Tuesday, March 22, 2005

 

Knuckleballers

I am obsessed with knuckleballers. Maybe it is because Tim Wakefield is my favorite player, or maybe it is because when you use Tom Candiotti or Wakefield or Charlie Hough in a video game, no one can stop you unless by accident. I root for knuckleballers whenever I come across them (Jered Fernandez, Steve Sparks, Dennis Springer, and the Red Sox own Charlie Zink) and try to read what I can about them (thanks to Rob Neyer and Bill James for the knuckleball section in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers).

This is why I was excited when I was reading BP 2005 and saw that Ryan Jensen of the San Francisco Giants is attempting to become a knuckleballer. I obviously hoped he would do well, but then thought why doesn't this happen more often? In the past few seasons we've had Ryan Jensen take up the knuckler, and before that Charlie Zink was told go to the bullpen as a normal pitcher or become a starter with a knuckler. Why doesn't this happen more often? I fear the death of the knuckleball in the major leagues. How would it die? Well Ryan Jensen and Charlie Zink and others can learn to throw the knuckler as much as they want, but if they are not given a shot (or get one and fail) then there may be no real knuckleballer left to assume the throne Tim Wakefield currently sits on and occasionally shares with Steve Sparks. The Niekro's kept it alive, then Charlie Hough and Tom Candiotti, now Tim Wakefield and Steve Sparks are the current major leaguers making a difference with it. Jered Fernandez pops up and down between the minors and majors, so he doesn't count.

BP asks why more fringe prospects aren't asked to learn the knuckleball, and I want to know the answer as well. There should at least be more attempts at it; what if someone who can't get that extra bite on his slider or changeup is over qualified for a knuckler, but we never find out because said team is impatient and releases the poor non-prospect.

The knuckleball has brought me one of my favorite baseball memories of all-time, comically on a level with Larry Walker putting his helmet on backwards to face Randy Johnson in the all-star game. Tim Wakefield was pitching against the Chicago White Sox, and had struck Frank Thomas out twice already to that point. His third strikeout came on a sidearm knuckleball that danced in a way that the anti-Elvis movement of the 1950's would have despised. Frank Thomas struck out in an embarassing manner, but instead of looking angry, he was smiling and looked like he was ready to laugh at the insanity of the pitch. Wakefield was covering his mouth with that damn knuckleball grin he has and looked like he was ready to explode with laughter. I want to find a video clip of that at-bat and watch it over and over until it is really burned into my head.

Note to self: Add "make knuckleballers out of fringe pitching prospects" to agenda for when you get major league front office job.

Comments:
Very true!!! Why don't more pitchers try it? Well I tried it, in practice, but could never get it to work.
 
I'd kill to throw a knuckleball, and I probably don't mean that figuratively....I mean yes, I'm not being literal *smile + wave*
 
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