FORT MYERS, Fla. — You pitch until you’re 45 years old, for 19 years in the Major Leagues. Take a bow. You did good, Tim Wakefield.
The decision to retire from the game has to be painful. You can probably throw that knuckleball for a long time, but after a while Mother Nature takes a hold of you and trying to keep in shape and going through spring training and then a full season, takes it toll.
We believe his agent, Barry Miester, when he says Wakefield could have gone to a National League team, where hitters hadn’t seen his knuckleball very often, and filled a role and been successful. But Wakefield always wanted to retire a Red Sox, the team that rescued him from the scrap heap after being discarded by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He wanted desperately to be Boston’s all-time winningest pitcher surpassing Roger Clemens and Cy Young’s 192 wins, but he will fall short of that.
Yet, his place in Red Sox history is secure. He was a starter, a closer, a reliever. He often pitched between starts. Yes, he allowed the Aaron Boone homer in the playoffs against the Yankees in 2003, but nobody ever blamed Wakefield for that.
I was there in 1995 when he made his debut in Anaheim and went on a 14-1 roll that saved the Red Sox that season.
He could be crazy dominant or he could be crazy wild. Who knew with the knuckleball? But when he got on those rolls he was indeed an innings-eater who saved the staff so often.
He also made his mark off the field as the Roberto Clemente Award winner for his community service efforts.
This was not a surprising day as the handwriting was on the wall for Wakefield, as it is for catcher and captain Jason Varitek. Wakefield has chosen the path of finishing with the team that he wanted to finish with.
His baseball card will show 2011 as his last season with BOSTON.
Now Varitek is at his crossroads.
Varitek feels he can still play and is as healthy as he’s ever been. There’s no doubt he could be a backup catcher on a number of teams. That’s the decision he will make here in the next few days.
Does Varitek want any other team than BOSTON on his baseball card?
These are very tough life-changing decisions.
Wakefield made his today.