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Former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield passes away at age 57

Wakefield spent 17 of his 19 seasons in Boston, carving out a unique career and helping the franchise capture a long-awaited World Series title in 2004.

Former Boston Red Sox player Tim Wakefield looks on before a game against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on August 19, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox announced on Sunday the passing of former pitcher Tim Wakefield at the age of 57.

“Wake embodied true goodness; a devoted husband, father, and teammate, beloved broadcaster, and the ultimate community leader,” the team wrote in a statement. “He gave so much to the game and all of Red Sox Nation. Our deepest love and thoughts are with Stacy, Trevor, Brianna, and the Wakefield family.”

One of the Majors’ last prominent knuckleballers, Wakefield appeared in 627 career games over 19 big-league seasons, 17 of which came in Boston — where he made his lone All-Star appearance, earned two World Series rings and became a fan favorite on the mound thanks to his every-man demeanor and underdog story.

Initially drafted by the Pirates in the eighth round of the 1988 MLB Draft, Wakefield looked to be on the path to MLB stardom, posting a 2.15 ERA over his first 13 Major League starts in 1992 for a Pittsburgh club that came within one game of an NL pennant. From there, though, the wheels inexplicably came off: Wakefield looked like a totally different pitcher in 1993, losing his command (he walked nine batters in a game twice and 10 once) and his spot in the Pirates’ starting rotation. The players’ strike wiped out most of the 1994 season, and by spring of 1995, the righty had been released.

He eventually latched on with the Red Sox, where some advice from Phil and Joe Niekro led him to try out a knuckleball as an out pitch. Injuries to Boston’s big-league rotation early in the 1995 season gave him his second chance, and the rest is history — despite debuting with Boston as a 28-year-old, he would go on to become the franchise’s all-time leader in games started and innings pitched (he also ranks third in wins).

But his accomplishments went far beyond the diamond. Wakefield also won the Roberto Clemente Award while a member of the team, given to the individual who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” After he retired, Wakefield remained an integral part of Red Sox Nation, becoming a personality on NESN and an honorary chairman for the Red Sox Foundation.

“Tim’s kindness and indomitable spirit were as legendary as his knuckleball. He not only captivated us on the field but was the rare athlete whose legacy extended beyond the record books to the countless lives he touched with his warmth and genuine spirit,” Red Sox owner John Henry said in a statement. “He had a remarkable ability to uplift, inspire, and connect with others in a way that showed us the true definition of greatness. He embodied the very best of what it means to be a member of the Boston Red Sox and his loss is felt deeply by all of us.”

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred issued the following statement:

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tim Wakefield, one of the most unique pitchers of his generation and a key part of the most successful era in the history of the Boston Red Sox. Tim’s knuckleball allowed him to excel as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992. In 1995, he began a 17-year tenure in Boston, where he made a mark that will be remembered forever. Tim was more than just a versatile and reliable All-Star pitcher, a highly respected teammate, and a two-time World Series Champion. In 2010, Tim was named the Roberto Clemente Award winner for the dedicated work he and his family did serving the communities of New England.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Tim’s family, his friends and teammates across the game, and Red Sox fans everywhere. We will continue to support our partners at Stand Up To Cancer in the memory of Tim and all those who are in the fight against this disease.”

Last week, former Red Sox teammate Curt Schilling publicly disclosed Wakefield had been diagnosed with brain cancer. The Red Sox issued a statement in response noting that the information had been made public without the family’s consent.