Tribute to Knuckleballers

Upset at the way Tim Wakefield‘s knuckleball danced, and mocked the Blue Jays last year, I made this tribute to him.
 

Thumbnail image for Wakefield copy.jpg

Wakefield was dominant, and he has been known to be dominant on occasions that he really has those Lehprechans dancing!  It seems like, more often than not, those occasions come against the Blue Jays?? Ah!  Since 2008, Wakefield has a 2.57 ERA, with a 1.05 WHIP against the Blue Jays.

Despite that depressing fact, I’ve always respected the craft of throwing a knuckleball.  Knuckleballers are never the best athletes on the field – but what they lack in athleticism – they make up for in skill, deception and trickery.  I once toiled with throwing a knuckleball – believe me it is tough!  I’d be interested to know how much time Wakefield puts into his craft to perfect it?

The only explanation I could come up with is that Wakefield has these Irish Leprechans – doing a ‘river dance’ around his ball – while he throws it!  Seems logical given the city Wakefield plays in?  Doesn’t it?  (You don’t have to answer)

To be successful with the knuckleball, you need some kind of magic dance!  This is a pictoral illustration of all knuckleballers to have that magic.  

Hagar copy.jpg

Charlie Haegar is a young knuckleballer for the Dodgers.  His version of the knuckle ball is different – as it has been known to be clocked at speeds in the high-70’s.  Unusually fast for a knuckleball.  The pitch seems to summon the spirit of a high-speed, late-90’s drug-induced rave as it dances towards homeplate.  Haegar has yet to make a name for himself in MLB, but it will be interesting to see how hitters contend with the beat-bumpin, bad boy, ‘techno baseball’ of his pitch.

candiotti562 copy.jpg

Dodgers/Indians/Athletics/BlueJays/Brewers 1983-1999  Tom Candiotti went strong in the majors throwing the knuckleball for 16 seasons.  Candiotti played one season with the Blue Jays in 1991.  The first time I ever saw a knuckleball came out of his hand.  Candiotti seems like the type of guy that would listen to Frank Sinatra, and his ball definately danced like Sammy Davis Jr. amassing 151 wins over his career.  In an interview Sammy Davis Jr. said, “Candiotti is cool kat, man!  I can dig Candiotti!”  (he didn’t say that at all).

Hough copy.jpg

Dodgers/Rangers/WhiteSox/Marlins 1970-1994 If you thought Candiotti was impressive?  Charlie Hough mastered the knuckler in MLB for 25 seasons – finishing with a perfectly even career record of 216-216!  He made a great career with the knuckleball – just as Candiotti and Wakefield.  Appropriately, he retired after going to the expansion Florida Marlins.  The ‘herky-jerky’ motion of a jumping fish is reminiscent Hough’s knuckleball.  He also looks like the kind of guy that enjoys fishing in his retirement. lol.  I don’t where I’m getting this from??

phil-niekro-1 copy.jpg

 
Arguably the most sucessful pitcher to throw the knuckleball was Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.  Like Hough, the man lasted 24 seasons in MLB, ending his career with Blue Jays and Braves in 1987.  For a long time, Niekro was the only Blue Jay to be in the Hall of Fame – as he was the first to go in having once worn a Blue Jay uniform.  Niekro had two relatives, brother Joe and uncle Lance, to also throw the knuckler in MLB.  Niekro started his career in 1964, and I believe that Chubby Checker and ‘The Twist’ was still popular.  It is my opinion that Niekro rode that song all the way to Hall of Fame, by twisting the baseball to glory!

Along with Niekro, and preceeding him, Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm was incredibly sucessful with the pitch.  Wilhelm was used to close games with the knuckler, which is a rarity as there are not too many knuckleball closers in history.  He was considered the first pitcher to reach 200-saves.  Interesting Wikipedia note:  On August 6, 1959, Wilhelm nearly pitched a rare “no-hitter in relief.” Relieving Bill O’Dell
at the start of the ninth inning, Wilhelm held the White Sox hitless
for 8⅔ innings before finally surrendering a hit in the 17th.  Ouch!  That would have been remarkable!  Sidenote: Tom Candiotti played the role of Wilhelm in the movie *61.

Other notable knuckleballers were: Jim Bouton (writer of the controversial, and ledgedary baseball book ‘Ball Four’ highlighting the exploits of Mickey Mantle among others) and Eddie Cicotte (a great pitcher that was a main contributor to the infamous ‘Black Sox scandal’ of 1919).

Recent knuckleballers with limited sucess have been: Steve Sparks and R.A. Dickey (i don’t think I could have done a design with him).

So, that is my tribute to some of the great knuckleballers of all-time.  All of these guys have contributed to the intriguing nature of baseball.  Mastering a pitch that is so rare in it’s physics and artistry.  I highly respect all the knuckleballers that have graced this game.     

    

  
 

 
 

13 comments

  1. Kaybee

    Great tribute and pictures! I hated having Haegar in San Diego, but hey, that knuckleball is hard to control and if you’re not on, you’re going to get killed. That happened waaay too many times when he was here 🙂
    http://kaybee.mlblogs.com

  2. Elizabeth D.

    Fantastic tribute to all of the knuckleballers! I have a lot of respect for them as well because it seems like the hardest pitch to throw (and hit) in baseball, and it’s definitely the most unique. It’s one of those pitches that are either really on or really off, so that happens to Wakefield a lot. It may be always on against the Jays, but it is always off against the Yankees.
    The other problem I see with it is that sometimes, hitters are able to time it down and hit it. So by their second or third at-bat, they’re really making contact.
    Wakefield is unlike Haegar in the sense that Wake’s “fastball” is 70 mph haha.
    Elizabeth
    http://redsoxgirl46.mlblogs.com

  3. welikeroywelikeroy

    Kaybee,

    Ya, Haegar’s numbers are ugly in MLB. If his knuckler doesn’t move, it is exactly like a BP fastball. I don’t know how long his career is going to last?

    Elizabeth,

    Wakefield has had an ‘up and down’ career. For every good year he posts – there is an inconsistant one. He definately can throw other teams off balance with the pitch. I’d still regard him as an asset for any team, especially with the amount of 10-plus win seasons he has had. I definately would not want him pitching a ‘big game,’ though.

  4. Jane Heller

    Love this post. I hate facing knuckleballers though. If I were a hitter, I wouldn’t know when to swing. Timing has to be just right. I really admire knuckleballers because they can keep pitching well past the age of the hard throwers – a great way to keep their careers going.

    http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

  5. raysrenegade

    Great tribute to the butterfly ball pitchers.
    Still can’t even imagine trying to hit one of those loopy pitches.
    The Rays had a kid they drafted a few years ago, but he ended up going to another team, and you can bet the minor league catchers loved that idea.
    For all the positives the pitch does, it eats up the catchers. Not only do they have to adjust and block most of the pitches, that oversized glove leads to some of them stubbing fingers and breaking knuckles trying to get some leather on the ball before it dances to the backstop.
    With the addition of bruises and scrapes, a catcher hates those pitches, but you can bet they will do it again if it means a “w”.

    Rays Renegade

    http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

  6. 23gonzalez

    Knuckleballers would frusturate the heck out of me if i were facing them. I mean, one pitch could plunk you in the arm, the next at bat, look as if it were going to plunk you in the arm again, then cut right over the plate. It’s good if you are a knuckleballer pitcher, though. Good tribute!!!
    http://adriangonzalez23.mlblogs.com

  7. raysfanboy

    I always liked Tom Candioti. He just did not look like a baseball player to me, and so I rooted for him. He and old man Charlie Hough. How did he pitch so long. He looked old at the end. Actually LOOKED like a grandpa there. Funny.

    Tecmo Bowl–you were totally right about saying that you could find plays that worked all the time. My fave was throwing (with the 49ers) to the tight end on a slant route. No stopping it. Good times. I might have to dig out the old NES and see if it still works!

    http://raysfanboy.mlblogs.com

  8. welikeroywelikeroy

    Jane,

    The knuckleball is a definate change of pace for hitter. I like the science of it – and the deception. Thrown right, and with great late movement, the pitch is pretty much unhittable.

    Jenn,

    Niekro was ledgendary with the pitch, and he did it for so long. I’m glad the Blue Jays were a part of his Hall of Fame legacy in the game.

    RaysRenegade,

    You point out most of the disadvantages to having a knuckleball pitcher on your team. Teams usually have to acquire a 2nd or 3rd catcher specifically just the recieve the ball! Another downside is they are usually very easy to run on. They have slow velocity to the plate, and there is a high percentage of error in the catcher being able to recieve the ball cleanly. I felt that I couldn’t bash knuckleballers in a tribute to them. You are right though, they have definate disadvantages that scare many teams from pursuing them.

    23Gonzo,

    Playing amateur ball you’ll see some guys try to throw it every now and again – trying to throw a ‘amateur hitter’ off. Pro coaches would never tell a kid to do that. Often it is too risky and doesn’t work out in their favor. I’ve been hit a couple times in my youth by some fools trying it. To be a true knuckleballer you have to master the pitch.

    raysfanboy,

    Exactly what I was trying to say. Charlie Hough looks like a Grandpa that likes to fish! Very good that you caught that. I’ve been religiously playing ‘sports video games’ since I was very young, and I can remember spending A LOT of time on Tecmo Bowl. Right now, I have over 200 online games played on Madden 10, and tons more on MLB ‘The Show.’ Unfortunately, it takes up too much of my time.

  9. greg1969

    Jeremy, I’ll take our knuckleballer any day! A lot of folk in Red Sox Nation (the other RSN–not Rogers Sports!) 😉 seem to either love Wake or almost hate him. We had our own “special catcher” for Wakefield for several years, but not since 07 (Doug Mirabelli). I, for one, am glad he’ll be retiring a Red Sox! We’ve had another knuckleballer in the minors who has not gotten good reviews.
    When I saw your entry title, I thought you might mention Candiotti. He was fun to watch, as were the Niekros and Hough.
    Just a heads-up–once ST and the season start up, I’ll be around a lot less, since I will be on Brownie Points full-time during the season. Since you’re a division “rival”, I might catch ya when we’re playing you. I’ll be around, just a lot less. I’ve enjoyed your entries, Jeremy, and I’ll catch a few more before ST! Take care.

  10. greg1969

    Congrats to the Canadian hockey gold medal winners! Congrats to Vancouver for hosting the Olympics!

  11. welikeroywelikeroy

    Greg,

    Thank you for coming by. It is always very much appreciated, and thanks always for the kind words. Sorry that I rocked the mind of Red Sox faithful with that Jeter picture. One of the most bizarre things that I could imagine see in baseball would be that. Even though Jeter’s contract is up next season, I’m certain that he will not go anywhere! And like you say, it just wouldn’t be right if the Red Sox, of all teams, were in the mix for him come free agency.

    I’ve been made aware of the ‘love-hate’ relationship with Wakefield in Boston. To me, Wakefield is a proven winner mastering one of the fine arts in baseball of decieving hitters and throwing other team’s lineup off balance. I know that he is tainted with inconsistancy, and potent Red Sox lineups helped him with some previous high-win totals. However, the psychological effects of having Wakefield in the rotation are uncharted. I’ve seen it first hand – Wakefield throwing Blue Jay hitters out of their rhythm.

  12. jimmy27nyy

    Hi, Jeremy …
    .
    “Congratulations” on Canada’s Gold Medal win over Team USA in Hockey !!! … It was a very exciting game, one of the best games ever !!! … Also, Vancouver did a very nice job hosting “The Winter Games” !!! … Now, it’s time to get ready for “Baseball” !!!
    .
    Enjoy, Spring Training !!!
    .
    Jimmy, “BY&L”
    http://baseballtheyankeesandlife.mlblogs.com/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s