It’s funny how nostalgia works. I’m on my way to 40 years old and yet I’m sitting here studying baseball cards like I did as a kid. I take my own children to restaurants and vacation spots that I remember, telling them how much they’ll love it. They see it through entirely new eyes, judging a dinner out based on the quality of the food or at least the availability of chicken tenders. We end with very different views of the experience, with my interpretation skewed by the lens of good memories of times gone by.
Some baseball players benefit from riding the nostalgia wave. Tim Wakefield is an excellent example of this. He was an uninspiring second baseman in college ball with no discernable path to the pros. He converted to pitching duties, relying entirely on a knuckleball that he learned while playing catch in his backyard. He came up with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of their string of annual playoff appearances and benefitted from the excellent defense playing behind him. After the team’s biggest stars left, Pittsburgh fell out of contention and Wakefield’s numbers began to resemble his minor league performance. The Pirates released him in 1995.
The Boston Red Sox picked him up and he would become a regular fixture both as a starter and reliever for the next 17 years. His numbers are not really great, but the knuckler gave him longevity that any team would envy. The result was subpar rate-stats (e.g. FIP) combined with fairly impressive counting metrics (e.g. strikeouts, wins). These 17 years coincided with the Red Sox return to relevancy and the end of the Curse of the Bambino. Did Wakefield turn around the team? Probably not. He did, however, record some good performances in key games that live on in Red Sox lore and was an unchanging fixture in a team that remade itself several times. These factors make him a Boston favorite and one that fans from the era often think of when discussing their team.
Did Wakefield significantly improve with the Red Sox? Not really. I wouldn’t place him at the top of Boston’s depth chart in any given year. The team’s post season success and improved run support did perform wonders for fans’ memories of a capable pitcher.
The 1993 Finest Tim Wakefield card is almost a rookie. He appeared in three limited-release yearend products in 1992 but made his wider hobby debut in 1993. That year likely holds good memories for Wakefield. He hit his only Major League home run during the season, an accomplishment that must be really special for a guy who had originally hoped to make it to the pros as an offensive player.