I was on the elliptical machine last night, watching the Red Sox-Rangers game. During my forty minute workout, the Sox look pitiful. The Rangers had already stolen nine bases on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who had surrendered a 6-2 lead in the fifth inning. I’m a Yankees fan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t admire certain Red Sox players, and one of those players is Tim Wakefield, who last night passed the great Cy Young for the team’s all-time lead in innings pitched.
Tim Wakefield and I go way back. Back in 1995, I was playing my second season of fantasy baseball. It was a different game in ‘95 (and perhaps a better game), when the Internet still did not contain the vast stores of information that it does today and many people did not even have access to the network. Back then, if you wanted to be a great fantasy baseball player, you had to hunt for information from every source imaginable. I would buy two or three newspapers a day, watch every iteration of SportCenter, and even catch sports on the local news in the evenings, hoping to find tidbits of information on injuries, changes in starting rotations, and blossoming rookies in the minor leagues. I would keep track of player’s statistics through box scores and spread sheets, negotiate dozens of trades with other owners over the phone, and spend hour upon hour on the game. I am a person who does nothing halfway, and when it gets competitive, I focus all of my energy and attention on the task at hand. For two years, I lived and breathed fantasy baseball, which is why I no longer play.
I simply do not have the time to play the game properly.
But 1995 was a different story.
In the midst of the ‘95 campaign, Red Sox ace Roger Clemens was injured and the team had called up the relatively unknown Tim Wakefield from the minor leagues to take his place in the rotation. Wakefield was originally an outfielder for the Pirates who had converted himself to a knuckleballer in an attempt to remain in the major leagues, and it had worked. Wakefield went on to post 16-8 record in 1995 with a 2.95 ERA.
Outstanding fantasy baseball numbers.
A couple weeks after he had joined the team, it became apparent that Wakefield was going to be a star, so I called my fantasy league commissioner, Mike Lavin, to pick the player up for my team.
“My brother, Bob, already tried,” Lavin said. “But league rules state that the player has to be in the team’s minor league system at the beginning of the year. Wakefield wasn’t.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I’m a Sox fan. Of course I’m sure.”
It’s remarkable to think how Wikipedia or a website like ESPN's would one day render conversations like these mute, but at the time, I could not rely on the Internet for my answers. Not trusting Mike’s assertion, I did what every serious fantasy baseball owner would do:
I called the Pawtucket Red Sox, fought with secretaries and team spokesmen until I was finally put in contact with the assistant general manager, who confirmed that Wakefield was in the minor league system at the beginning of the year (while also confirming that I was the only fantasy baseball owner to ever call the front office). Then I convinced the assistant general manager to call Mike and confirm Wakefield’s presence on the team in April.
When Bob found out what I had done, he protested, stating that since he had put in a claim on Wakefield first, he should get the player, regardless of my efforts. Mike, however, sided with me, saying that I was the one who went the extra mile in confirming Wakefield’s place on the team and therefore I should get the player.
I think Mike was just jazzed by the fact that the assistant general manager of the Red Sox AAA squad had called him at work.
Thanks in part to Wakefield, I went on to win the league that season, and I promptly retired from all fantasy sports (I was also playing fantasy football, basketball and even hockey at the time). Being the way I am, I was unable to play the game without the intensity of a major league pitcher, and having just started college the year before, I knew that my priorities lay elsewhere.
Fifteen years later, Wakefield is still pitching for the Sox, and despite giving up the lead and allowing nine men to steal bases last night (along with two wild pitches and a balk), the Sox somehow came back to win the game 7-6.
I was happy for Wakefield. He didn’t get the win, but he kept his team in the game and gave the offense a chance to come back.
I owe him a little loyalty for all that he did in 1995.
Of course, the Sox are in 5-9 and the Yankees are in first place with a 10-3 record, so rooting for Wakefield wasn’t so hard. Had the Yankees and Red Sox been tied for first place last night, my loyalties for the knuckleballer who helped to make me a fantasy league champion might have gone right out the door in favor of my beloved New York Yankees.