Friday, July 17, 2009

Wakefield and Beckett! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty!

Tim Wakefield and/or Josh Beckett will have plenty of reason to bellow if they take down enough big league batters to approach or reach 300 wins. Photo from this site.

When he signed Tim Wakefield in the spring of 1995, Dan Duquette had no idea he was plucking off the scrap heap the man who would likely someday become the Red Sox’ all-time winningest pitcher. But Wakefield should surpass both Cy Young and Roger Clemens as the top winner in franchise history at some point next season, and his success over the last 15 seasons—but particularly this year, when Wakefield earned his first trip to the All-Star Game—had Duquette in an understandably gushy mood when Joe Haggerty caught up with him this week.

Duquette recalled how Phil Niekro, the Hall of Fame knuckleballer, told Wakefield shortly after he signed with the Sox that if he could harness and master the pitch, he could pitch until he turned 50. At that point, Haggerty points out, Wakefield would have Hall of Fame-caliber numbers.

Of course, possessing the potential to pitch until 50 and actually doing so are two different things, to which Haggerty also alludes. Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm retired weeks before his 50th birthday in 1972. Niekro retired at 48 and fellow knuckleballer Charlie Hough retired at 46 due to physical issues (Niekro felt he could no longer cover first and Hough needed a hip replacement). Wakefield, of course, has endured his own increasingly frequent ailments since he turned 40.

For the sake of this blog entry, let’s say Wakefield wins one of his two or three starts before his 43rd birthday Aug. 2. That would give him 91 wins since his 36th birthday. To maintain that pace for another seven years would mean he ages in more graceful fashion than either Niekro (78 wins after turning 43) and Hough (30 wins after turning 43), yet still leave him at “only” 283 as he turns 50.

And to win another 17 games to reach the magical, Cooperstown-worthy 300-win mark would rank as one of the most remarkable feats in baseball history, since no pitcher has ever won a single game after his 50th birthday. Jack Quinn came closest, recording his final big league victory at 49.

All of which is to say that Wakefield’s probably not going to reach 300 wins. It’s hard to say any active player has a good shot at 300 wins (though Jamie Moyer is at 255 after he one-hit the Marlins over seven innings last night), but the more I think about it, the more I think Josh Beckett has a pretty interesting shot at it.

Beckett won his 100th career game Sunday at the age of 29, which puts him three years ahead of Johnson and in the same ballpark as recent 300-game winners Greg Maddux (won his 100th game at age 27), Roger Clemens (won his 100th game at age 27) and Tom Glavine (won his 100th game at age 28).

It also means he compares quite favorably to the likes of Moyer (won his 100th game at age 35), Wakefield (won his 100th game at age 36), David Wells (won his 100th game at age 34) and Curt Schilling (won his 100th game at age 33), all of whom were far better in their 30s and 40s than in their 20s.

Beckett is in good physical condition, has avoided the surgeon’s knife—though he’s had his share of injury scares—and seems like the type of player who should remain competitive and inspired well into his 30s. It’ll be pretty fascinating if Beckett is being discussed as the next legitimate candidate to join the 300-win club seven or eight years from now—but, admittedly, not nearly as fascinating as if Wakefield is still in the discussion, too.

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