Tagged: Phil Niekro

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.
 

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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.  

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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.

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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).

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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??

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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.     

    

  
 

 
 

Superman

A former Blue Jay was inducted into the Hall of Fame yesterday.  If you are searching trying to find the name, it is Ricky Henderson.  That makes four Blue Jays now in the Hall of Fame, the others being Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield and Phil Niekro.  Pretty darn good for a club that came into being in 1977 if I do say so myself, better than the Mariners at least.  Although these players together are ‘Blue Jay Hall of Famers,’ the other thing that they all have is common is they didn’t stay here that long.  Ricky only played in Toronto for half a season plus the playoffs in 1993, Niekro’s great career ended in Toronto after the 1987 season, Winfield only stayed one year to help us win the World Series in 1992 and Molitor’s time in Toronto consisted of one World Series in 1993, a strike shorted year in 1994 and another year in 1995.  Suffice to say, none of these players actually went into the Hall as a Blue Jay.  This is another reason why the Jays should not trade Roy Halladay, although Roberto Alomar (arguably the greatest Jay ever) might have a shot before him. 

 

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I’ve drifted a bit, so back to Superman.  If Jays fans can remember, Toronto and Oakland had a short-lived rivalry in the early 90’s.  We met Oakland in the 1989 ALCS and the ALCS in 1992, winning one of those meetings (Alomar’s amazing homerun off Eckersly in 92 – Game 4 some might remember).  Henderson was so good in those series, that Jays fans and broadcasters referred to him as ‘Superman.’  The Oakland ALCS win over the Jays in 1989 saw Henderson steal 8 bases against the Jays in 5 games.  He won MVP for the series.  The Jays, in particular, had gained a great respect for the athlete that he was.  Hence the name, ‘Superman.’  I remember hating him, and being scared of him everytime he lead-off for the A’s.  So what do you do with your enemies?  Keep them even closer some might say.  I commend modern GM mastermind Pat Gilick on pulling a trade-deadline manuver that brought Ricky to the Jays in 1993.  He was definately one of the players that helped the Jays go back-to-back in 92-93, even though we made him move to right-field. 

Alright, now for a funny Ricky Henderson story.  My favorite was upon Ricky being reunited with John Olerud later in their playing careers with the New York Mets, Henderson said to Olerud:  “I remember playing with a guy that always wore a helmet in Toronto?”  Olerud, who did play with Ricky, and together with him won the World Series in 1993, always wore a helmet on the field-of-play for medical reasons.  He couldn’t even look at Ricky with a straight face after he said that.