One week ago today, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Ivan Rodriguez collected a combined 1,097 votes en route to the Hall of Fame. Tim Wakefield received just one. But that’s still something, and for that, he can probably thank his world-class knuckleball.
I mean, it’s not as though Wakefield didn’t have a decorated big league career before being a one-and-done on the HOF ballot. After all, he amassed 200 wins and struck out more than 2,000 batters over 19 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox, he won ten or more games in 11 different seasons (including two 17-win campaigns), and threw at least 180 innings nine separate times (including five seasons above the 200-inning threshold).
Wakefield also finished third in the 1992 NL Rookie of the Year race behind Eric Karros and Moises Alou and third in the 1995 AL Cy Young hunt behind Randy Johnson and Jose Mesa.
But beyond all of those career achievements, milestones, and even that solitary vote for the Hall of Fame, it’s Wakefield’s knuckleball that we’ll remember the most.
So, how far did that one spectacular knuckeball take Wakefield? Well, he was a big-game pitcher, winning Game 3 and Game 6 of the 1992 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, and his knuckleball was featured prominently:
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Along the way, he struck out more than 2,156 batters – the 62nd most in baseball history:
Among those 2,156 strikeout victims was future Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones, this one came in one of Wakefield’s 22 career saves:
He picked up exactly 200 wins, including 186 with the Red Sox:
And for the sake of traveling down memory lane, let’s go all the way back and re-visit Wakefield’s first Major League strikeout:
Wakefield never had a blazing fastball or even an overpowering breaking pitch, but he was blessed with a knuckleball that danced, dove, and eluded big-league hitters for the better part of two decades.
A Hall of Fame-worthy pitcher? Not quite. But a Hall of Fame-caliber pitch? Most definitely.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.