouts (12) in a 1–0 complete game loss to the New York Yankees. He threw the slowest fastball of all starters in 2005, averaging 76.1 miles per hour, and his knuckleball (67.9 mph) and curveball (60.2 mph) were even slower.
In 2007, he finished the season with a 17–12 record. He threw the slowest fastball of all starters in 2007, averaging 74.2 miles per hour, and his knuckleball (66.8 mph) and curveball (61.8 mph) were even slower.
He was left off the Red Sox team roster for the 2007 World Series due to an injured shoulder that had been bothering him since late September.
The 12 passed balls while he was pitching topped the majors in 2008. He also threw the slowest fastball of all starters in 2008, averaging 72.9 miles per hour, though his knuckleball (65.1 mph) and curveball (59.5 mph) were even slower.
Wakefield entered his fifteenth season with the Boston Red Sox in 2009. On April 15, 2009, a day after the Red Sox bullpen was tasked with pitching over 11 innings of relief, Wakefield told Terry Francona: "I understand the circumstances and I just wanted you to know: Whatever happens, don't take me out; let me keep going." He went on to carry a no-hitter into the eighth inning, and earned a complete-game win. At 42, this made him the oldest Red Sox pitcher to pitch a complete game, a record he would break himself in his next start when he pitched a second consecutive complete game win, this time in a seven-inning, rain-shortened game.
Wakefield led the team with a 10–3 record through June 27. With his start on July 3, 2009, Wakefield surpassed Roger Clemens for the most starts in franchise history. His success on the mound had him atop the major leagues with 10 wins at the time of the 2009 All Star selection. On July 5, 2009, he was announced as an AL All-Star, making him the second-oldest first-time All-Star at 42, behind only Satchel Paige who was 45. By the All Star break, Wakefield possessed a major league best 11–3 record. Wakefield did not see action in St. Louis, as he was not needed by Joe Maddon. Wakefield missed the next six weeks with a lower back and calf injury. He made his next start on August 26 against the Chicago White Sox and pitched 7 innings with 1 earned run and no decision.
Wakefield entered his 16th season with the Boston Red Sox in 2010. He started the year in the starting rotation until Daisuke Matsuzaka came off of the disabled list. He later rejoined the rotation due to an injury to Josh Beckett. On May 12, 2010, Tim Wakefield recorded his 2000th career strikeout against Vernon Wells of the Toronto Blue Jays in a 3-2 loss. He joined Jamie Moyer, Javier Vazquez, and Andy Pettitte for the only active pitchers with at least 2000 career strikeouts. On June 8, 2010, Tim Wakefield passed Roger Clemens for the most innings pitched by a Red Sox pitcher. He went on to win that game 3-2 over the Cleveland Indians. On June 13, Wakefield joined Moyer and Pettitte as the only active pitchers with 3,000 innings pitched. He accomplished this feat by retiring Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies on a fly to left. On July 2, 2010, he passed Clemens for another record, this time for starts at Fenway; he went 8 innings to win 3-2 over the Baltimore Orioles.
On September 8, 2010, against the Tampa Bay Rays, he became the oldest Red Sox pitcher ever to win a game; he is also the oldest player to appear in a game for the Red Sox at Fenway; only Deacon McGuire, who last played for them in 1908, was older.
On October 28, 2010 before Game 2 of the 2010 World Series, Wakefield won the Roberto Clemente award.
Wakefield started his seventeenth season in a Red Sox uniform as a reliever. Injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka moved him into the starting rotation.
On May 11, 2011, Wakefield pitched 1.1 innings in relief as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Red Sox 9-3 at the Rogers Centre. He became, at 44 years, 282 days, the oldest player ever to appear for the Red Sox.
Because of the difficulty of catching a knuckleball, the Red Sox sometimes carry a backup catcher who specializes in defense and who catches most or all of Wakefield's starts. For several years, his personal catcher was Doug Mirabelli, who used a league-approved mitt similar to a softball catcher's mitt for catching Wakefield. Josh Bard briefly caught Wakefield during the first month of the 2006 season, before Boston reacquired Mirabelli on May 1 after trading him to San Diego the previous offseason. Mirabelli was released in the spring of 2008 and Wakefield's catcher was Kevin Cash during 2008. George Kottaras became his personal catcher in 2009. Victor Martinez was acquired by the Red Sox on July 31, 2009 and began catching for Wakefield on August 26, 2009. Martinez experimented catching Wakefield's pitches with various gloves and mitts before settling on a first baseman's mitt. Due to injuries to both Martinez and Jason Varitek, Boston reacquired Kevin Cash from the Houston Astros on July 1, 2010, to serve as Wakefield's catcher as well as the primary catcher. Martinez became Wakefield's catcher once more when he returned. In 2011, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek both catch Wakefield. He now has no specific catcher.
Wakefield pitches with what is said to be a slow sidearm motion, but is actually a 3/4 overhand motion. This also reveals some of his pitches to hitters, because they can see his hand. Wakefield's primary pitch, the knuckleball, is normally thrown about 64-68 mph and has a great deal of variance in how much it 'flutters.' The flutter of the knuckleball depends on a variety of factors including temperature, humidity, precipitation (both type and intensity), air resistance, wind speed, wind direction, the condition of the ball, and very small changes in his grip or the orientation of the seams. Wakefield also features a 71–75 mph fastball, a slow curve (57-61 mph), and a slower version of his knuckleball (59-62 mph).
Knuckleball pitchers are traditionally believed to be able to pitch more frequently and for more pitches per game than conventional pitchers. Throughout the first decade of his career, Wakefield followed a similar pattern: on April 27, 1993, he threw 172 pitches over 10+ innings in a game for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Atlanta Braves. In his first two weeks with the Red Sox, Wakefield pitched a total of 33.1 innings, including two complete games in addition to a 7.1-inning emergency start on just two days' rest. As late as the 2003 and 2004 ALCS, Wakefield was making relief appearances between starts. In recent years, however, the Red Sox have generally treated Wakefield more like conventional pitchers in terms of pitch count, rarely allowing him to pitch more than about 110 pitches per game, and giving him 4 days of rest. Also, because of the relatively low wear on their pitching arm, knuckleball pitchers tend to have longer professional careers than most other pitchers.
Because it can be difficult to control, pitchers who throw the knuckleball often hit batters. As of August 18, 2010, Tim Wakefield is 9th on the all-time hit batters list.
Due to the designated hitter rule, Wakefield has only batted for the Red Sox when playing in National League parks. While with the Pirates, a National League team, he had a .071 and .163 batting average in his two years. He was also able to get one career home-run in 1993. His overall batting average is .121.
A sign for Wakefield at the 2007 World Series Rolling Rally celebration.
Wakefield is well known throughout Major League Baseball as one of its most charitable players. He has been nominated eight times by the Red Sox for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented to the player who best reflects the spirit of giving back to the community, winning the award in 2010. Since 1998, Wakefield has partnered with the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston to bring patients to Fenway Park to share time with him on and off the field. He has also hosted an annual celebrity golf tournament for 18 years. Wakefield has also been active with New England's Pitching in for Kids organization (a program dedicated to improving the lives of children across the New England region), the Space Coast Early Intervention Center in Melbourne, Florida, and the Touch 'Em All Foundation founded by Garth Brooks.
In 2007, Wakefield released a charity wine called CaberKnuckle in association with Longball Vineyards with 100% of the proceeds supporting Pitching In For Kids and raised more than $100,000.
Tim met his wife, Stacy in Massachusetts. They have two children together, Trevor and Brianna. They own a home in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida.
Tim Wakefield With the Pirates in 1992
Here’s the Associated Press describing Wakefield’s first game, for the Pirates against the Cardinals, on July 31, 1992:
Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield pitched a complete-game six-hitter and struck out 10 in his major league debut as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat St. Louis, 3-2, tonight, and moved back into sole possession of first place in the National League East.
Wakefield, a right-hander who will be 26 on Sunday, walked five and threw three wild pitches. He was the fourth rookie pitcher to make his Pirates debut this week, and he got to do it in front of his family at Three Rivers Stadium.
Wakefield, a former first baseman who converted to pitching in 1989, matched the Pirates’ season strikeout high, set by Doug Drabek on May 30 against San Francisco.
“I had relatives and friends here from Florida, D.C., North Carolina, they were all here for the big debut,” said Wakefield, whose locker was covered with congratulatory balloons. “I’m glad I could stick around long enough to give them something to see. Really, I wasn’t nervous except for the first pitch. I just stepped off the mound and looked around and saw Andy Van Slyke in center and Barry Bonds in left and Chico Lind at second. . . . That always makes a pitcher feel better.”
Wakefield was the first Pirate to pitch a complete-game victory in his major league debut since Randy Tomlin against Philadelphia on Aug. 6, 1990.
Tom Candiotti and Wakefield are the only N.L. pitchers who rely on the knuckler, but Cardinals Manager Joe Torre said they’re completely different.
“Candiotti throws a lot more curveballs than knuckleballs and this kid’s a legitimate knuckleballer,” said Torre, who used to catch Phil Niekro in Atlanta. “A good knuckleball is very difficult to hit.”
The Pirates’ victory, combined with Montreal’s loss to Philadelphia, gave Pittsburgh a one-game lead in the N.L. East.
Barry Bonds and Jay Bell homered off Jose DeLeon (2-7), who had replaced Donovan Osborne in the Cardinals’ rotation. DeLeon allowed all three runs and five hits in five innings, walked four and struck out two. He fell to 3-7 against Pittsburgh, his former team. The Cardinals, meanwhile, dug themselves deeper into fifth place in the divison, 6 1/2 games behind the Pirates.
Bonds hit his 20th home run of the season in the first after Alex Cole’s leadoff walk. No other Pirate has more than eight homers.
A few days later the New York Times followed up:
It is easy for him to picture his life without the knuckleball. He would be in Florida, probably near Melbourne, where he grew up and where his parents still live. He would have one of those nine-to-five jobs that come with an undergraduate business degree.
“Not always in life do you get a second chance,” Wakefield said. “I wasn’t playing well. I would have been released.”
A Pitcher’s Swing
After a poor-hitting start to his minor league career, Wakefield was given a choice: He could trade in first base for a shot at becoming a pitcher, or he could get ready for a bus ride back home. That was the summer of 1989. He had hit .189 in instructional league ball, sat on the bench most of the time since. Though hitting was his first love, he decided to pitch.
Pirates Manager Jim Leyland committed himself to keeping Wakefield in the rotation after tonight’s game. Wakefield, a right-hander who throws a wicked knuckleball, is a converted infielder — he was kept in the Pirates’ system solely because a rookie league manager once saw him messing around with a knuckleball during infield practice — and he has an average fastball at best. But Leyland plans to keep him. Even if it gives him an ulcer and makes him lose all his hair.
“If they want me to manage a knuckleballer, they’d better extend me for five more years,” Leyland said. “He keeps this up, I’m going to look like Telly Savalas.”
Even though his knuckler wasn’t working as well as it could have tonight — just ask catcher Don Slaught, who did some serious sweating — Wakefield racked up seven strikeouts and gave up only two earned runs, his first in the majors, on seven hits. Twice, in the third and eighth innings, he worked his way out of a bases-loaded situation, in the third by striking out Dave Magadan, looking on a knuckleball that was moving so much that Slaught couldn’t keep it in his mitt.
“It’s an oddball pitch, that’s why there are so few people who throw it,” Slaught said. “It’s tough to catch, and tough for a manager to sit and watch.”
Knucklers Aren’t Pretty
Leyland and Slaught aren’t the only ones to dread contact with a knuckleballer. Not many like the pitch. Not even some of the pitchers who throw it. Like Wakefield, for instance.
“There’s all this machoism in baseball,” Wakefield said. “Machoism for a pitcher is to want to throw the ball hard. Well, God didn’t bless me with a 95-mile-per-hour fastball. I have to go with what I have, and that’s the knuckleball. It doesn’t matter how ugly it looks as long as it gets the job done.”
Actually, a few months earlier, back in May 1992, the Times had reported:
Two years ago TIM WAKEFIELD was a 23-year-old light-hitting first baseman for a Welland, Ontario, team in the Class A New York-Penn League whose future in baseball seemed dim.
Because injuries swept the staff, and because he had been seen fooling around with a curveball, Wakefield went to the mound but without much enthusiasm.
“When they put an infielder on the mound, it’s like they’re putting you out to pasture,” he told The Buffalo News recently. “They’re saying you don’t have what it takes to get to the big leagues.”
Wakefield could get there now. He has become that rarity, an accomplished knuckleball pitcher with control, and after three starts with the Buffalo Bisons of the American Associaton he had a 1-0 record and a 1.50 earned run average.
How many knuckleball pitchers are there in the major leagues?
Just two, CHARLIE HOUGH of the Chicago White Sox and TOM CANDIOTTI of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The radar scope catches Wakefield’s knuckler at about 66 miles an hour, his alleged fastball at 84 m.p.h. It’s the difference that matters.
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- Tim Wakefield