Tim Wakefield, one of the few knuckleball pitchers in recent times and a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox, has died at 57. Earlier this week, news broke that he was suffering from brain cancer.
“Our hearts are broken with the loss of Tim Wakefield,” the Red Sox said today. “Wake embodied true goodness; a devoted husband, father and teammate, beloved broadcaster, and the ultimate community leader. He gave so much to the game and all of Red Sox Nation. Our deepest love and thoughts are with Stacy, Trevor, Brianna, and the Wakefield family.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Wakefield in the eighth round of the 1988 MLB Draft. Four years later, he debuted, appearing in 13 games and carving a 2.15 ERA with 51 strikeouts. He then put together 59 strikeouts in the 1993 season.
The Red Sox signed Wakefield in 1995, and he remained with Boston for the remainder of his career. It was there that he worked with veteran knuckleballers Joe and Phil Niekro to develop what became his signature pitch.
The knuckleball helped lengthen his career as he went from a full-time starter to a reliever. He pitched until his age-44 season — extremely rare for a pitcher — as the knuckler doesn’t rely on arm strength, but wind currents and the pitcher’s touch.
When the pitch is working, it can make batters look extremely foolish as they chase its flutters. When it’s not working, it’s a slow pitch that hitters devour, as Aaron Boone did with a game-winning home run on a knuckler served up by Wakefield to win the American League championship for the New York Yankees in 2003.
Wakefield was on the team in 2004 when it broke a decades-long curse and won the championship. He was also a part of the 2007 team that defeated the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.
Overall, Wakefield played 19 years in the majors. He had a 4.41 ERA with 200 wins and 2,156 strikeouts.
No memorial plans have been announced. Today is the last day of the Major League Baseball regular season and the Red Sox are not in the playoffs.
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