Saturday, February 18, 2012


The title of this post was an acronym created by Boston sportswriters, I forget which one originated it, to describe pitching performances by Tim Wakefield. It stands for "I did my job," a phrase of which Wakefield was inordinately fond when he described his performances.

Wakefield did himself no favors with those words. After, say, a 6 inning, 7 hit, 3 run starting line in a 5-3 loss, it sounded and was self-centered. In those circumstances, baseball etiquette calls for a more team-oriented evaluation, something along the lines of "I could have done better and then maybe we could've won tonight.

But Wakefield was, let's say, inner-directed for much of his lengthy, honorable and very odd Red Sox tenure. He was alienated labor, a guy who felt with some justification that he was jerked around by his managers from role to role -- a utility pitcher rather than just the respected member of the rotation Wakefield thought he ought to be.

It's easy to see why Wakefield felt that way. He actually did at one point or another fill every assignment there was on the Red Sox staff, from ace starter to closer to mop-up man. This of course was due to the pitch that made Wakefield a major leaguer in the first place, the knuckleball. Knuckleball pitchers are not regular pitchers, and therefore don't get treated like regular pitchers. I'm sure that's grating on knuckleballers. On the other hand, not too many regular pitchers are out there twirling at age 44, as Wake was in 2011.

So Wakefield's reaction to his situation was to assume a limited professional code of ethics. What's the assignment? If I fulfill its requirements, I see my participation in this game as a success. Don't let that scoreboard fool you. It's significant to me that the one time Wakefield actively pursued heroic fame, his quest for his 200th win last year, was a disaster for all concerned, especially him.

If this sounds like criticism, keep reading, because the flip side of Wakefield's code was the interesting part. It was revealed in the midst of team catastrophe, about 10 minutes after the end of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series.

Wakefield had given up the game-ending homer to Aaron Boone. Nobody then, and nobody now thought or thinks that he was in any way to blame for the agonizing defeat. Knuckleballs occasionally don't knuckle, and batters hit them very far. A homer off a knuckler is not a failure, it's a phenomenon of nature, like rainouts.

It was my assignment for the Herald to write about Wakefield. As hordes of reporters waited to bay Grady Little up a tree, Wake was the first Sox to enter the locker room. He stood and took complete responsibility for the loss. He had given up the Boone homer. It was his fault. He HADN'T done his job.

I seldom if ever liked an athlete better than I liked Wakefield that late, late night. His self-evaluations weren't just selfish defense mechanisms. They were a professional code of ethics, the code of the honest mercenary. If that code let him off the hook for past failures, he was letting it impale him horribly for this one.

That code deserves more credit than it gets in sports. I mean, does anyone think lighting technicians blame themselves when the Broadway musical that hired them folds after four show? Why should jocks feel differently?

Do your job. Isn't there some football coach who says that a lot?


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