Tim Wakefield, a Great Knuckleball Pitcher from Brevard
By Space Coast Daily // April 6, 2019
Tim Wakefield began his professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992 and he retired from the Boston Red Sox in 2012.
He played in the big leagues for 19 years which is a sign of his strength and durability. For 19 straight years, he pitched and he had a solid career. He was strictly a knuckleball pitcher which kept in him in professional baseball for so many years.
The Origins of the Knuckleball
He is in a long line of pitchers who made their living throwing the knuckleball and the late Lew Moren was credited by the “New York Press” as inventing the knuckleball but there is more support that Eddie Cicotte was the inventor of the knuckleball.
Eddie Cicotte, nicknamed “Knuckles”, passed away on May 5, 1969, in Livonia, Michigan, United States.
The Early Years of Tim Wakefield
Wakefield started his long professional baseball as a first baseman but he was such a poor hitter (batting average of .189 his first season in Class A baseball) that he knew he wouldn’t be in baseball very long. Around that time he had been playing around with the knuckleball in between innings.
Before the manager came out he used to entertain his teammates by throwing the knuckleball every time he threw the ball.
The manager told him to get serious about playing baseball and he implied that Tim needs to forget about throwing a knuckleball. He was brought up as a first baseman.
But Wakefield had other ideas he began to polish and perfect his knuckleball. He had to or there would be no baseball career for him. He became so proficient with the knuckleball that he was able to have a long and distinguished pitching career.
He progressed in his career in a definite pattern. What initially was a way of throwing the pitch aimlessly became his vocation and he mastered the pitch to the point he could get hitters out.
He threw the ball at 68 MPH which compared to the pitchers who threw the baseball at 100 M.P.H. that is painfully slow but his fluttering knuckleball fooled hitters for 19 years. Like we said he started his career with the Pittsburg Pirates but he pitched more games for the Boston Red Sox than any other pitcher had in the club’s history.
His journey and discovery as a major league player is almost like a Cinderella story because he was in the outfield in Sarasota, Florida flipping a knuckleball. His manager, Woody Huyke, asked him to throw a few more. He directed him to step on the mound and start throwing.
Wakefield uncorked a few more pitches from the mound. The manager looked intently at his pitch and burned the image of the pitch into his memory. The manager noticed that his knuckleball had a lot of movement and gyrations as it approached the plate.
In an instructional meeting later, Huyke was involved in a discussion about Wakefield’s future with the club.
The Pirates were going to release him because he had shown so little promise as a future prospect for the club. But Huyke may have saved his career because he interjected this comment, “I told them, ‘If you’re going to release him, make sure you look at his knuckleball,’ ” Huyke said. “The ball had a lot of movement. You never knew where it was going to go.”
Wakefield had signed for $15,000 but was far from earning his keep as a first baseman/hitter.
Wakefield had told Cliburn, his first manager, he would never make it to the majors as a hitter, so he happily agreed to undergo a drastic makeover to try to master a trick pitch.
“I had to do it or finish school and get a job,” Wakefield said. “I had to take it seriously.”
In 1992 in the early stages of his career, he almost helped the Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Series but they did not quite make it. In his rookie season, he went 8-1 but a few years later his knuckleball went south and the Pirates traded him to the Boston Red Sox.
The Middle Years of Tim Wakefield
The transformation was steady, then it went really well, but then it stagnated then it turned into a remarkably steady transformation which really blossomed in Boston. In his last 15 seasons at Boston, he became the team’s workhorse pitching inning after inning.
Wakefield became a starter in 2011 when one of the other starters was injured. His knuckleball fooled some of the best hitters in the American League for years.
He valued innings pitched more than any other statistic in his career and he pitched over 3,200 innings in 19 years.
Wakefield was also nominated for the Roberto Clemente award eight times and won the award in 2010. The award is given when a baseball player exhibits outstanding service in his community.
He was known as one of the most charitable players in the major leagues. Since 1998, he has teamed up with the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston. In this association, he would bring sick children to Fenway Park to spend time with him on and off the field.
He hosted a celebrity golf tournament for 18 years and he has been very active in the New England’s Pitching in for Kids organization. The organization specializes in improving the lives of children who live in New England.
Wakefield has also been involved in the Space Coast Early Intervention Center in Melbourne, Florida, and the Touch ‘Em All Foundation founded by Garth Brooks.
In 2013, the Boston Red Sox named him the honorary chairman of the Red Sox Foundation. In that capacity, he assists with fundraising events, community services and personal visits.
The Latter Years of Tim Wakefield
In 2009, Wakefield was named to the American League All-Star for the first time in his long major league career. He was 42 years old when he made the team and he was the oldest player since Satchel Paige to make the all-star team.
Paige was 45 years old when he was named to the American League All-Star team for the first time.
Wakefield completed his career with the Boston Red Sox as the pitcher who started more games than any other pitcher in Red Sox history and that group includes Babe Ruth. He finds himself in lofty company.
His name is listed in some record books for the Red Sox. He was also a closer for the team as well.
The depths of his character were rooted deeply in his soul. Wakefield was a team player for his entire career.
He was hit hard in a playoff loss to the New York Yankees in 2005 and he pitched the whole game, giving the bullpen a rest.
He lost that game by a wide margin, but he kept pitching and absorbed the loss so his teammates could have a rest.
In 2003, he gave up a heartbreaking home run to Aaron Boone which helped the Red Sox lose the American League Championship that year.
Wakefield was a very durable pitcher as he bounced back in 2005 to help the Red Sox come from behind from a 3-0 game series deficit against the Yankees.
The Red Sox went on to win the AL Championship and their first world series in 86 years and you better believe Wakefield was an important part of that championship season.
Wakefield became so dependable for the Red Sox it was like he punched a clock every time he went out to pitch. The team could depend on him to come out and pitch the game, and he did it for 17 years.
Here is what other major leaguers had to say about his playing ability:
Joe Ausanio, a former Yankees pitcher who played with him at Watertown, said Wakefield had tremendous power and was a stellar athlete. But Ausanio said that Wakefield’s long swing “had some holes” and that he could not adjust to hitting sliders. “When he hit it, he really hit it,” Ausanio said. “But when he didn’t, he looked foolish.”
A teammate said this: “He messes you up,” said Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, who has faced Wakefield in spring training. “He controls it. He can move it left or right. He’s perfected a pitch that pretty much no one else throws.”
Wakefield has pitched in many playoff games so that type of pressure was not new to him. He has been on two World Series-winning team.
He had turned his early failing career around as a weak hitting first baseman into one of the best knuckleball pitchers in the history of major league baseball.
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