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Tim Wakefield to announce retirement

02.17.12 at 11:39 am ET
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Tim Wakefield

FORT MYERS — Tim Wakefield, the longest tenured pitcher in Red Sox history, will not return to the team in 2012, the Red Sox announced Friday. Instead, he will retire. The knuckleballer, who had been offered a minor league contract with an opportunity to compete for a job through an invitation to big league spring training, will have a press conference to announce his decision at 5 p.m.

Wakefield, 45, signed with the Sox in spring training in 1995 after being released by the Pirates that spring. He worked with knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Joe Niekro — then in the Sox’ spring training home of Fort Myers as coaches for the Colorado Silver Bullets, a women’s baseball team — to resurrect his career. Wakefield ended up joining the Sox rotation in April of that year, and commenced a spectacular run that saw him go 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA.

That initial success turned out to be merely the first chapter in a pairing of pitcher and team that lasted 17 seasons, most of them campaigns in which Wakefield was an above-average pitcher who offered stability to the Sox rotation (as well as the bullpen for a period of time in the late-1990s and early-2000s).

Wakefield made no secret of his enthusiasm about being part of the Red Sox, to the point where he signed an unprecedented contract extension in 2005 that would pay him $4 million in 2006 and give the Sox a perpetually renewing option at that same price. The Sox exercised it three times before renegotiating a two-year, $5 million deal with Wakefield for the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Though Wakefield enjoyed a career highlight in 2009 when he was named an All-Star — at 42, he became the oldest first-time All-Star in big league history — back problems rendered him unable to pitch for much of the second half. When he returned to the Sox in 2010, it was in a far less certain role, and Wakefield spent the last two years as a sort of sixth starter who provided the team insurance (needed in both seasons, as it turned out) for injuries to its five primary starters.

In the last two years, Wakefield made 65 appearances and 42 starts, going 11-18 with a 5.22 ERA. He did reach a career milestone in 2011 with his 200th major league victory, though that win proved to be the knuckleballer’s only one in the season’s final two months. Wakefield also had to endure a stretch of eight winless starts between his 199th and 200th victory.

Still, when the milestone arrived at Fenway Park on Sept. 13, a night in which Wakefield gave up five runs in six innings, it provided for an emotional scene as the knuckleballer received a sustained ovation from his home crowd as well as a champagne dousing from his teammates.

Wakefield concludes his Red Sox career with a 186-168 record, six wins shy of the franchise record for victories that is held by Cy Young and Roger Clemens. He had been spoken on multiple occasions this offseason of his hope that the Red Sox would bring him back for one more opportunity to set the franchise record for victories — and to contribute to a team with postseason ambitions — but ultimately, with no offer of a guaranteed role, he opted to end a run with the Red Sox that was nothing short of remarkable, particularly given its obscure and uncertain origins.

Wakefield finishes his Red Sox career ranked first in innings (3,006), third in wins (186), first in losses (168) second in games pitched (590), second in strikeouts (2,046) and first in starts (430). Yet his Red Sox legacy was not merely in his statistics and on-field contributions, as Wakefield was recognized for his exceptional public service and charitable activities in 2010, when he was named the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award.

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