Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Time to Retire Tim Wakefield

Monday night's game with the Tampa Bay Rays was/is (it's still going as this is being written) just one of those blowouts that happen during a season. And for sure, the story after the game and in tomorrow's articles and posts will be the pasting that Daisuke Matsuzaka received at the hands of the formerly punch-less Bay Rays. Perhaps the stories will be even more about Sam Fuld's almost-cycle (he only needs a single currently). But this post isn't about any of that. This story is about everyone's favorite knuckleball pitcher, Tim Wakefield. It's terrible to even type this, but it must be said. He's done. He's too old and he needs to be released.

In fact, this observer felt that way in Spring Training after watching him in a few of those games. But then the season started and Wakefield appeared in four games and his ERA was 3.00 in six innings and everyone said that the old guy still had it. But he didn't. Not really. His BABIP for those six innings was .000. That's right, .000. He was throwing atom balls. His ERA may have been 3.00 but his FIP was 6,86.

Sure, it would be easy to say that the season is early. But then you have to look at last year. Last year, he finished with an 82 ERA+ and his worst ERA and his lowest WAR since 2000. That was eleven years ago. It would also be easy to want to continue this love affair for this unique talent that has made us smile for nineteen seasons.

Residing up here in the northern reaches of New England, this Fan has watched him for most of those years, . He's been an institution. On a team full of athletes and sluggers, he was our Everyman. We smiled when he threw his fastball for a strike and it registered 72 on the radar gun. Hey, that's not far from what we could do. We could relate to this guy more than most ball players.

And his fan base and his long term service to the Red Sox probably puts an emotional blinder on Terry Francona  and Theo Epstein. That's understandable. But this team doesn't need a mascot. They need someone younger that can more consistently get the job done. If you want to make him a $4 million mascot, retire him and let him become the team spokesman or something.

After the Matsuzaka massacre, the Red Sox called on Wakefield because it was already 7-0. This Fan watched him jog onto the field and toward the pitching mound. He looked like a middle-aged guy with a giddy-up stride trying to get across the street to the mailbox before the traffic caused him to pause for five minutes. He immediately picked off B. J. Upton because Upton has these brain farts five or six times a season. One out. The next batter hit an atom ball to Pedroia, who quickly started the double-play that ended the innings. The ESPN announcers were effusive in their praise for the old guy.

By the time that Francona came out and got Wakefield after three plus innings, the old guy had given up eight base runners and five runs. By the last of it, the announcers were softening the blow by saying that Wakefield must be understandably out of gas. No, he isn't out of gas, he's out of time.

It's not like Tim Wakefield has kept himself in great shape. His newfound portliness makes him look like he was on the same banquet circuit as Joe Maddon this past off season. Maybe if Wakefield had kept working himself physically, he wouldn't look like an old man now. But he didn't and he does.

There were signs of this last year. Whenever a team bunted and Wakefield was on the mound, the old guy couldn't move. He had no chance to field the ball and get the out. His fielding bible scores gave him a -2 runs saved on defense and a -4 total defensive runs saved. In other words, he didn't save any runs with his fielding, he cost them. Again, this Fan has watched Wakefield for a long time and he used to move much better than this. He was a pretty good athlete at one time. He isn't any more.

It's not easy to write a piece like this. Tim Wakefield is a beloved figure in Boston and New England. He means a lot to his team as one of the last holdovers from both championships. He's had a lot of great moments and has been highly versatile. He was even the Red Sox closer for a time in 1999. Only Roger Clemens has more wins in a Red Sox uniform.

But, it's time, Boston. It's time to give him a grand send off. Have your Tim Wakefield day. Put a plague out there somewhere on the field. Sure, even retire his number. All of those would perfectly suit the old warrior who has meant so much to the team and the area. But making him some kind of mascot to come in and look old and creaky in blow out games doesn't do any service to him or your fans. Some times, old horses just need to be put out to pasture.

It's well past that time for Tim Wakefield. It hurts to say it, but that's the reality we're living here.

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