The knuckleballer's mystique has long fascinated us. Our curiosity was only further piqued when Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, R.A. Dickey, and Tim Wakefield went on a two-day retreat together in Georgia in the offseason. They're a fraternity of oddballs who throw odd balls.
And now the active group is down to Dickey, as the Red Sox announced that Wakefield will retire this afternoon. He pitched 19 seasons, 17 with the Sox, all after converting from first base. He only made the All-Star Game once, in 2009, but he grabbed 200 wins and 2,156 strikeouts and was almost always pretty good at what he did. He had the least involved pitching motion we can recall, gently heaving the ball toward home, but it almost always worked for him.
In 2005, he signed a contract that offered him a perpetual $4 million option for the next season—a lifetime contract, really, suggesting the eternal prime of the knuckleballer—but the Sox tore that up and signed him to a two-year deal after 2009.
It's somewhat peculiar but completely fitting that Wakefield slipped once his lifetime deal was gone. His home run rate in 2011 was the highest it had been since 2000, and he threw more wild pitches than he ever had before. He was ornery, too—he said in September that he should remain in the rotation until he broke the Red Sox team record of 192 wins, even though his chase for 200 total wins had proceeded glacially.
That didn't deter Wakefield's agent from leaning on the Red Sox earlier this offseason: Barry Meister told the Boston Globe that Wake would win 15 games somewhere else if the Red Sox didn't bring him back. "Tim's going to play again, absolutely," Meister said.