Left in the Wake?

Portrait of the Artist Heaving like a Ninny

Knuckleballers aren’t regular people. They exist on the fringes of baseball, practising their dark arts and witchery well beyond the age at which normal, human, pitchers have moved on. They are an eccentric bunch of quasi-athletes performing a job that stretches the word “athlete” beyond all credulity.

This is a strange clan indeed. So ripe for anthropology are the knuckleballers that awkward rounds of golf are arranged between generations of practitioners so some bro from the New York Times stalk them around the course, recording their learned witticisms and bizarre ancient customs for posterity.

Sadly, it appears the most senior active member of the Super Fun Knuckle Gang, Tim Wakefield, might be on his way out of baseball.

The Red Sox have some issues facing their rotation but new GM Ben Cherington remains “non-committal” on free agent Tim Wakefield donning the Red Sox colours in 2012. Via the Boston Globe: “‘I think we owe it to Tim to be able to present to him exactly what the opportunity would be, if any,’ he said.” As ole Petey Abe notes in the original post, the “If Any” proviso is the dagger here.

Tim Wakefield struggled and squirmed his way to 200 career victories this season, certainly a commendable accomplishment for a pitcher on a perennially excellent team like the BoSox. But Tim Wakefield is 45 years old. FORTY-FIVE!

Wakefield’s career is an unqualified success. He pitched for approximately 35 years, logging more than 3000 innings on the hill. He was mostly healthy as a pitcher, missing time with back woes and the odd shoulder ailment here and there. He represents the quintessential innings-eater for the Sox, pitching out of the bullpen when required, even serving briefly as the team’s closer in 1999. His most important task is to just pitch. Bad, good, or indifferent – just record as many outs as possible when we need you.

But with the Sox looking all but disinterested in Wakefield’s services for another year, it looks like his career might finally be over. Would another team take a risk on a player due to turn 46 in August? He hasn’t missed time due to injury since he underwent back surgery in 2009, maybe a large-ballparked NL West team might take a chance on the veteran (Brian Sabean’s ears just pricked up.)

Though his agent suggests Wakefield is open to the idea of pitching elsewhere, he admits it would be “a shame” if Wake plied his trade anywhere but Beantown. Does anyone serious believe Wakefield wants to take his show on the road at this advanced stage of his life? If the Sox aren’t interested, Wakefield will likely retire to an unassuming bog in Central Florida where he can live our hit dreams of long, luxurious finger nails and really, actually letting himself go.

If this is the end, congrats Tim. Your career Wins Above Replacement may be among the lowest for pitchers with at least 3000 career innings, at least you aren’t Livan Hernandez. Remember that, my friend.