My favorite players are Twins. My all-time favorite was Kirby Puckett, followed ever so slightly by Roy Smalley. My next favorite players include Brad Radke, Torii Hunter, and Joe Mauer. I’m a Twins fan to the core, and unsurprisingly all of my favorite players have spent significant chunks of their career with the franchise. But if you move into that benighted circle of those who have never been graced by a Twins uniform, all is not darkness and despair. And in this realm full of non-Twins, written about extensively by such famous sports journalists as Dante Alighieri, my favorite player, for years, has been Tim Wakefield.
Last night, Wakefield pursued his elusive 200th victory against God’s elect, getting a lead in the eight on an error by the aforementioned Joe Mauer. In a year in which the Twins are disastrously bad, it was easy, for a single night, to hope for Wakefield’s triumph, and I would be thrilled to welcome him to the 200-win club. Unfortunately, his bullpen blew it in the bottom of the eighth, delaying his quest for 200 for another start.
What’s not to like about Wakefield? He had the misfortune of joining the Pirates just as the franchise collapsed, and he did not start his career until age 25. He lost part of his best season to the strike in 1995. In that season, he went 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA (165 ERA+). He finished third in AL Cy Young voting, behind his polar opposite, Randy Johnson. Without the strike he would already have 200 wins. His best playoff run was in the ALCS in 2003, when he went 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings. But the 5.65 ERA of Pedro Martinez, the 6.43 ERA of Derek Lowe, and the 7.36 ERA of John Burkett kept the Yankees in the series, leading to Wakefield’s one bad pitch to Aaron Boone.
Through it all, Wakefield kept pitching. He is now 45, and he has pitched for 19 seasons despite his late call-up. He is now third on the Red Sox all-time wins list, second in games pitched, first in innings, second in strikeouts, and as any good knuckleballer should be, first in wild pitches by nearly 50. He has been a model of class and skill. He will never touch the Hall of Fame and shouldn’t. But I hope that people will remember one of my all-time favorites, even if he never was a Twin. May God have mercy on his soul despite that.