Shining, a Star or not
The years have obscured the decisions and blurred the records. So much so that even the participants are fuzzy on the details. This much is clear: Tim Wakefield was not selected for the 1995 All-Star Game, and has not been selected for any All-Star Game since.
“I was on a great roll,’’ Wakefield said early last week. “I just didn’t think about it. My second opportunity after being released - I just wanted to go pitch. It’s an unbelievable start. I just wasn’t thinking. I was like, ‘OK, go pitch. Get outs.’ Then you look up and you’re like, ‘Holy crap, what happened?’ Just the innocence of youth, I guess. That helps.’’
The tale is part of Red Sox lore. Wakefield ran off a 14-1 record with a 1.65 ERA, a stunning span that had him among the Cy Young candidates. Picked up after being released by the Pirates, at a time when he figured his baseball career was over, Wakefield joined the Sox’ rotation May 27, and had one of the best stretches in baseball history with the most unpredictable of pitches.
So, why wasn’t he named to the All-Star team that season?
Buck Showalter, the former Yankees manager who skippered the American League squad in 1995, apologizes. He can’t quite remember. He asks, like Wakefield does, what the knuckleballer’s record was at the date of the selections. It was 5-1, with a 1.61 ERA in eight starts.
“OK,’’ Showalter said. “It wasn’t like some unbelievable slight. That makes me feel better.’’
And yet, no one has chosen him since. As Wakefield has piled up wins - he sits at 188 - he slowly and steadily has inserted his name with other, more glorified names. He never will be mentioned with the all-time greats, but his numbers suggest a career that has gone from respectable to excellent in many facets.
Among those who played their entire careers post-1933, when the first All-Star Game took place, Wakefield has the most wins without ever having been named an All-Star. And even among those who played the majority of their years in the All-Star era, only one player has more wins without an appearance in the game, Freddie Fitzsimmons, who had 217 from 1925 to 1943.
“It not only resurrected his career,’’ said Erik Hanson, the Sox pitcher that Showalter did select that year. “People know you can have a lot of longevity if you have a knuckleball going, but what Wake has done is indescribable, in my mind. To be with one organization for that long, and to pass Roger [Clemens] for the most starts in Red Sox history is quite a feat. He’ll probably go to the Red Sox Hall of Fame, and I don’t think anyone would have predicted that when we signed him from the scrap heap.
“If you saw that, you are two legs up on Nostradamus.’’
He will not lose sleep or faith or any sense of his baseball worth. Those are established, no matter if he is named an All-Star today (1 p.m., TBS) or not.
“I won’t be disappointed,’’ he said. “Because I understand the selection process, how hard it is. You look in the paper today, there’s seven guys in the American League with ERAs under three. That’s pretty tough. It would be nice, but it won’t be disappointing.
“I have a lot of other great things and memories that I’ve accomplished. Two World Series. I’ve been able to say that I’ve been with one club for a long time, the record on Friday [most starts in Sox history] is pretty cool. I mean, to have an All-Star in there would be nice, but I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.’’
And it might not. As Wakefield said, there are many exceptional candidates this season, from Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke to Felix Hernandez and Kevin Millwood. But while Wakefield’s ERA isn’t the best in the league - at 4.30, it stands 29th in the AL - his win total is tied with Greinke, Halladay, and Kevin Slowey for tops in the AL.
“To him, I’m sure it would be very meaningful,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said. “Saying that, I don’t know that there’s a person out there that it wouldn’t be.
“For anybody, and what Wake’s put into it, sure, it would be great. I just need to be careful because I want all our guys to be on it. Knowing how the voting [goes] and how it works, I know that it’s tough. But if there’s ever a year he deserves it, it’s now.’’
Or it was 1995. Or, as Wakefield argues, it was 2001, when he was 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA in the first half.
Their rotation was in tatters back in 1995. As Hanson recalls, Clemens began the season on the disabled list. Aaron Sele started five times in May, and missed the rest of the year. Wakefield was signed six days after his release, on April 26, and sent to the minors. He made his first start May 27, notching a win from which everything else followed.
“Timmy was a phenomenal story,’’ said Kevin Kennedy, who managed the Sox in 1995. “I’ll never forget the first start in Anaheim, he was great. I think he went seven and just shut them down. A few nights later we’re in Oakland, one of my starters got hurt early warming up.
“Timmy basically volunteered to start. I said, ‘Fine. You start and I’ll get you just a few innings. I’ll go bullpen by committee.’ He shut them down in order the first time around the lineup. He had a no-hitter going and I couldn’t take him out. He might have gone six or seven that night with two days of rest.’’
That was May 30, when he threw 7 1/3 innings. And he started again June 4. He was holding up the rotation, and dominating. Over nine days, Wakefield threw 24 1/3 innings, culminating in a 10-inning, complete-game win in which he allowed no earned runs. Five days later, another complete-game win.
“What was most intriguing about Wake was where he came from,’’ Hanson said. “The year prior, he was 5-15 in Triple A, and out of baseball. He was in danger of being a flash in the pan with the Pirates. After the strike, we were looking for players, and I was one of those players the Red Sox picked up.
“I don’t know what [then-general manager] Dan Duquette saw, and we signed Wakefield off the living room couch. He throws a game without any preparation, then pitches [three] days later. We had like three starters. We picked up Wakefield, and he filled in all the gaps.’’
Still, when it came time to name the All-Star team July 2, Hanson got the nod. Kennedy had submitted the names of three Sox pitchers to Showalter for consideration: Stan Belinda, Hanson, and Wakefield.
At the time, Hanson was 7-2 with a 3.32 ERA and Belinda was 5-0 with five saves, eight holds, and a 2.06 ERA.
“I knew I was having a good year and I had a good chance,’’ said Hanson, who now lives in Kirkland, Wash. “Wake, he was right up there, too. He had a later start than we did, probably the reason he didn’t make the team even though he was starting every third day for a while.
“In my case, it was one of the thrills of a lifetime.’’
“I think it would be well deserved,’’ Hanson said. “I know he’s having a good year this year. I think after all these years it would be a feather in his hat. After all the time and effort he’s put in in that organization and the success he’s had, he should make one. That would be great if he did. I’d be tuned in and watching and hoping he got in the game.’’
There will be no blame. Yet Wakefield says, “That would be a cool thing if it happens.’’
He is thinking about it, of course. Not just because the media has been bringing it up for the past few weeks. But because it’s a wish. And instead of focusing on that, he focuses on his pitching. He knows the Sox need wins, and he’s prepared to get them. Like he did in 1995, when he wasn’t named an All-Star but went on to prove his worth.
Wakefield had said, without pause, “There was never a conversation.’’ But there was, according to reports, and according to Showalter. Wakefield’s name certainly came up for consideration.
“I know that I kept a log the whole time with statistics, trying to make sure from the start of the season, when I knew I was set to be managing,’’ Showalter said. “You want to make sure that you did it as well as you could do it. I’m sure there were a lot of statistical comparisons, different things, input from the people there in Boston, whether it be the pitching coach or the manager. You talk to them constantly, trying to make sure that we all make good decisions.
“So it wasn’t something that was done frivolously, I can guarantee it.’’
Showalter believes that this time, Wakefield should make it. In fact, he joked that the only people likely not rooting for the knuckleballer are the catchers.
Showalter finished by saying, “If you talk to Tim, tell him I’m pulling for him. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have taken him.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.