Has it really been fifteen years since Tim Wakefield arrived in Boston? His endorsement of Just for Men signaled that the answer was yes (even as the product erased the evidence of that passage of time). Wakefield’s consistency anchored the Red Sox through personnel changes in the locker room and management suite, helped the team win two World Championships, and witnessed the rejuvenation of Red Sox fandom. And he’s done it all as the predominant practitioner of baseball’s oddest pitch, a remnant of the eccentricities, inventiveness, and wildcat nature of the sport’s early days: the knuckleball.
“The mystery of the knuckleball is ancient and honored,” Roger Angell wrote in 1976. “Its practitioners cheerfully admit that they do not understand why the pitch behaves the way it does; nor do they know, or care much, which particular lepidopteran path it will follow on its way past the batter’s infuriated swipe. They merely prop the ball on their fingertips (not, in actual fact, on the knuckles) and launch it more or less in the fashion of a paper airplane, and then, most of the time, finish the delivery with a faceward motion of the glove, thus hiding a grin.”
Baseball used to be a more mysterious, less corporate sport. It’s nice there’s at least some of that spirit left.