FORT MYERS, Fla. Its with a heavy heart that I stand here today and Im sad to say that Ive decided to retire from this wonderful game of baseball.
And with those words, his voice choking with emotion, Tim Wakefield announced his retirement Friday evening after 19 seasons, including the last 17 with the Red Sox.
It wasnt an easy decision for Wakefield. And it wasnt one he made hastily.
Ive been wrestling with this decision a long time, this whole offseason, he said. I think the final deciding point was when my wife Stacy and I sat my two kids down and asked them kind of what they wanted me to do. Like I said before, I never wanted to regret missing any part of their life, and I just think the time is now.
That Wakefield pitched at all, let alone for 19 seasons, is an accomplishment in itself. He was drafted by the Pirates in 1988 as a first baseman. After just two seasons he was converted to a knuckleballer. But in April 1995 the Pirates released him after he posted a record of 5-15 with a 5.84 ERA the previous season in Triple-A. The Red Sox signed him just six days later. He started his Sox career going 14-1 on his way to a 16-8 record with a 2.95 ERA in 1995. He still has a hard time explaining that.
Its just one of those things as a professional athlete where you get on one of those rolls and you dont ever want it to stop, and that was one of those years, he said. I think the biggest key for me was I got released by Pittsburgh and I was driving home and I thought my career was over at that point. And when former Sox GM Dan Duquette called and said we have knuckleballers Joe and Phil Niekro in Fort Myers and we want you to go down there and work with those two guys for about 10 days. And I think working with those two guys really boosted my confidence and got me back on track where I needed to go.
Wakefield, who won two World Series championships with the Sox, retires with a career record of 200-180, including 186-168 with the Sox. He trails only Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who are tied with 192, as the Red Sox wins leader.
Its a little surreal for me still, he said. Once I get home and start to digest everything, its pretty cool to have your name up there. But it doesnt change who I am as a person or a man. And Im grateful that Ive had the opportunity to achieve a lot of those goals and be high on the list of a lot of those records and hopefully one day they can be broken because thats what records are for.
He had said in the past he would like to have the Sox wins record. Now, though, he is comfortable with his place on that list.
Im still a competitor but ultimately I think this is whats best for the red sox, he said. I think this is whats best for my family. And to be honest with you seven wins isnt going to make me a different person or a better man. So my family really needs me at home. Like I said earlier this is a very special time in my kids' life and I never want to regret missing it.
Several of his teammates looked on as Wakefield made his announcement, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez, and former teammate Derek Lowe.
Wakefield, who is 46, had not yet decided what the next chapter of his life includes.
I dont know, he said. Im honored that the Red Sox have asked me to possibly be on the board of the Red Sox Foundation, and od some stuff with their charitable works that theyre so passionate about. And also the Jimmy Fund has asked me to be a part of their organization as well. But Im sill weighing all those options right now. Just wanted to get thru this day. Havent slept all week. Im not going to make a decision any time soon but Im very honored that those tow wonderful foundations and organizations have asked me to be a part of them.
But, he left the door open for a potential return to the Sox. Asked what his response would be if GM Ben Cherington calls later in the season looking for help, Wakefield replied:
I have to digest a lot of stuff right now. So I cant answer that question honestly. But more than likely, probably.