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Dan Shaughnessy

Always more than a baseball player, Tim Wakefield was a hero, on and off the field, for the Red Sox

Dan Shaughnessy remembers Tim Wakefield
WATCH: Sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy joins Boston Globe Today to celebrate the life of Tim Wakefield.

Tim Wakefield died Sunday morning.

It is at once shocking and impossibly sad. Just a few days ago, it seems, we were watching Wakefield’s friendly face on NESN, promoting the annual Jimmy Fund telethon. Always the Jimmy Fund with Wake. Then came the shocking news — released against his wishes — that the former Red Sox pitcher was battling brain cancer.

He died at the age of 57.

And so Oct. 1, 2023, goes down as one of the saddest days in the 123-year history of Boston’s American League baseball franchise.

Wakefield, a knuckleballer, won 186 regular-season games in parts of 17 seasons with the Red Sox. Overall, he won 200 in the big leagues. He was a crucial part of the 2004 Red Sox, winning 12 regular-season games and another one against the Yankees in the ALCS. His willingness to step forward and take the ball in the 19-8 Game 3 slaughter was the selfless moment that enabled the Sox to forge their biblical comeback against the Bronx Bombers.

But that’s just the baseball part of it. Always more than a ballplayer, Wakefield was a community pillar for his three decades in Greater Boston. He won Major League Baseball’s prestigious Roberto Clemente award in 2010 (the Sox nominated him eight times!), hosted a million Jimmy Fund golf tournaments, said “yes” every time a worthy cause beckoned.

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New England loved him for this. And now we mourn.

No one outside of Wakefield’s inner circle was prepared for Sunday’s devastating news.

It is all very sudden for Red Sox Nation.

Tim’s wife Stacy already was battling cancer when Tim started having vision problems just a few weeks ago. When he went to have things checked out, brain cancer was discovered and he underwent surgery shortly after the diagnosis. The Wakefields chose not to disclose their illnesses to the public, but that plan went awry last Wednesday when former teammate Curt Schilling recklessly broke the news on his podcast.

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In the hours after Schilling’s outrageous violation of family privacy, the Red Sox issued a brief statement that read (in part), “Their health is a deeply personal matter they intended to keep private as they navigate treatment and work to tackle this disease. Tim and Stacy are appreciative of the support and love that has always been extended to them and respectfully ask for privacy at this time.”

Three days later, we got word that Tim is gone and the Boston sports world is reeling.

Tim Wakefield in happier times: In 2003, after the Red Sox beat the Orioles to clinch a wild-card berth.Davis, Jim Globe Staff

This feels something like when Celtic All-Star Reggie Lewis died while shooting baskets at Brandeis in the summer of 1993. Reggie had endured a heart event in the ‘93 playoffs, but nobody thought he’d be taken so suddenly.

Not many Bostonians are old enough to remember what it was like here when young Red Sox star Harry Agganis, hitting .313 in his second Red Sox season, died in June of 1955 after being hospitalized with pleurisy in May.

Wakefield won two World Series rings with the Red Sox and was part of eight playoff teams. He started more games (430) and pitched more innings (3,006) than anyone in franchise history. He is a Red Sox Hall of Famer and planned to join his 2004 teammates for the 20th reunion of the ‘04 flag next summer.

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Boston’s two-time World Series manager Terry Francona had a soft spot for the knuckleballer and in 2012 noted, “He was always ready to help out. Any time were we short on pitching, he’d come find me and he’d say, ‘I got my spikes on.’”

Wakefield was the unfortunate one who yielded the season-ending, excruciating walkoff homer to Aaron Boone in the ”Grady Little Game 7″ in the 2003 ALCS. Wake worried all winter that he would go down in history as the Bill Buckner of the 21st century, but it never happened. He heard the love from Fenway fans on Opening Day 2004, and that love never wavered.

Wakefield participated in this year’s 20th annual Jimmy Fund Telethon Aug. 30. Looking healthy and hearty, appearing via Zoom from his home, he joined NESN host Tom Caron, Jimmy Fund clinic “play lady” Lisa Scherber, and a Jimmy Fund family for a seven-minute segment in which he professed his love for all things Jimmy Fund.

Scherber, who has been working with children at the Jimmy Fund clinic since 1992, recalled, “It was magic. He walked in, and I knew.”

“I always knew how important this is,” Wakefield said during the telethon. “Seeing what the teenagers and younger kids have to go through. I knew they were in the best hands possible. And I know that if anything ever happened to my two children, then the first phone call I would make would be to get them into Dana Farber. I’m just honored to be on the air and to be a supporter of the Jimmy Fund and for years and years I will always have your guys’ back, that’s for sure.”

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Before signing off that day, Wakefield made a $20,000 pledge to the Jimmy Fund . . . “on behalf of my family."

At the end of the segment, he said, “Thank you guys. I love you and I’ll see you next week.”

Read more about Tim Wakefield


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.