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Remembering Tim Wakefield

The baseball world lost a great man on October 1st. Tim Wakefield, a staple of the Red Sox championship teams in 2004 and 2007, passed away at the age of 57 after a battle with brain cancer.

As a kid growing up in Massachusetts, I loved the Red Sox. I loved the Red Sox so much that I would constantly try to emulate my favorite players. I would go out in my backyard and take huge swings, attempting to hit it out of the yard as if I were Big Papi hitting it out of the park. I would dive on the grass trying to save a ground ball like Dustin Pedroia. Most of all, I would position the knuckles of my pointer and middle fingers behind the seams of the baseball, trying to throw a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield.

If you watched baseball from 1992-2011, you knew Tim Wakefield. And if you knew Tim Wakefield, you knew the knuckleball. He was the first pitcher in the modern era to master a pitch that few could master. And as a result, it led to one of the greatest careers in Red Sox history.

In 1992, Wakefield started his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The former first baseman turned pitcher was fantastic, finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In 1995, he joined the Red Sox, where he made opposing hitters look foolish with his mind-bending knuckleball. It wasn’t fast, but with no spin, no one in the entire stadium had any idea where it was going, except for Wakefield. That’s what made it so effective. After just a few years, he had become a fan-favorite and a crucial part of the Red Sox rotation.

Beyond his success individually on the field, Wakefield is regarded as one of the best teammates a player could ask for. He always put the team first and would do whatever it took to win, even if it meant making sacrifices. The ultimate example of this was in 2007 when he took himself off of the World Series roster because he believed that it was the best move for the team. Red Sox pitcher Mike Timlin explained what that meant to the locker room in a passionate postgame interview with NESN’s Don Orsillo: “He showed so much heart by saying, ‘I can’t be on the roster’ and this was good for the team. This is what kind of person is standing right here. I love this guy. I’m proud of this guy. It’s the hardest thing to do to take yourself out of the game for someone else. But he did it.” The team had just won the World Series, and his teammates were interrupting his interview to tell the world how important he was to that team. That should tell you all you need to know. At the end of his time with the Sox, Wakefield was third in team history in wins (186) and first in innings pitched (3006.0). But most of all, he was the owner of two World Series rings.

The baseball success is clear. But the greatest part of Wakefield’s legacy expands far beyond his actions on the diamond. During his time with the Red Sox, Wakefield emerged as a pillar of the local community. Anytime you watched an interview or talked to somebody who had met or knew him, the answer was always the same: he was a great person who was always there for other people. Former Red Sox player and current broadcaster Lou Merloni illustrated this on WEEI: “I’ve run into so many people that have told me stories behind the scenes that he had done for them, or for their families, that nobody knows about. It’s not in the papers.” That’s just who he was. He didn’t care about recognition or taking credit, he just always did the right thing.

Also, as one of the inaugural Jimmy Fund Red Sox co-captains, Wakefield played a huge role in the Red Sox relationship with the Jimmy Fund. In a tribute to him on X, they explained how he “always went the extra mile.” Every time you saw a Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon (held in August every summer), Tim Wakefield was there, helping to raise money for cancer research and making people smile.

Tim Wakefield is, and will always be, a Red Sox legend and a Boston legend. He lived his life in a selfless nature, full of kindness, and epitomized what it meant to be a member of the Boston Red Sox. The world was a better place with him, and his impact will be felt for years to come. Rest in peace, 49.