Tim Wakefield, who died today, was probably the most universally loved Red Sox player this century — a century that the team has, until recently, dominated. The fans loved him, his teammates loved him and ownership loved him, to the point that toward the end of his career, Wakefield had a perpetual player option at $4.5 million a season — if he wanted to be on the Red Sox, it was his call, because he was as much a part of the team as the color scheme. It’s safe to say we’ll never see that again, but it’s similarly safe to say there won’t be another Wakefield.
I am in pain. This one hurts so much. I want to cry and maybe I will later. Right now, I’m just trying to remember it all:
- It was 1995, and I was working the snack bar at the East Chop Beach Club, listening in awe, as we all were, as Wakefield, the newest Sox starter, worked his way toward a 20-win season.
- It was 2001, and it was a muggy day in Chicago. I sat in the center field bleachers at then-Comiskey Stadium, hoping to watch the knuckler dance, but, instead, had to dodge hail and home run balls as Wakefield was smashed to bits on one of those days he didn’t have it before the heavens opened to put him out of his misery.
- It was 2003, and I watched Aaron Boone’s home run sail out of Yankee Stadium from my seat in right field.
- It was 2004, and I watched Wakefield standing on the mound in New York after the Red Sox avenged their 2003 loss, one for which Wake felt — incorrectly — personally responsible.
There was more. There was so much more, but those are the main beats. It was an incredible 10-year arc for one of the most unlikely stars in Red Sox history, a guy who was competing for Cy Young Awards but was also an occasional closer, a guy who helped lead the Sox to two titles but sat out the second one to help the team win, a guy who’s a Red Sox legend through and through but started and thrived with another organization.
He should have been around forever. He was created to be around forever. He was supposed to be popping in on NESN in 5, 10, 20 years. This was not the plan. It never is, and then... it is. We have to live with this, but we’re all so much better off for Wakefield having been around. In that sense, we get to live with it. Most players are just players, but Wake was more than that, which will be abundantly clear in the coming days, weeks and months as the stories come out, one after another after another, like so many knuckleballs in a row. The love will be genuine and unstoppable, with, fittingly, no spin whatsoever.