Tim Wakefield's new book, Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch, describes a career that's been . . . well, as unpredictable as a knuckleball. The kid who learned the knuckler as a last resort to stay in baseball has become the elder statesman of the Red Sox, a determined pro willing to do anything to play ball and help his team. After 17 years at Fenway, Wake has two World Series rings, an All-Star Game selection, and a slow but steady climb up the team’s record book. I caught up with him on Tuesday while the Red Sox were in Cleveland to talk about the book and his amazing career.
First of all, thanks for your time; I really appreciate it.My pleasure.
What was it like, having a chance to write the book and relive all the memories - the good ones and the bad ones - what was that experience like?It was pretty awesome, being able to recall and sitting down with Tony [Massarotti], doing interviews and talking about years past. It was a lot of fun. Some of the memories I’d stored away for so many years. When you’re still involved in the game — I tell people, "I’m still in survival mode every day" — you don’t get a chance to reflect on your career until it’s over with. And I’ve been very fortunate, during the process of writing this book, to recall some of those great memories of the last seventeen years.
If you had to pick one memory — one personal, one team-related — what’s your favorite memory of those years?Obviously, the ’04 World Series. The greatest of all time. Going through years and years, knowing the history, the "Curse of the Bambino" and all that stuff. To be able to finally bring a world championship back to the city of Boston, and touching so many people - generations and generations of Red Sox fans over the years. To be able to share that with former players from years past - Jim Rice, Dwight Evans. . . .
Johnny Pesky.Yeah, Johnny Pesky. Being able to share that with those guys was pretty special.
As a team. is there an individual game or performance that really stands out for you?Not off the top of my head. I mean, I’ve taken some no-hitters — like one in ’09 in Oakland when I got into the ninth inning was pretty special, near the top of my list, but I can’t pinpoint exactly one game.
I love the story in the book about when you found you’d made the All-Star team [in 2009] and Terry Francona had everyone in there, then sent them out and called you in separately to tell you. That must have been a great moment.It was a great time. The whole experience of being in the All-Star Game was pretty special. Two days of utter chaos, then when the game finally starts you’re able to relax a little bit. And it’s just another baseball game.
Except there are no easy outs, right?[laughs] No, there aren’t. Not at all.
Something I’ve always wondered: Obviously, you and Doug Mirabelli were synonymous for so long. What’s it like when you have to break in a new catcher who’s not used to catching the knuckleball?It’s a process. But we have a guy, Gary Tuck, who’s been the catchers’ instructor and done a great job with us for six years, getting guys ready to catch me. Varitek has done such a tremendous job this year, as well as Saltalamacchia. In years past, Kevin Cash did a great job when he was asked to do it. George [Kotteras] did a great job too. I’m very blessed to have so many catchers doing such a great job. I feel very comfortable throwing to a lot of them.
And knowing that maybe they’re not going to look so good sometimes lunging after the ball, knowing it’s part of the game.Yeah, they get it. All the guys that I talk to have gotten it very, very well.
Obviously, you’re a pitcher. But I was doing some research and found out when you were with the Pirates, you hit a home run once. What was that like, your first major league homer?That was pretty special, considering I played with the guy — Mark Portugal — a few years later. He was with the Astros, and I hit one off him at the Astrodome. Which was a very, very big park. I’ve only gotten one, so it was pretty special to say you actually hit a homer in the major leagues.
You’re only like two or three behind Jerry Remy, right?Yeah, not very many.
You grew up in Florida, probably didn’t know a lot about the Northeast — what was the adjustment like moving up here?I really enjoyed it. I really embraced the whole city of Boston. It’s such a great city — it’s a big city, but it’s a small city. More of a neighborhood type city, where people really care about each other. And it’s obviously one of the greatest places to play in the world. And I tell people, I’m very fortunate to have landed and been able to play there for such a long time. I feel very connected with the people and the city of Boston.
Another thing that struck me — and I hate to bring it up — but after Aaron Boone’s home run, and how you worried all winter that people were going to blame you, that you were going to go down in history with Buckner. It was really nice to read the — not even the redemption — but the love that the city had for you even when you had such a bad moment.Well, that was special. And it came to fruition at the Baseball Writers’ Dinner that offseason, and I was announced and got one of the longest standing ovations I think I’ve ever received anywhere. And I think the fans got it. They knew I wasn’t to blame — that I’d pitched two really good games in that series. Just to be able to embrace that made me feel 10 times better going into the offseason and preparing for ’04.
And what a turnaround that was.It was amazing. [laughs]
I know you guys are in Cleveland now; what are some of your favorite cities to visit on road trips?I like Chicago. Great restaurants, great shopping. Seattle’s a wonderful city, too. New York is a great place to go to, when we have some off days and can go to some plays. My wife comes to New York if we have a day game on a Saturday and we can go to a show. A lot of the cities are great. Cleveland. . . . Cleveland’s OK. It’s Cleveland. The weather’s a little cold right now, but there are things to do here.Great. Good luck tonight, and this season, and thanks for your time.Thank you.