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Wakefield fluttering toward record

Tim Wakefield's fast start has Kirk Minihane thinking about Wakefield's legacy, which is looking mighty impressive:

    Sometime between August 2010 and May 2011 Wakefield is going to pass Cy Young and Roger Clemens to become the winningest pitcher in the 108-year history of the Red Sox.
    No, really, it's gonna happen. Knucksie is at 166 wins after his seven-inning, one-run beaut vs. the Twins on Wednesday. 27 W's away from taking over the top spot on the list. Raise your hand if you think that (a) Wakefield won't stay healthy over the next two years or (b) if he's a couple wins short after 2011 he won't be back in 2012.

    --snip--

    Ah, the life of a knuckleballer. Any reason why Wakefield can't keep going for another four or five years? Okay, he'll be 43 at the end of the season. Charlie Hough won 30 more games after turning 43. Phil Niekro won 71 games between the ages of 43-47. Wakefield stays in pretty good shape it seems (which may or may not be important -- take a look at Niekro as he wins his 300th game. I think he flew right from that game to the set of Diff'rent Strokes where he completed a three-episode arc as Conrad Bain's older brother), and he remains one of the game's great bargains at $4 million a year. He was sixth in the league in WHIP last year and is, as you read this, the ace of the staff for the Boston Red Sox. He was supposed to be a journeyman but never left. There are guys like that, you know.

I'm not going to raise my hand because I think it's gonna happen, too. I think when Wakefield retires, he's going to retire as the Red Sox' all-time leader in wins, and I think the Red Sox might (again) revise their policy regarding retired numbers and add Wakefield's No. 49 to the list.
I don't think it's necessarily going to happen, though. The spring of 2011 is a long way away. The Red Sox have three set starters: Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Jon Lester; the latter two are under the club's control beyond 2011. I believe that Justin Masterson's future is in the rotation, and both Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz are knocking on the door. I certainly expect Wakefield to be on the roster in 2010 and 2011, but it's at least possible that he'll be back in the bullpen, where he spent most of 1992 through 2002. And of course wins don't come easy as a reliever. What's more, if Wakefield's not starting he might call it a career. That $4 million per year is nice, but if Wakefield were pitching for the money he'd be making a lot more of it, whether with the Sox or some other club.

As Minihane notes, Wakefield's got a lot going for him. One, he's pitching well. And two, there's no reason to think he won't continue to pitch well. He doesn't turn 43 until August. Phil Niekro was still an effective starter at 47. Hoyt Wilhelm was an effective reliever well into his late 40s. Granted, Wakefield's not a Hall of Famer like those guys. Perhaps a better analogue is Charlie Hough, who was still perfectly useful at 45.

I'd venture to suggest that Wakefield's kept himself in better physical condition than any of his old knuckleballing predecessors. He certainly looks good, and players today generally keep themselves in better shape than guys used to. Throughout much of Wakefield's career with the Red Sox -- through the demotions to the bullpen and the omissions from the postseason rosters -- there was little reason to think that he would someday pass Cy Young and Roger Clemens and grab the No. 1 spot on the list all for himself. But now it looks like he's going to do it. And I join all the other 1966 babies in cheering each and every W along the way.