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Charlie Hough on Tim Wakefield: ‘He’s kind of a landmark’

04.01.11 at 6:51 pm ET
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Charlie Hough first met Tim Wakefield 19 years and 193 wins ago. (AP)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Retired pitcher Charlie Hough describes himself as having been in the second tier of all-time knuckleballers. Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm represent royalty when it comes to the pitch’s practitioners, but Hough classified himself as being a touch behind them, a pitcher who was “pretty good” in a career that spanned 25 years and yielded a 216-216 record and 3.75 ERA while lasting until the right-hander was 46 years old.

But while Hough has not pitched in 17 years, he remains connected to the game in a meaningful way thanks to Red Sox right-hander Tim Wakefield. Hough recalled working with Wakefield back in 1992, when the young Pirates pitcher was getting ready to pitch in Triple-A. It took Hough little time to realize that Wakefield would soon be taking the baton as the next generation of knuckleballer, though even he had no idea that Wakefield would take the baseball world by storm that year, going 10-3 with a 3.06 ERA in Triple-A before notching an 8-1 record and 2.15 ERA in the bigs for Pittsburgh (as well as 2-0 in the Braves).

Ever since their meeting 19 years ago, Hough has maintained an interest in a pitcher who is carrying on a little-understood tradition.

“I probably follow him more than he knows,” said Hough, who threw out the first pitch — yes, a knuckleball, albeit one that Hough joked had no action on it — at the Rangers’ home park. “I saw him when he was I guess just learning to throw a knuckleball. I remember speaking to him and he had a little microphone in his hand, a little tape thing in his hand when we talked about learning to throw it. He was already throwing it. He already knew how.

“The first time I spoke to him, he was in street clothes so I didn’t see him throw it. I threw it 10 feet with him,” Hough continued. “Then when I saw him pitch, I said, ‘Yeah, he’s gonna pitch.’ I didn’t know it was going to be as fast as it was. I saw him in spring ’92, and that’s the year he won a couple games in the playoffs, beat the Braves in the playoffs a couple of times. It’s one of those things. When you got it, it works. If you don’t throw it right, it doesn’t work. But what a career.”

Hough is familiar with the career stage at which Wakefield currently finds himself. He knows the increased soreness that comes with being on the mound — the knees, the back, the shoulder — while trying to pitch into his mid-40s, all of which makes it more challenging to repeat a delivery and sustain success.

Even so, he cautioned those who would dismiss Wakefield’s potential contributions to the Sox this year.

“Being a great competitor, he keeps coming back. Every year, it seems like the Red Sox have him out of the rotation, and at the end of the year, he’s their big winner,” said Hough. “Timmy’s on a great team right now. He’s not in the rotation, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. He might win 15 games.”

If such a prediction were to come to fruition, it would allow Wakefield to achieve a couple of historic marks. The 44-year-old, who has 193 career wins and 179 with the Sox, would surpass 200 victories for his career, and would also pass all-time franchise victories leaders Cy Young and Roger Clemens, currently tied with 193.

While the odds of such marks have grown longer as Wakefield nears the end of his career, Hough will be among those rooting for his one-time protegee to make history.

“I hope he catches those guys. I hope he passes them,” said Hough. “He’s had just an incredible career. To do what he’s done in Boston, throwing a knuckleball in that ballpark, I can’t imagine doing it,” said Hough. “He’s kind of a landmark there in Boston. He goes with the Wall, I think, doesn’t he?”

Read More: charlie hough, knuckleball, Tim Wakefield,
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