Monday, June 25

You, Happy Wakefield, Knuckle

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

Ages of Empire

Today’s volume: Tim Wakefield

Tim Wakefield is the Habsburg Empire. He just is. Both of them, the Austrians and the Spaniards, and in every iteration. From the Holy Roman Empire, to the Austrian Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that’s what Wakefield is. Yes, sometimes, in 1995 for instance, he looks like the Mongols, absolutely ravaging opponents, and other times, say late 1999 when he was left off the ALCS roster, he looks less like an empire at all and far more like on of those peaceful little tribes that was conquered and lost to history. But when taken in his entirety, Wakefield is most definitely the Habsburgs.

You can go right back to the beginning with the comparison, in that both Wakefield and the Habsburgs rose not because of their competence, but because of their incompetence. Whereas Frederick III was elected the first Habsburg Holy Roman Empire, precisely because other monarchs viewed him as too incompetent to comprise their power, Wakefield was forced into the knuckleball by his failure as an infielder. Both the Habsburgs and Wakefield would fulfill their destinies almost by accident.

Let Jose describe the essence of Habsburg rule. The Habsburgs came to dominate much of Europe. Their empire, at times stretched as far East as what it now Ukraine and as far West as Spain and as far South as Sicily (Note: Though there was lots in the middle they did not rule, and the extents of their empire varied dramatically over the centuries.) Yet, they achieved this spectacular success, despite utter mediocrity and significant incompetence. How pathetic were they militarily? Perhaps their greatest hero is Prince Eugene of Savoy, who staved off the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683. That’s right; their greatest military hero was French!

No, the unofficial motto, of the Habsburgs was “Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube,” “Let others wage war, you - happy Austria - marry!" The Habsburgs could not win on the battlefield, so they won with the through the subtle trickery of matrimony.

So is any of this starting to sound like a pitcher you know? Tim Wakefield has somehow managed to gather 158 career wins and to creep into the top 100 on the all time strikeout list, despite not being particularly good. Just like the Habsburgs, he has had remarkable success despite lacking major league stuff. Just as the Habsburgs relied on matrimony, Wakefield has used the equally subtle knuckleball to escape his limitations. Moreover, just as the Habsburgs produced only two leaders of any distinction, Maria Theresa an Charles V of Spain, so too, had Tim Wakefield only two seasons of particular distinction, his debut year where he went 8-1 for the Pirates and his remarkable 1995 campaign. If one wishes, one can add Joseph II/Wakefield’s 2002 campaign to the list of competence.

But that’s where the analogy ends. The Habsburg’s Empire ended, with Gavrilo Princip’s bullet in Sarajevo. Yes, Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s death did not end the Empire on that day, but in set in motion the awful events of World War I that would eventually lead to the death of their empire. Wakefield has already met his Princip, in Aaron Boone, who like Princip was a small and insignificant man who fate tabbed for one brief moment of importance. That moment in 2003, when Boone’s home run ended the 2003 ALCS as surely and as quickly as an assassin’s bullet ended the life of the Habsburg heir, should have set in motion the torturous end of Tim Wakefield’s career if the analogy was to hold true.

And yet here we are, four years later. Wakefield pitched brilliantly in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS and won a championship that year, and today he continues to start. His starts remain enigmatic, inconsistent and his seasonal numbers without particular distinction. Is it what we as fans would want? Probably not, but perhaps we should be satisfied with it. After all, the Habsburgs, certainly would have given anything four years after Franz Ferdinand’s Assassination to be lumbering along in their stylized mediocrity, rather than accelerating towards disasterous defeat and dissolution.

2. With the Red Sox facing Seattle’s Jeff Weaver tonight, Jose thought it would be nice to pay tribute to one of the classic songs that Jeff and his brother Jared wrote along with Bob Seeger during their time with the folk group “The Weavers.” Jose has taken On Top of Old Smokey” and updated it for the contemporary Red Sox fan, just like Jeff would have wanted, as a commentary on the deliciously sorry state of his old team. (Note: Sing along, you know the music!)

On top of the majors
Way up in the east
The Sox were alive and
The Yanks were deceased

For winning’s a pleasure
But losing is grief
Dropping two to the Giants
Is beyond belief

They’re behind Toronto
Lost more than they’ve won
And this schadenfreude
Is barrels of fun

And Roger’s an old man
His fastball is flat
He’s getting the big bucks
But looks kind of fat
How True

And Jeter’s a statue
He ain’t got no range
And Steinbrenner’s fuming
“I’m getting shortchanged”

Old Damon is hurting
And cut off his hair
Just like mighty Sampson
Now he’s swinging at air

They look up the standings
Way up at the Sox
And Yanks fans are crying
And Jose just mocks.

3. Rumors began to trickle out over the weekend that the Red Sox are leading contenders to acquire lefty Mark Buehrle from the White Sox. Jose will be honest. He is not yet sure how he feels about this potential trade, and about how Buehrle would fit into the rotation. While Buehrle, who threw a no-hitter earlier this year, obviously has great stuff, Jose would like to know a little bit more about his makeup before he would pull the trigger.

Our rotation currently consists of: blogging egomaniac, cocky Texan, insane Dominican bowler, Japanese guy and guy who throws sixty five to Major League hitters. Does Buehrle really have what it takes to supplant a member of that group personality wise? If not Jose says back off. Remember we have Jon Lester waiting in the wings to play the role of heroic cancer survivor.

If the Red Sox are going to make this trade, Jose would like to hear that Buehrle writes romance novels on the side or spends the off season working on a cure for maple syrup urine disease, something interesting. Jose is just saying that everyone needs a clearly defined role.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

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