BALTIMORE -- Tim Wakefield, who used his darting knuckleball to become the third winningest pitcher in Red Sox history, died from brain cancer at the age of 57 on Sunday, the Red Sox announced.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tim Wakefield, one of the most unique pitchers of his generation and a key part of the most successful era in the history of the Boston Red Sox," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "Tim’s knuckleball allowed him to excel as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992. In 1995, he began a 17-year tenure in Boston, where he made a mark that will be remembered forever. Tim was more than just a versatile and reliable All-Star pitcher, a highly respected teammate, and a two-time World Series Champion. In 2010, Tim was named the Roberto Clemente Award winner for the dedicated work he and his family did serving the communities of New England.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Tim’s family, his friends and teammates across the game, and Red Sox fans everywhere. We will continue to support our partners at Stand Up To Cancer in the memory of Tim and all those who are in the fight against this disease.”
“Tim’s kindness and indomitable spirit were as legendary as his knuckleball,” said Red Sox principal owner John Henry. “He not only captivated us on the field but was the rare athlete whose legacy extended beyond the record books to the countless lives he touched with his warmth and genuine spirit. He had a remarkable ability to uplift, inspire, and connect with others in a way that showed us the true definition of greatness. He embodied the very best of what it means to be a member of the Boston Red Sox and his loss is felt deeply by all of us.”
News that Wakefield was battling brain cancer surfaced publicly just three days before his death.
A couple of weeks ago, Wakefield underwent surgery to fight the aggressive form of cancer he was dealing with.
“It’s one thing to be an outstanding athlete; it’s another to be an extraordinary human being. Tim was both,” said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. “He was a role model on and off the field, giving endlessly to the Red Sox Foundation and being a force for good for everyone he encountered. I felt fortunate to call him a close friend and along with all of us in Red Sox Nation, I know the world was made better because he was in it.”
Wakefield, a core member of two World Series championship teams in Boston, is survived by his wife Stacy, son Trevor and daughter Brianna.
Winner of 200 games in the Major Leagues, Wakefield notched 186 of those victories for Boston, placing him only behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who both had 192 wins for the Red Sox.
Wakefield was known as a selfless teammate and the consummate professional and was an active community member in his playing days and just as much following his retirement from baseball in the spring of 2012.
“It’s a rare occurrence for a two-time World Series Champion’s extraordinary personality to shine even brighter than their illustrious career,” said Red Sox president & CEO Sam Kennedy. “Tim was undeniably an exceptional pitcher, but what truly set him apart was the ease with which he connected with people. He was an extraordinary pitcher, an incredible broadcaster, and someone who exemplified every humanitarian quality in the dictionary. I will miss my friend more than anything and can only aspire to live as genuinely and honorably as he did.”
Inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2016, it was stunning to see all Wakefield accomplished given where he was at in his career when he was signed by the team.
The righty, who starred for the Pirates in the 1992 National League Championship Series against the Braves, was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 20, 1995. Any team could have picked him up.
The Red Sox, led by general manager Dan Duquette, signed him six days later. After regaining his groove in the Minor Leagues for a couple of months, Wakefield started his tenure with the Red Sox with one of the most dazzling runs in team history.
In his first 17 starts for Boston, Wakefield went 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA for a team that won the American League East. He showed he was a different breed right out of the gate, pitching seven magnificent innings in his debut for the team in Anaheim, and then coming back for 7 1/3 shutout innings at Oakland just three days later.
Wakefield pitched 19 Major League seasons, 17 of them for the Red Sox.
In 2009, Wakefield became an All-Star for the first time when he was selected to the team by then-Rays manager Joe Maddon.
Wakefield was a member of nine postseason teams during his time with the Red Sox, most notably for the 2004 and ’07 World Series champs.
While the historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 AL Championship Series against the Yankees will always be remembered for the steal by Dave Roberts in Game 4 and the nonstop heroics from David Ortiz, manager Terry Francona has always said that the comeback started with a selfless act by Wakefield.
As the Red Sox were in the middle of taking a 19-8 beatdown in Game 3, Wakefield selflessly put his spikes on and gave up his scheduled Game 4 start to preserve the rest of the bullpen.
Two days later, Wakefield came out of the bullpen for a high-leverage situation and blanked the Yankees for the final three innings of a 14-inning classic to earn the victory as Boston sent the series back to New York with a pulsating 5-4 win.
During the celebration of Boston’s blowout win in Game 7, Wakefield was instructed by some teammates to go back to the mound of Yankee Stadium and just take it in. One year earlier, Wakefield had given up a walk-off homer to Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the ALCS that sent the Yankees to the World Series.
“Tim was a great player in his day and a guy that's really well-respected and well-liked and loved around the baseball world and our baseball fraternity,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said a couple of days ago when Wakefield’s diagnosis came to light.
When Wakefield made his first public appearance after Boone’s homer at the annual Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America dinner in January, the crowd gave him a loud standing ovation.
Upon being elected into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2016, Wakefield said, "It's a huge honor. I'm over-the-moon excited about it.”
After starting his professional career as a light-hitting first baseman in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, Wakefield developed a knuckleball.
The pitch saved Wakefield’s career.
With tutelage from some of the best knuckleballers in history, including Charlie Hough and the Niekro brothers (Phil and Joe), Wakefield leveraged the unique pitch to a memorable career.
Aside from his on-field heroics, Wakefield was also a pillar of strength in the community, both during his playing career and in retirement.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Red Sox player who immersed himself more into the cancer-fighting Jimmy Fund than Wakefield. In retirement, he was honorary chairman of the Red Sox Foundation.
Wakefield was nominated by the Red Sox eight times for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award and won it in 2010. That award is given annually to the player in MLB who best represents baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.