Tim Wakefield, the third-winningest and longest-tenured pitcher in Red Sox history, announced his retirement this afternoon at a brief but emotional press conference at Jet Blue Park in Ft. Myers, Fla.
"This has been the hardest thing I ever had to do, so it's with a heavy heart that I stand here today to say that I've decided to retire from the game of baseball,'' said Wakefield.
"Ever since I was a little boy, all I ever wanted to do was play baseball,'' he said, wearing a dark suit and occasionally pausing to compose himself. "Even at an early age, after I learned cursive, I would always practice my autograph in hopes that I would become a big leaguer. Those hopes became a reality and I've been lucky to be able to live out my dream for the past 18 years."
The 45-year-old knuckleballer went 200-180 with a 4.41 ERA in 19 seasons, the past 17 with the Red Sox after two years with Pittsburgh (1992-93). His 186 victories in a Boston uniform trail only co-leaders Cy Young and Roger Clemens at 192.
"I remember in '95, the first time I stepped out of that dugout and saw the Green Monster the first time, I knew I was in the place I belonged,'' said Wakefield, a Florida native who said he grew up a Red Sox fan.
"To be able to share the same field with the greats before me as well as the ones I played with is truly amazing. There have been many ups and downs along the way, but one thing is for sure. Every time I stepped on the field, I gave everything I had. All I ever wanted to do was win. And the bigger goal was to win a World Series for this great city. Finally, after 86 years, we were able to do that.''
The oldest player in baseball last season, Wakefield went 7-8 with a 5.12 ERA in 33 games, pitching 154.2 innings. He had hoped to pitch this year, but the Red Sox reportedly offered him only an invitation to minor-league camp. He said he wrestled with the decision the entire offseason, but that it was important to him to retire a member of the Red Sox.
"When it came down to it, I had to take a hard look at what I thought was best for me, my family, and the Red Sox,'' said Wakefield, who also cited his desire to spend more time with his family. "There is nothing that I want more than for this team to win, and it's hard sometimes to take yourself out of the process. But in my heart, I feel that by retiring, I'm giving them a better chance to do that."
Wakefield walked on to the field from a doorway in the outfield wall and spoke for about seven minutes after an introduction by Tom Werner. Members of his family and several current and former teammates in attendance, including his close friend Derek Lowe.
Among the many people Wakefield thanked was former general manager Dan Duquette, who signed the pitcher in April 1995 after he had been released by the Pirates following a 5-15 season in Triple A in 1994. "Thanks for bringing me to Boston and giving me a chance,'' Wakefield said.
Did that chance ever pay off. Wakefield pitched the most innings (3,006) and made the most starts (430, in 590 total appearances) in franchise history. He won 11 games or more in 11 of his 17 seasons in Boston. But it was his versatility and his willingness to pitch in any role necessary that made him valuable. For a brief time, he was even the closer, earning 15 saves during the 1999 season.
His work in relief during the 2004 ALCS -- first in a Game 3 blowout that saved the rest of the staff, then in victory in Game 5 -- proved essential in rallying from a 3-0 deficit to vanquish the Yankees en route to the franchise's first World Series title in 86 years.
"Whether it was starting, or relieving, or whatever I was asked to do, I always had my spikes on and was ready to go," Wakefield said. "I've been so blessed to be able to wear this uniform and be a part of this historic franchise for as long as I have.''
Wakefield made his debut for the Red Sox on May 27, 1995, earning a 12-1 victory over the Angels. It began a remarkable run of 14 wins in his first 15 decisions that season. He would finish 16-8, finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting.
"I can't explain,'' he said yesterday when asked about the dazzling first two months of his Red Sox career. "It's just one of those things when you're a professional athlete and you get on one of those rolls."
He trails only Carl Yastrzemski (23 seasons), Ted Williams (19), and Dwight Evans (19) for the most seasons played for the Red Sox.
"Winning a few World Series were some of the greatest things I was able to do here," Wakefield said. "Being able to share it with former players, past players, the Jim Rices, Johnny Peskys, Yaz, that was truly special."
While thanking his wife Stacy and their two children for "allowing me to pursue my dreams,'' he made it apparent that his heart will always belong to Boston.
"Boston is our home, and always will be,'' said Wakefield, who has been asked by the team to be on the board of the Red Sox Foundation. "Stacy grew up here, both my kids were born here. And essentially I grew up here too."