Tim Wakefield – 1993 Fleer
June 24, 2011
Three Wins From 200!
Not bad for a player whose career has been counted out many times before.
1988 – Drafted in the 8th round out of Florida Institute of Technology. Hit .189 with 57 K’s in 54 games at Watertown in the NY-Penn League. Night Owl was unimpressed.
1989 – Playing first and third for Augusta in the Sally League and Welland back in the NY-P, he hit .216 with 35 K’s and 4 (count ’em) walks in 102 at bats. Converted to pitcher because, well, who would want to get a real job at age 22, had success, saving his minor league career.
1993 – After being the darling of the national media following his outstanding rookie season (as a mid-season call-up he almost single-handedly stabilized the rotation for the Pirates) and winning two games in the NLCS (the Sid Bream / Francisco Cabrera series – but no one remembers Jose Lind’s error on a grounder by David Justice, which after Doug Drabek walked Bream forced Leyland to bring in Stan Belinda – if Lind fields that grounder then I bet the Pirates lose to the Blue Jays in the series…but I digress) Wakefield learns about the life as a knuckleball pitcher.
Specifically, if you lose the feel of it, you’re going to get creamed. He was 6-11, 5.61 and that was with throwing 2 straight shutouts to end the year. At Carolina in the Southern League he went 3-5, 6.99. The Pirates gave him one more chance because of his 1992 success and the two straight shutouts.
1994 – The good news was that he didn’t miss any paychecks because of the strike. The bad news was everything else about 1994. 5-15, 5.84 and more walks than strikeouts at Buffalo. He was probably lucky the majors went on strike.
1995 – The Pirates released him in spring training, and the Red Sox took a flyer on him. Six days later the Red Sox signed him. Four starts in Pawtucket, and he was called up, and it was 1992 all over again. But it took six days for a team to sign him and I can only imagine what it was like during that week for him.
1999 – The good times couldn’t last, and by 1999 he was struggling as the fifth starter (5-9, 5.86 in starts). Had he not switched to the bullpen rather seamlessly, he was probably a goner even though he went 17-8 the year before (with a relatively high ERA).
2000 – Pitchers in their mid-30’s that post a 5.48 ERA in their walk year are usually toast. Somehow, someway, the Red Sox re-signed him. At a $1.5 million pay cut, yes, but they re-signed him. Believe it or not that’s the last transaction listed on his B-R page.
2004 – A late 30’s pitcher going 12-10, 4.87 could be a contender for the Jeff Suppan / Aaron Sele mercy buy-out.
2006 – A late 30’s pitcher with a 7-11, 4.63 mark could be contender for the Carlos Silva take him out back and shoot him mercy buy-out.
2010 – A 43-year old pitcher with a -0.7 WAR should probably hone his golf game.
Yes, 10 times during his career Wakefield could have seen it all end. But he persevered and now at age 44 is pitching well and again has stabilized a rotation after the implosions of Lackey and Dice-K.
Thank God for the knuckleball, seen here in his 1993 Fleer card in all of its glory.
One last note on Tim, who makes me wish I stuck with my knuckleball back in the day.
75 major league pitchers debuted in 1992. Miguel Batista and Wakefield are the only ones who are still active (though Batista just was DFA’d if I am not mistaken).
Russ Springer’s last year was 2010. Pedro Martinez, Doug Brocail and Alan Embree made it to 2009. Bob Wickman to 2007. Pedro Astacio and Jeff Nelson to 2006, and Paul Quantril, Steve Reed, Buddy Groom and Matt Whiteside lasted until 2005. (Matt Whiteside???)
Only 25 pitchers starting in 1992 made it to 2001 – and Patttt Rapppp and Ken Bottenfeld hung ’em up after that season.
Those who started in 1992 that didn’t pitch in the new millennium? Guys like Roger Pavlik, Steve Cooke, Jim Bullinger (yes, Virginia, he was an Opening Day Starter, and that’s why the Cubs are who we thought they were), David Nied, John Doherty, Ben Rivera, Butch Henry, and a bunch of failures and flameouts like Hilly Hathaway, Dennis Moeller, Matt Maysey, Steve Shifflett, Todd Revenig, Kerry Woodson, Victor Cole and Mike Rackza.
Beat the odds? I think Wakefield re-defined the term.