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1 Burnside Sports and Fitness- Baseball General

This title in other editions

Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch

by

Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Introduction

and#8226;

The knuckleball, I know, is a big part of the story. Itand#8217;s a

big part of who I am. But Iand#8217;ve never really thought of myself as

being different, not really, not in comparison to other pitchers

and certainly not in comparison to the people who come watch us

play.

and#160;What I am, I believe, is someone who got a bunch of second chances

and took advantage of them, who persevered through adversity. I hope

that comes through as much as anything else in this book. I think there

are lessons in that for all of us. I know there were for me.

and#160;People look at the knuckleball differently than they do other

pitches and#8212; theyand#8217;re fascinated by it. I understand why. People have asked

me all kinds of questions about the knuckleball over the years and#8212; how

I grip it, why it does what it does, whether I ever get frustrated by it.

That last question is one Iand#8217;ve always found interesting, because people

sometimes talk about it as if it were a person, as if I had a relationship

with it. No one would ever ask Pedro Martinez about his changeup or

Josh Beckett about his curveball the same way they ask me about my

knuckleball, but I also understand there are differences. If one pitch

isnand#8217;t working for those guys, they can try something else. I really canand#8217;t.

For roughly 20 years as a professional pitcher, Iand#8217;ve thrown the knuckleball

on almost every pitch. Itand#8217;s worked for me most of the time. When

it hasnand#8217;t, Iand#8217;ve simply chalked it up to the balancing forces of baseball,

the way any pitcher would.

and#160;I donand#8217;t resent the knuckleball. In fact, itand#8217;s quite the opposite. I love

the knuckleball. It has given me a long career to be proud of and provided

for my wife, Stacy, and two children, Trevor and Brianna. Itand#8217;s

allowed me to meet people I might never have met, experience things

I might never have been able to experience, and help people in ways I

might never have been able to help.

and#160;Before I joined the Red Sox in 1995, I thought my career might be

over. I was still learning about the knuckleball, and I knew almost

nothing about Boston or about the Red Sox other than what I had

learned from one of my college roommates, Tom Krystock, who was a

Red Sox fan. Tom was from Connecticut and convinced me to go with

him to Fenway Park, where we took in a handful of games. I never

imagined then that Boston and Fenway would become my home,

that I would pitch in nearly 300 games there and be part of two world

championship teams. And I never imagined that Boston would accept

me the way it has, that the people there would welcome me as part

of their community, that Boston would be as much a home to me as

Melbourne, Florida, where I grew up and played college baseball.

and#160;Sometime during my career in Boston and#8212; I canand#8217;t remember exactly

when and#8212; someone asked one of my teammates, Derek Lowe, about

what it was like to pitch at Fenway Park. What made Fenway different?

Derek told them that when he pitched in other, bigger stadiums,

he would look into the stands and see colors. But at Fenway, when he

stood on the mound, he would look into the crowd and see faces. I always

thought that was a great way to describe how special it is to pitch

at Fenway Park, for the Red Sox and for their fans. The experience

is just more intimate. To me, Boston always has felt like a neighborhood

more than a city, the kind of place, like Cheers, where everybody

knows your name and you know theirs. Itand#8217;s one of the things I love

most about playing there. People talk about and#8220;Red Sox Nationand#8221; all the

time now, but it really is true. To me, the Red Sox and their fans are

a community unlike any other in sports, and Iand#8217;ve been blessed to be a

part of it. Iand#8217;ve invested in Boston during my time there, and I feel like

Boston has invested in me.

and#160;In that way, especially, Iand#8217;ve been very fortunate. Over the course of

baseball history, other knuckleballers have had their own communities

too. Hoyt Wilhelm. Phil and Joe Niekro. Wilbur Wood. Charlie

Hough and Tom Candiotti. The list goes on. Iand#8217;ve had the chance to

meet most of those guys and to talk to them about the knuckler, to

share an experience that has made us some of the most unique pitchers

in baseball history. The knuckleball has taken us all through some

unpredictable dips and turns, but we all owe everything weand#8217;ve accomplished

to a pitch that, to me, is unlike any other in baseball.

and#160;I hope this book gives you some idea as to what it has been like to

live with the knuckleball for the last 20 years or so.

and#160;And I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have.

Tim Wakefield

Autumn 2010

Knuckler

One

Heand#8217;s so consistent with a pitch thatand#8217;s not consistent. You look

up in the sixth or seventh inning and heand#8217;s got a chance to win.

and#8212;Red Sox manager Terry Francona speaking

about Tim Wakefield, March 2010

On June 8, 2010, with one out in the seventh inning of

his 538th career appearance with the Boston Red Sox, Tim

Wakefield familiarly stood on the pitcherand#8217;s mound, glove

resting near his lefthip, right arm comfortably hanging at his side, as

he peered in toward home plate. He was already behind in the count,

two balls and no strikes. As Indians slugger Russell Branyan settled into

the batterand#8217;s box at Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland, Wakefield

eased back and spun on his right foot, reaching into his glove for the

pitch that would soon make him the all-time innings leader in Red

Sox history, an achievement far more commendable than most anyone

would care to acknowledge.

and#160;A knuckleball? No, no, no and#8212; not in this case and#8212; and perhaps there is

a good measure of irony in that. In recording the 8,329th out of his 16-

year Red Sox career and#8212; more outs than any other pitcher in the history

of a storied franchise and#8212; Wakefield threw a fastball clocked at 73 miles

per hour, inducing a pop-up that safely landed in the glove of teammate

and shortstop Marco Scutaro. That was it. That was the instant when

Wakefield reached precisely 2,776and#8531; innings, literally a fraction more

than the 2,776 recorded by longtime Red Sox ace Roger Clemens, adding further accomplishment to a workmanlike career during which his

most significant contributions had often been disguised and one in

which he had negotiated and endured the whims, eccentricities, and

unpredictable dips and turns of baseballand#8217;s most maddening, mystifying,

and unpredictable pitch.

and#160;Even against Branyan, after all, Wakefield had to work around the

knuckleball as much as he relied on it, resorting to his oxymoronic

fastball, which barely qualified for a speeding ticket, to record the out

that distinguished him from every other pitcher who had worn the

Boston uniform and#8212; from Clemens to Cy Young to Curt Schilling, Pedro

Martinez, Babe Ruth, and beyond.

and#160;and#8220;Heand#8217;s a very unassuming guy, but heand#8217;s been the glue thatand#8217;s held that

pitching stafftogether for a long time. Thatand#8217;s a fact,and#8221; said former Red

Sox general manager Dan Duquette, who brought Wakefield to Boston

in 1995, when the pitcherand#8217;s career seemed to be in ruins. and#8220;Heand#8217;s the consummate

organization man. He was always available to the team. He

made a huge contribution to the team and to the community.and#8221;

For Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who inherited Wakefield

upon taking over the Red Sox GM position in November 2003 and

would re-sign him to a succession of contracts, it was Wakefieldand#8217;s connection

with fans that was most striking.

and#160;and#8220;Thereand#8217;s something about a knuckleballer that generates empathy

in fans,and#8221; Epstein said. and#8220;Even though it couldnand#8217;t be further from the

truth, itand#8217;s just hard to shake the thought that, and#8216;Hey, heand#8217;s only throwing

68 [miles per hour] and#8212; that could be me out there!and#8217; Fans donand#8217;t feel that

way about guys who throw 95 [mph]. Between the knuckler, his and#8216;everymanand#8217;

demeanor, and his incredible contributions to the community, itand#8217;s

no surprise that Wake is a favorite of so many fans. Unfortunately, for

many of the same reasons, the quality of his on-field contribution often

gets overlooked. Heand#8217;s had a great career and#8212; one that anybody would be

proud of and#8212; and has been an essential ingredient on some really good

teams. Aside from all the records and being part of two world championship

clubs, that paradox is what stands out about Wakeand#8217;s legacy to

me. For a guy who was often underrated and sometimes overlooked,

he was completely loved and embraced by Red Sox fans. That means

a lot.and#8221;

and#160;Indeed, for an array of reasons, Wakefield grew to be loved in Boston,

a very traditional, guarded, and skeptical city where self-promotion

is frowned upon, social responsibility is stressed, and group thinking

is encouraged. As surely as Wakefield became part of the Red Sox in

1995, he also became part of the city. He routinely participated in charitable

endeavors for the Jimmy Fund and Boston Childrenand#8217;s Hospital

as surely as he did for the Space Coast Early Intervention Center in

his native Melbourne, Florida. At the end of the 2010 major league

baseball season, Wakefield had finally won the award for which he

had been nominated seven times: the prestigious and comprehensive

Roberto Clemente Award. Named for the philanthropic Hall of Famer

who began his career in Pittsburgh, like Wakefield, this annual award

goes to the major leaguer who and#8220;best exemplifies the game of baseball,

sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individualand#8217;s contribution

to his team.and#8221;

and#160;The Red Sox, too, recognized this quality in Wakefield as surely as

anyone. When the team mailed out a brochure highlighting its community

contributions in 2010, Wakefield was the first player featured

in it; on a similar billboard overlooking the Massachusetts Turnpike,

Wakefield was the only player pictured.

and#160;and#8220;He has a wonderful reputation in baseball,and#8221; said commissioner

Allan and#8220;Budand#8221; Selig. and#8220;We take for granted all the really decent human

beings we have in the major leagues. Tim Wakefield ranks at the top of

the list.and#8221;

and#160;Amid all of that, of course, Wakefield also distinguished himself as a

pitcher, no small feat given his reliance on the schizophrenic knuckler,

which can destroy careers as easily and#8212; or perhaps more easily and#8212; as it can

build them. By definition, the knuckleball is fickle. The knuckleball

is wild. The idea is to relinquish almost all control and unleash the

knuckleball in such a manner that its natural tendencies take hold, allowing

the pitch to crazily float, flutter, and, ultimately, flummox.

and#160;The risks are enormous, and the rewards potentially great.

In his 16 seasons as a member of the Red Sox, Wakefield did not

merely pitch more innings than any pitcher in franchise history; he

also made more starts. He frequently sacrificed himself for the greater

good while simultaneously winning more games than all but two pitchers in Red Sox history, Cy Young and Roger Clemens and#8212; the former the

namesake of baseballand#8217;s greatest pitching honor, the latter a pitcher who

won that award a record seven times and#8212; proving that you could be a

team player and be celebrated individually, the sports worldand#8217;s equivalent

of think globally, act locally. Tim Wakefield was proof that you

could be true to yourself by being true to your team, that success with

something perceived as warily as the knuckleball was really just a matter

of perspective.

and#160;and#8220;It just means that Iand#8217;ve persevered,and#8221; Wakefield said when asked

to reflect on his career and accomplishments. and#8220;Iand#8217;ve started, relieved,

closed. Iand#8217;m kind of proud that Iand#8217;ve been able to do a lot and pitch in a

lot of games. It means a lot, but I really donand#8217;t think it has sunk in yet.and#8230;

I think things can get overlooked when somebody stays in one place

for a long time. You get young guys who come in, and theyand#8217;re like, and#8216;Heand#8217;s

old,and#8217; but letand#8217;s look at why heand#8217;s been here so long. I think that gets overlooked

sometimes, to be honest with you.and#8221;

and#160;In fact, as Wakefield climbed to the top of the Red Sox record book

during his final seasons, his career achievements became more like

items on a checklist and less like mileposts worthy of recognition. In

2009, for instance, after making the 380th start of his Red Sox career,

Wakefield stood with his uniform top unbuttoned in a corner doorway

of an emptying conference room at historic Fenway Park following

a relatively methodical 8and#8211;2 dispatching of the Florida Marlins

that had improved his record to a sparkling 9and#8211;3. As he approached

his 43rd birthday, he was having another good year and was on the

way to his first career appearance at the All-Star Game. Wakefield had

enjoyed other, similar runs during his Red Sox career and#8212; some better,

some worse and#8212; but the end result was almost always a remarkable

consistency that Red Sox fans, above all others, seemed to appreciate.

And yet, in this case and many others, almost nobody was aware that

Wakefield had just made the 380th start of his Red Sox career, two shy

of Clemensand#8217;s club record of 382. It was an achievement far more worthy

of recognition than anyone had taken the time to acknowledge.

and#160;In the end, after all, what real difference did two starts make? In

a career marked by 380 starts, two games signified a difference of

roughly 0.5 percent. Whether Wakefield finished at 380 or 382 games

started, the conclusion was the same. His legacy had been forged. He

had become, against all odds, part of the background, one of the most

reliable and dependable pitchers in baseball history, particularly given

that he pitched in a city and for a franchise that frequently devoured

its own.

and#160;The Red Sox have been part of the culture in Boston for well over

a century, their history defined by everything from pure heartbreak

(most frequently) to unfiltered glory (more recently). Consequently,

loyal followers of the team have prided themselves a great deal on perseverance,

grit, determination. Red Sox fans have long since learned to

show up for work the next day, no matter what, and they have memorized

all of the cliches that celebrate the most noteworthy achievements.

Slow and steady wins the race. When the going gets tough, the

tough get going. Focus on the journey, not on the destination. In retrospect,

no one more perfectly reflected those qualities than Wakefield,

who had resurrected his career on more than one occasion and who

continued to push forward and#8212; methodically, deliberately, undeterred.

and#160;And yet, when it came to instances like this and many others,

Wakefieldand#8217;s achievements seemed to materialize out of thin air. Red

Sox fans, too, sometimes could be distracted by the flash and glitz of

the stars who came and went and#8212; men like Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Nomar

Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz. The list went on and on.

Even Boston seemed to take Wakefield for granted sometimes, to overlook

him entirely, to forget that the most commendable achievements

can take place over years and years and years, like a steady, continuous

construction project.

and#160;And then, one day, there it was.

and#160;Baseball was something of a religion in Boston, where the Red

Sox, especially, were a passion, obsession, addiction, and psychosis

all wrapped into one. (and#8220;Sometimes I almost wonder if itand#8217;s a sickness,and#8221;

Wakefield chuckled.) The game was seen as a true test of endurance,

where consistency and longevity reflected an ability both to perform

and to survive. The Red Sox were dissected and analyzed over and

over again, especially by those who deemed themselves to be card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation, a fan base that sometimes seemed

as widespread as Islam. All of that should have made Wakefield an

obvious focus as he moved toward the end of an accomplished, hardworking

career defined by resourcefulness and resiliency, if for no

other reason than the fact that Boston was the kind of place where

even the smallest sacrifices were recognized by a Red Sox following

that typically paid great care to detail.

and#160;With Wakefield, however, his career was greater than any individual

year. By the end, a man who rarely received top billing had compiled a

resume that was, in many ways, like no other in team history.

and#160;and#8220;I think Iand#8217;ve stayed under the radar my whole career. Iand#8217;ve never gotten

too high or too low and#8212; that has helped me [survive],and#8221; Wakefield said.

and#8220;I think there are a couple of reasons I have a connection with people

here. I think I bust my buttand never make excuses, and I think they

appreciate that. I think I care about the team more than I care about

myself. I think I put the team first, and I think thatand#8217;s very much appreciated

by the fans because they get that side of it. And I just think,

from a philosophy standpoint, outside of baseball, I think they get that

side of me, too. I care about the community, like everybody else. I care

about the neighborhood. I give my time. I care about the community

that I live in and the community that supports us on a daily basis.

and#160;and#8220;Iand#8217;ve tried to stay humble for as long as I can,and#8221; he said.

and#160;Indeed, while maintaining a healthy dose of humility and#8212; the knuckler,

too, will do that to a man and#8212; Wakefield had long since decided that he

wanted to pitch in no other place than Boston, where he felt the aforementioned

connection from the moment he arrived. He saw Boston as

far more intimate than many of the bigger America cities and#8212; and#8220;Itand#8217;s more

of a blue-collar, deep-rooted neighborhood that cares about its own,and#8221;

he said and#8212; and that was, of course, how he saw himself. The glitz of New

York or Los Angeles never really lured him. The idea of a nomadic

existence never really appealed. In an age when professional athletes

frequently were urged to market their services, to take the best deal

available, Wakefield was an absolute anachronism, a man whose values

lefthim terribly out of place. In those instances when free agency

beckoned, Wakefield flirted with homier, more comfortable places

like Minneapolis and#8212; the Minnesota Twins, too, had a family-type environment

and#8212; than he did with bigger, louder metropolitan areas. He

grew up in Melbourne, Florida. He began his career in Pittsburgh. For

Wakefield, Boston was the perfect landing spot, a place where the fans

took their baseball seriously, but where citizenship mattered. More

than anything else in his career, Wakefield had always wanted to belong.

As such, he had never really tried to leave Boston, and the Red

Sox had never really looked to dispose of him. They had built the kind

of gold-watch relationship that had generally ceased to exist elsewhere

in baseball.

and#160;and#8220;I just donand#8217;t understand how some people can separate the personal

side of it,and#8221; he said.

and#160;As much as anyone else, Tim Wakefield saw himself as the last of a

dying breed.

and#160;By the time Wakefield concluded 2009 and signed what looked to

be a final, two-year contract that would keep him with the Red Sox

through the 2011 baseball season, he was one of a unique group of major

league players and#8212; and not solely because he was one of the few in

history to have mastered the knuckleball. Wakefield was one of only

19 pitchers in baseball history to have spent at least 15 seasons with

a single franchise; along with the incomparable New York Yankees

closer Mariano Rivera, he was one of only two active pitchers in the

game (and the only starter) to have remained with the same team since

the start of the 1995 season. And somewhat incredibly, Wakefield had

spent more time with the Red Sox than any pitcher in the history of the

organization, an accomplishment that only grew in magnitude when

one considered that Wakefield did so while making the journey with

his impulsive knuckler, a pitch that frequently operates as if it has a

mind of its own and one that had caused him as much angst and anxiety

as it gave him dignity and delight.

and#160;By that point, Wakefield had long since accepted the fact that the

knuckleball was as much a part of him as the wins and the innings, the

number 49 he wore on his back, and the mustache and goatee he had

sported throughout his stint with the Red Sox. The knuckler could

inspire both wonder and fear. The knuckleball had produced some of

Wakefieldand#8217;s most glorious successes and some of his most gut-wrenching

failures, and he had long since learned to make peace with the

pitch and accept its flaws.

and#160;Along the way, the Red Sox and their fans learned to do the same

with the knuckleball as well as with the man who had brought it to

them.

and#160;and#8220;I think a lot of it is the pitch. I really do. It is me,and#8221; Wakefield said

when asked about the identity and legacy he built in Boston. and#8220;Itand#8217;s

whatand#8217;s gotten me to where I am. Itand#8217;s hard to separate that. My biggest

thing is and#8212; and you hear me say this every spring training when people

say, and#8216;What are your goals?and#8217; and#8212; I want to give the team innings. I mean,

results and#8212; yeah, Iand#8217;d love to win 20 games. Iand#8217;d love to do that. But my job

is to go out there and keep us in the game as long as possible. And I

think Iand#8217;ve proven that over time, if you go back historically and look at

my career.and#8221;

and#160;To do that, with Tim Wakefield as with anyone else, we have to go

back to the beginning, to things that happened long before he came

along, things he had absolutely nothing to do with.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780547517698
Subtitle:
My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch
Author:
Wakefield, Tim
Contribution by:
Massarotti, Tony
Author:
Massarotti, Tony
Publisher:
Mariner Books
Subject:
Baseball - General
Subject:
Sports - General
Subject:
Biography-Sports
Subject:
Tim Wakefield;pitcher;pitch;Red Sox;Boston;knuckleball;sports;athlete;history;me
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20120306
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Language:
English
Illustrations:
8 pp b/w insert
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1 lb

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Sports and Outdoors » Sports and Fitness » Baseball » Biographies
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Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$12.50 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) - English 9780547517698 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The unpredictable knuckleball pitch shares the spotlight with the Boston Red Sox pitcher Wakefield in this book on one of the most enduring, determined hurlers in pro ball. Following a smart foreword by Phil Niekro, one of the master knucklers, Wakefield, a Red Sox pitcher since 1995 and winner of two World Series, explains how an immature Florida boy who struggled to make any team developed into an ace with a knuckleball that 'floats in slow motion,' giving batters fits. He credits those who went before him, such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Phil and Joe Niekro, Charlie Hough, and Wilbur Wood, with setting the standard that enabled him to record more outs than any previous Red Sox pitcher. The book, with able support by sports columnist Massarotti, depicts Wakefield as a 'really decent person' on and off the field, but it reveals occasional blowups in the dugout with coaches and players, and the difficult times with a madcap prima donna like Manny Ramirez. Competent and entertaining, Wakefield's book is one to savor, especially for the stat-obsessed baseball fan and the novice pitcher in search of a knuckleball to call his own. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by ,
The story of one of baseball's most unlikely successes-- a knuckleball pitcher who has outlived, outmatched, and outsmarted the dancing pitch
"Synopsis" by , The incredible story of one of baseball's rarest and most resilient performers, and of the confounding pitch that would change his life and define his career.
"Synopsis" by , and#8220;A terrific book about one of baseballand#8217;s most underrated pitchers, not to mention baseballand#8217;s most misunderstood pitch.and#8221; and#8211; Stephen King

Tim Wakefield is an enigma. At forty-four years old, he is the longest-serving member of one of baseballand#8217;s most popular franchises. He has pitched more games than any other player in Red Sox history, and in 2011 he reached the milestone of 200 career victories. Yet few realize the full measure of his success. In fact, that his career can be characterized by such words as longevity and consistency defies all odds, because he has achieved all of this with the gameand#8217;s most mercurial weaponand#8212;the knuckleball.

Knuckler is the story of how a struggling position player risked his future on a fickle pitch that would eventually define his career, making him one of the most respected players in the game. It is also a lively and entertaining meditation on the dancing pitch, its history, its mechanics, its mystique, and the inevitable ironies it brings to bear.

and#8220;This book is about resiliency, diligence, and the tunnel vision required to live by what appears to be the most fanciful pitch thrown by man.and#8221; and#8211; Peter Gammons, MLB analyst

and#8220;Knuckler gives readers a rare glimpse of the man behind the baseball and his remarkable work on and off the field.and#8221; and#8211; Carlton Fisk, Hall of Fame catcher

"Synopsis" by ,
Tim Wakefield is an enigma. At 43 years old, he is the longest serving member of one of the worlds most popular franchises. He is ever so close to eclipsing the winning records of two of the greatest pitchers to have ever played the game, and yet few realize the full measure of his success. That his career can even be characterized by such words as dependability and consistency defies all odds because he has achieved this with the games most mystifying and mercurial weaponthe knuckleball. Knuckler is the story of how a struggling positional player chanced his future on a fickle pitch that would eventually define his career. With the knuckleball new to his arsenal Wakefield goes from also ran to shining star with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and just as quickly falls back to earth. When he lands with the Red Sox, Wakefield begins to master the whims of his pitch until in 2003 he has the ball for one of the most ignominious post-season losses in history. All is righted when the Sox prevail in the 2004 World Series and come to know the heady days of winning championships. And even now, as Wakefield battles an aging athletes body to try to become the winningest pitcher to have ever played for the Boston Red Sox, we see the twists and turns of a major league career pushed to their ultimate extreme.  A remarkable story of one players success in spite of being the exception to every single rule, Knuckler is also a lively meditation on the dancing pitch, its history, its mystique and all the inevitable ironies it brings to bear.
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