Nation STATion: Wakefield, Varitek should call it quits

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Nation STATion: Wakefield, Varitek should call it quits

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Call me a softy, but next Opening Day, I would love to see Tim Wakefield on the mound and Jason Varitek behind the plate.

And once that ceremonial first pitch is over, let the ballgame to begin.

I remember when I was researching my book, Walkoffs, Last Licks and Final Outs, a collection of stories about baseball endings, I asked an American League manager about approaching a player with the notion that it may be time to retire. I would never do that, he told me. This is his career. He needs to decide for himself.

Ive thought about that many times as Ive seen too many players hang on too long. I decided if a manager wont tell a player that the milk carton of his career is past the expiration date, then it's up to those of us who watch these guys play to write about how their careers are turning sour.

With that as a prelude, its time to say goodbye to two veterans who have worn the Red Sox logo through the rooting life of many of Red Sox Nations younger fans: Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

If there is anything for which I could consistently find fault with Terry Francona in this tumultuous season, its how long he stayed with Wakefield as he sought his 200th victory. It wasnt that he kept starting him in the nine games it took to reach the milestone victory, as Theo had given him no alternative. Its simply that, in too many games, it seemed that Wake was kept in there just a little longer in the hope that he would qualify for the win.

From July 25 to the end of the season, Wakefield appeared in 11 games, starting 10, threw just 62 innings, and had a 1-5 record (the Sox had a 3-8 record in the 11 games) with a 5.08 ERA. But in reality, it was even worse than that in terms of runs allowed. Wakefields knuckleball puts a lot of strain on his catcher and his team defensively. While Wake allowed 35 earned runs in 62 innings, he allowed a total of 49 runs overall. This means that Wakefields Earned and Unearned Runs Average was a brutal 7.11.

Its acknowledged that the knuckleballer's pitching arm will last longer than other moving parts of the body. Like some of the Sox' other pitchers, Wakefield seemed a little chunkier and less mobile as the season progressed. We remember that he has a history of back trouble, and I always felt that the stiffer his delivery, the less effective the knuckleball. In the second half of the season, Wakefield allowed 84 hits in 73 innings as batters hit .282 against him. He also allowed 14 homers and batters had a large .843 OPS against him. Need a frame of reference? In the first half of the season John Lackey had an .841 OPS against.

This performance isnt new for Tim; he hasnt had an ERA of under 4.09 since 2002, and its just gotten worse. In the last two seasons, he is 11-18 with a 5.22 ERA. Lackey has had a 5.26 ERA over the last two seasons and A.J. Burnett has had a 5.20.

Tim recently spoke with Fox Sports regarding his future in the game. Ive definitely made up my mind that I definitely want to come back next year, he said. I have another goal in front of me that Id like to accomplish, and thats the all-time record for the Red Sox in wins. Im only seven away. I think the fans deserve an opportunity to watch me chase that record. Well see what happens.

Tim, you deserve our respect, but the milk has started to turn.

O CAPTAIN! my captain! our fearful trip is done; The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;

You folks have heard of Walt Whitman, right? No, he wasnt one of Theos many shortstops; he was a poet. When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, Whitman, a great admirer of the president, grieved for him and wrote the memorable poem, O Captain! My Captain!, published in November, 1865. Having now added some class to this column, I quote the opening words of the poem because that is the message we must deliver to Red Sox Captain Jason Varitek.

Over the last three seasons, Teks role has been reduced by a combination of injuries and the desire to get the most productivity out of him by resting him. Three years of 216 games has not produced much success. Over that time he has hit .216, with 32 homers and 103 RBI. Think about it, 216 games and a .216 batting average. I know we keep hearing about his role defensively, but the Sox' pitchers are not so effective that the team can afford Teks bat.

Saving his legs by keeping his play to a minimum hasnt proven to be a panacea. When we look at Jasons numbers as the season progressed, we see a very ugly ending. In the last three months of this season, Varitek had averages of .205, .250, and Septembers .077. His 10 RBI in August represented the only month of the season in which he had more than nine. In July and September combined, he had nine RBI.

This season, he was a rally killer. He hit .239 with runners in scoring position and .154 RISP with 2 outs.

Defensively, he has now become a liability. Rtot reflects the runs above or below average a player is worth, with 0 being average. In 2007, Tek was 6. This season, he was -8. On top of that, baserunners ran at will. He caught only 12 of 73 attempted stealers. Over the last three seasons, Tek has thrown out 37-of-215 attempted stealers, a very sad 17.

I also fear that the less Varitek has played, the less influence he has had on the team that, as Captain, he should be leading. Terry would never ask the question, but shouldnt we all be wondering where Jason was when Francona lost control of the tenor of this team? Where was he in September? Where was he when the starters were in the clubhouse during the games?

My Captain, the fearful trip is done. Tek and Wake were both part of 2004 and 2007, when the prize we sought was won. But as he nears 40, Tek is at the age when he needs to make the decision. He needs to spend time with his family and fiance. He needs to acknowledge the expiration date.

I take no pleasure in writing a column like this, but I cant create the stats. I just share them with you. Its time to make room for future Red Sox players. Few will miss D.L. Drew, but so many members of Red Sox Nation will feel sad about Wake and Tek. I just want to see them on Opening Day 2012 throwing and catching that ceremonial first pitch.

White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

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White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

CHICAGO - The Chicago White Sox were set to wear throwback uniforms. Chris Sale had other ideas.

The White Sox suspended their ace five days without pay for destroying collared throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear.

The team announced the punishment on Sunday after Sale was scratched from his scheduled start and sent home the previous night.

The suspension comes to $250,000 of his $9.15 million salary. He was also fined about $12,700 - the cost of the destroyed jerseys - according to a person familiar with the penalty. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

"Obviously we're all extremely disappointed that we have to deal with this issue at this time both from the standpoint of the club as well as Chris' perspective," general manager Rick Hahn said. "It's unfortunate that it has become this level of an issue and potential distraction taking away from what we're trying to accomplish on the field."

Sale was not expected at the ballpark on Sunday. He is eligible to return Thursday against the crosstown Cubs at Wrigley Field, though Hahn would not say if the left-hander would start that game.

The Major League Baseball Players Association declined comment, spokesman Greg Bouris said. Sale could ask the union to file a grievance.

FanRag Sports first reported Sale was protesting the 1976-style jerseys, which were navy and sported unusual collars on a hot and humid night.

Sale then cut up an unknown number of jerseys before the game and was told to leave the stadium. With not enough usable 1976 jerseys available, the White Sox wore white throwback uniforms from the 1983 season.

The incident comes with the White Sox in a tailspin after a 23-10 start and Sale's name circulating in trade rumors.

"The actions or behaviors of the last 24 hours does not change in any aspect, any respect, our belief that Chris Sale can help this club win a championship and win multiple championships," Hahn said. "It does not move the needle one iota in terms of his value to this club, his value to any other club that may be interested in his services or the likelihood of him being moved or kept whatsoever. None of that stuff is impacted at all by these events."

The incident does raise some questions in general about throwback uniforms, how players feel about them and whether they should be forced to wear jerseys that aren't comfortable - particularly starting pitchers.

"If I'm playing with Chris Sale I want him to pitch," Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "If he wants to play with no shirt, we play with no shirt. I just want him to pitch."

New York Yankees pitcher Chasen Shreve said: "Pitchers like their stuff. Me, it doesn't bother me, but for him, obviously it does. It's crazy. I don't think I'm that bad."

White Sox pitcher James Shields wouldn't comment on whether players should be made to wear throwback jerseys. But he did say: "I don't really mind the throwbacks. I haven't had any issues with that."

Manager Robin Ventura said players occasionally wearing uniforms they don't like comes with the job.

"But you wear it," he said. "If you want to rip it after, you can rip it up after. I've seen guys rip it up after."

Hahn said throwback uniforms the White Sox wore last season were a bit baggy so the team took measurements in spring training so they would fit the players better. He also mentioned the money the uniforms generate.

"Part of the element of being in position to win a championship is the revenue side of the operation and respect for their reasonable requests to increase revenue," Hahn said.

This wasn't the first flare-up involving the 27-year-old Sale, who is known for his competitive streak and strict training regimen.

He was openly critical of team executive Ken Williams during spring training when he said Drake LaRoche, the son of teammate Adam LaRoche, would no longer be allowed in the clubhouse. Adam LaRoche retired as a result, and Sale hung the LaRoches' jerseys in his locker.

He was also suspended five games by Major League Baseball last season for his role in a brawl at Kansas City that started with a flare-up between teammate Adam Eaton and the Royals' Yordano Ventura. Sale went to the Royals clubhouse after he got tossed and was seen pounding on the door.

Hahn said the punishment was unrelated to previous incidents. He also said the two had a "very candid" meeting in his office with Sale after the pitcher had some exchanges with staff members in the clubhouse and that both "expressed remorse." They spoke again on Sunday.

"At that point last night Chris stood by his actions," Hahn said. "Part of what makes Chris great, part of what makes him elite, is his passion and commitment. We've seen that sometimes spill out from between the white lines. Yesterday was one of those instances and it unfortunately led to events that required discipline."