Knuckleball

A knuckleball or knuckler is a baseball pitch thrown to minimize the spin of the ball in flight, causing an erratic, unpredictable motion. The air flow over a seam of the ball causes the ball to transition from laminar to turbulent flow. This transition adds a deflecting force on the side of the baseball. This makes the pitch difficult for batters to hit, but also difficult for pitchers to control and catchers to catch; umpires are challenged as well, as the ball's irregular motion through the air makes it harder to call balls and strikes.[1] A pitcher who throws knuckleballs is known as a knuckleballer.

Hoyt Wilhelm 1959
Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm shows how he placed his fingers before a pitch.

Origins

The origins of the knuckleball are unclear. Toad Ramsey of the Louisville Colonels in the old American Association—his pitch likely resembled the knuckle curve—and Eddie Cicotte of the major leagues' Chicago White Sox, who in 1908, was nicknamed "Knuckles", are two possible creators of the pitch.[2] Other accounts attribute the pitch's creation to Charles H. Druery, a pitcher for the Blue Ridge League.[3] In 1917, Druery taught the pitch to Eddie Rommel who became successful with the knuckleball for the Philadelphia Athletics.[4]

Grip and motion

EddieCicotte55
Eddie Cicotte, who is sometimes credited with inventing the knuckleball

As used by Cicotte, the knuckleball was originally thrown by holding the ball with the knuckles, hence the name of the pitch. Ed Summers, a Pittsburgh teammate of Cicotte who adopted the pitch and helped develop it, modified this by holding the ball with his fingertips and using the thumb for balance. This grip can also include digging the fingernails into the surface of the ball. The fingertip grip is more commonly used today by knuckleball pitchers, like retired Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, who had a knuckleball with a lot of movement. There are other prominent knuckleball pitchers like Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who had a very effective knuckler and knuckle curve, and Cy Young Award winning pitcher R.A. Dickey. However, young pitchers with smaller hands tend to throw the knuckleball with their knuckles. Sometimes young players will throw the knuckleball with their knuckles flat against the ball, giving it less spin but also making it difficult to throw any significant distance.

Regardless of how the ball is gripped, the purpose of the knuckleball is to have the least possible amount of rotational spin. Created by the act of throwing a ball, the ball's trajectory is significantly affected by variations in airflow caused by differences between the smooth surface of the ball and the stitching of its seams. The asymmetric drag that results tends to deflect the trajectory toward the side with the stitches.

Over the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate, the effect of these forces is that the knuckleball can "flutter," "dance," "jiggle," or curve in two different directions during its flight. A pitch thrown completely without spin is less desirable, however, than one with only a very slight spin (so that the ball completes between one-quarter and one-half a rotation on its way from the pitcher to the batter). This will cause the position of the stitches to change as the ball travels, which changes the drag that gives the ball its motion, thus making its flight even more erratic. Even a ball thrown without rotation will "flutter", due to the "apparent wind" it feels as its trajectory changes throughout its flight path.[5]

Hitting a knuckleball is different enough from other aspects of baseball that players specifically prepare for the pitch during batting practice before games they expect it in.[6] According to physicist Robert Adair, due to the physiological limitation of human reaction time, a breaking knuckleball may be impossible to hit except by luck.[2] If a knuckleball does not change direction in mid-flight, however, then it is easy to hit due to its lack of speed. (A common phrase for hitting a knuckleball is "if it's low, let it go; if it's high, let it fly"; meaning that a batter should attempt to hit a knuckleball only if it crosses the plate high in the strike zone due to lack of break.) Since it typically only travels 60 to 70 miles per hour (97 to 113 km/h),[7] far slower than the average major league fastball 85 to 95 miles per hour (137 to 153 km/h), it can be hit very hard if there is no movement. One 2007 study offered evidence for this conclusion.[8] To reduce the chances of having the knuckleball get hit for a home run, some pitchers will impart a slight topspin so that if no force causes the ball to dance, it will move downward in flight. Another drawback is that runners on base can usually advance more easily than if a conventional pitcher is on the mound. This is due to both the knuckleball's low average speed and its erratic movement, which force the catcher to keep focusing on the ball even after the runners start stealing their next bases. However, since a typical major league starting rotation exceeds the length of a series against any one opponent, one way a manager can mitigate this disadvantage is to adjust his team's pitching rotation so as to eliminate (or at least minimize) games in which a knuckleballer would pitch against teams with a preponderance of fast baserunners. Some knuckleball pitchers, such as Hoyt Wilhelm and Tim Wakefield, had catchers specifically assigned to them to catch their knuckleballs.

A paper presented at the 2012 Conference of the International Sports Engineering Association argues, based on PITCHf/x data, that knuckleballs do not make large and abrupt changes in their trajectories on the way to home plate—or at least, no more abrupt than a normal pitch. It speculates that the appearance of abrupt shifting may be due to the unpredictability of the changes in direction.[9]

Cricket

The knuckleball are also employed by cricket fast bowlers Andrew Tye, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Zaheer Khan as their slower delivery. The physics of the operation are largely the same. However, the seam on a cricket ball is equatorial, and thus the extent of erratic movement is reduced due to the symmetry (at least in the conventional release position where the planes of the ball's trajectory and the seam are nearly co-planar). In addition, the lack of backspin does shorten the length of the delivery, and also tends to make the ball skid off the pitch—faster than it would come off a normal delivery.[10]

Naming and relationship to other pitches

Wakefield Throws a Knuckleball
Tim Wakefield in his throwing motion, showing his grip of the knuckleball

Since it developed during a period when the spitball was legal and commonly used, and was similarly surprising in its motion, the knuckleball was sometimes called the "dry spitter". Cicotte was widely reported to throw both the knuckleball and a variant on the spitball known as a "shine ball" (because he would "shine" one side of a dirty ball by rubbing it on his uniform). However, Cicotte called the shine ball "a pure freak of the imagination", claiming that he did this to disconcert hitters and that the pitch was still a knuckleball.

Other names for the knuckleball have generally alluded to its motion and slower speed. These include the flutterball, the floater, the dancer, the butterfly ball (the name for the pitch used by French language game commentators employed by the Montreal Expos), the ghostball, and the bug.

The knuckle curve has a somewhat similar name because of the grip used to throw it (also with the knuckles or fingernails), but it is generally thrown harder and with spin. The resulting motion of the pitch more closely resembles a curveball, which explains the combination name. Toad Ramsey, a pitcher from 1885 to 1890, is credited in some later sources with being the first knuckleballer, apparently based primarily on accounts of how he gripped the ball; however, based on more contemporary descriptions of his pitch as an "immense drop ball", it may be that his pitch was a form of knuckle curve. Two later pitchers, Jesse Haines and Freddie Fitzsimmons, were sometimes characterized as knuckleball pitchers even by their contemporaries, but in their cases this again refers to a harder-thrown, curving pitch that would probably not be called a knuckleball today. Historically, the term "knuckle curve" had a usage that was different from what it has in the game today. Many current pitchers throw a curveball using a grip with the index finger touching the ball with the knuckle or the fingertip (also called a spike curve). This modern pitch type is unrelated to the knuckleball.

Rarity

As of 2004, only about 70 Major League Baseball pitchers have regularly used the knuckleball during their careers, and its use has become more rare over time. This can be attributed to a variety of factors. The first is selection bias in scouting. Because the speed of any prospect's pitch is one of the quickest and easiest metrics in judging the skill of the prospect, the knuckleball, which is thrown slower than any other pitch, gets overlooked. Tim Wakefield argues that "The problem is that [baseball] is so radar gun-oriented." Former knuckleballer and pitching coach Charlie Hough says that the increased rarity of the knuckleball is due to scouts increasingly looking only for the best arm.[11] This effect is increasing over time as the modern game continues to emphasize power in pitching and average pitch speed increases.[12]

Another factor contributing to the rarity of the knuckleball is the difficulty of throwing the pitch. R.A. Dickey estimates that it takes at least a year to grasp the fundamentals of the knuckleball. The knuckleball is radically different than any other pitch in a pitcher's arsenal, and less predictable, thus difficult to control. It is for this reason that the knuckleball is widely regarded as unreliable, and knuckleball pitchers are prone to extended slumps, such as when Tim Wakefield was released from the Pirates in a mid-career slump during spring training in 1995.[11] Another reason for the difficulty of the knuckleball is due to the network effect. Because there are so few knuckleball pitchers, the resources for learning and improving the knuckleball are few compared to more common pitches. Pitching coaches often struggle with knuckleball pitchers due to a lack of experience with the pitch. "I think the hardest thing for me is just the alone-ness that you feel sometimes because nobody else really does it", said Wakefield.[11]

Coaches have also been seen as a barrier to succeeding with the knuckleball. Jim Bouton said, "coaches don't respect it. You can pitch seven good innings with a knuckleball, and as soon as you walk a guy they go, 'See, there's that damn knuckleball.'" R.A. Dickey argues that, "for most managers, it takes a special manager to be able to really trust it – the bad and the good of it. Coaches are quick to banish the pitch after one bad outing. This was common due to the amount of practice one must put into the pitch. And traditionally, if you look at Tim Wakefield, Joe and Phil Niekro, Tom Candiotti, Wilbur Wood, Hoyt Wilhelm and all the guys that threw it, through their success they had guys who really believed in what it could do long-term and committed to giving them the ball every fifth day to do it."[11]

In 1991, Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell was quoted as saying, "I think the knuckleball is fading out." Ferrell knows knuckleballs; he had the task of being the Washington Senators' catcher in 1944 and '45, when the Senators had four knuckleball pitchers in their starting rotation. Furthermore, other factors, such as a dearth of knuckleball teachers and the dramatic increase in the running game (base stealing is often easier against knuckleball pitchers), may be contributing to its demise. Says Bob Humphrey, a former major-league knuckleball pitcher: "you just don't have time to mess with it." A fast-track scheme is developing, eliminating the knuckleballer pitcher's chief ally: time. Tom Candiotti said: "to get signed, you have to be impressive on the radar guns." The knuckleball takes time to master and is not an attractive pitch on the radar guns, both of which may be contributing to its demise.[13][14]

Perhaps as a result, knuckleball pitchers often view themselves as members of an exclusive club, with its own uniform number (49, first worn by Wilhelm) and leader (Phil Niekro, whom The New Yorker in 2004 called "the undisputed Grand Poobah" of the group after Wilhelm's death).[2] Because they cannot discuss pitching with non knuckleball-using teammates, they often share tips and insights even if on competing teams, and believe that they have a responsibility to help younger players develop the pitch.[15] When, in 2012, R. A. Dickey became the first Cy Young Award-winning knuckleball pitcher, he called the award "a victory for … the knuckleball fraternity", and of the dozens of phone calls he received after the announcement, Niekro's was the only one he answered.[16]

When originally developed, the knuckleball was used by a number of pitchers as simply one pitch in their repertoire, usually as part of changing speeds from their fastball. It is almost never used in a mixed repertoire today, however, and some believe that to throw the knuckleball effectively with some semblance of control over the pitch, one must throw it more or less exclusively.[17] At the same time, pitchers rarely focus on the knuckleball if they have reasonable skill with more standard pitches. Unlike conventional pitches, which perform fast results without much exertion, a knuckleball pitcher must train his body and muscle memory to be able to execute a 65 mph pitch with under one rotation.[18]

Use in pitching

The knuckleball does provide some advantages to its practitioners. It does not need to be thrown hard (in fact, throwing too hard may diminish its effectiveness), and is therefore less taxing on the arm. This means knuckleball pitchers can throw more innings than other pitchers, and, requiring less time to recover after pitching, can pitch more frequently. The lower physical strain also fosters longer careers. Some knuckleballers have continued to pitch professionally well into their forties; examples include Tim Wakefield, Hoyt Wilhelm, R.A. Dickey, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, and the brothers Phil Niekro and Joe Niekro.[2] Pitchers like Bouton have found success as knuckleballers after their ability to throw hard declined.

Hoyt Wilhelm, Phil Niekro, and Jesse Haines, three pitchers who primarily relied on the knuckleball, have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Additionally, Ted Lyons, another member of the Hall of Fame, relied heavily on the knuckleball after injuring his arm in 1931.[19] Niekro was given the nickname "Knucksie" during his career. Other prominent knuckleball pitchers have included Josh Turley, Joe Niekro (Phil's brother), Charlie Hough, Dave Jolly, Ben Flowers, Wilbur Wood, Barney Schultz, Tom Candiotti, Bob Purkey, Steve Sparks, Eddie Rommel, Tim Wakefield, Steven Wright, and Dickey. During the 1945 season, with talent depleted by call-ups to fight in World War II, the Washington Senators had a pitching rotation which included four knuckleball pitchers (Dutch Leonard, Johnny Niggeling, Mickey "Itsy Bitsy" Haefner and Roger Wolff) who combined for 60 complete games and 60 wins, carrying the Senators to second place.

Dickey of the Atlanta Braves is one of only a few knuckleballers in the big leagues, joined by Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox. Dickey routinely throws an unusually fast knuckleball at 80 mph (130 km/h). Minor leaguers Charlie Zink of the Lancaster Barnstormers, Joseph Zeller of the Peoria Chiefs, and Charlie Haeger of the Albuquerque Isotopes also throw the knuckleball. Dickey himself has taken an active involvement in helping younger knuckleballers coming through, and in 2012, he started providing personal coaching lessons to 18-year-old knuckleball pitcher Stephen Orso.[20] [21] In November 2008, it was announced that 16-year-old knuckleballer Eri Yoshida was drafted as the first woman ever to play in Japanese professional baseball for the Kobe 9 Cruise of the Kansai Independent Baseball League. On March 2, 2010, she trained with Tim Wakefield at the Boston Red Sox minor-league training facility.[22] And on April 8, 2010, she signed with the Chico Outlaws, debuting on May 29, 2010.[23] Former Detroit Tigers reliever Eddie Bonine also throws a knuckleball, though he does so infrequently as compared to pitchers who use it as a primary pitch. Lance Niekro, son of Joe Niekro, attempted to convert from a position player to a knuckleball pitcher. He started the 2009 season with the Gulf Coast League Braves, but is currently retired and coaching college baseball at Florida Southern.

Catching

The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up.
— Bob Uecker[1]

As with hitters, the unpredictable motion of the knuckleball makes it one of the most difficult pitches for catchers to handle, and they tend to be charged with a significantly higher number of passed balls. Former catcher Bob Uecker, who caught for Phil Niekro, said, "The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up."[1] Bouton said, "Catchers hate it. Nobody likes to warm up with you." According to Adair, the 150 ms minimum human reaction time may be too slow to adjust to a knuckleball's changing direction.[2]

A team will sometimes employ a catcher solely for games started by a knuckleballer.[24] The "knuckleball catcher" is equipped with an oversized knuckleball catcher's mitt,[25] similar to a first baseman's glove; Doug Mirabelli, formerly of the Red Sox, used a softball catcher's mitt. The Boston Red Sox did this fairly systematically in their 2004 world championship season, with Mirabelli regularly catching in place of Jason Varitek when Tim Wakefield was pitching. This use of a "specialist" catcher continued into the 2008 season following the signing of Kevin Cash, and 2009 saw George Kottaras fulfill this role. On August 26, the first time Victor Martinez caught Wakefield, he used a first baseman's glove, instead of a regular catcher's mitt.[26] For a catcher, a key disadvantage to using a first baseman's glove instead of a regular catcher's mitt is that first baseman's gloves are not designed for easy extraction of a ball from the glove, a trait which further intensifies the difficulty a catcher endures in preventing baserunners from stealing bases.

On occasion, teams have traded knuckleball pitchers and their catchers in the same transaction. For example, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas went with Dickey when the pitcher was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in late 2012, and the team later signed Henry Blanco, who also caught for Dickey.[24]

The record for passed balls in an inning (4 passed balls) was first set by Ray Katt of the New York Giants in 1954, catching Hoyt Wilhelm.[27] It was tied by Geno Petralli of the Texas Rangers in 1987 while trying to catch knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough, and tied again in 2013 when Ryan Lavarnway of the Boston Red Sox passed four balls in the first inning, catching knuckleballer Steven Wright in Wright's first major league start.[27] Varitek holds the postseason record with three passed balls in the 13th inning of Game 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series while catching Wakefield.[28] In the 2013 season, J. P. Arencibia (then catching for the Toronto Blue Jays) set a franchise record by allowing 4 passed balls in the season opening game (a 4–2 loss) while catching for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. He never caught for Dickey again.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Hoffman, Benjamin. "Not So Easy on the Eyes" New York Times (June 23, 2012)
  2. ^ a b c d e McGrath, Ben (May 17, 2004). "Project Knuckleball". The New Yorker.
  3. ^ "Charles H. Druery" (PDF). Watertown Daily. 27 December 1968. Retrieved 2014-09-18.
  4. ^ "Knuckle Ball Inventor Dead". Cumberland Evening Times. 27 December 1968. Retrieved 2014-09-18.
  5. ^ Nathan, Alan M. "The Physics of Baseball: Knuckleball Research". Retrieved 2014-09-18.
  6. ^ Murphy, Dave (2012-12-21). "I am 2-time NL MVP Dale Murphy, former MLB player for the Braves, Phillies and Rockies. AMA!". Reddit. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  7. ^ Neyer, Rob (June 24, 2012). "Will R.A. Dickey's Angry Knuckleball Change The Game?". Baseball Nation. Retrieved June 29, 2012.
  8. ^ Walsh, John (November 27, 2007). "Butterflies are not bullets". The Hardball Times. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  9. ^ Nathan, Alan M. (February 29, 2012). "Analysis of knuckleball trajectories" (PDF). Procedia Engineering. 34: 116–121. doi:10.1016/j.proeng.2012.04.021. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  10. ^ Selvey, Mike; Marks, Vic; Bull, Andy; Hopps, David (April 4, 2011). "Cricket World Cup: The writers' verdicts". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  11. ^ a b c d "Knuckleballers' paths as tricky as the pitch". Major League Baseball.
  12. ^ "MLB pitchers setting velocity records, altering balance of power". TribLIVE.com.
  13. ^ "Knuckleball pitchers may be a dying breed". Herald-Journal – via Google News Archive Search.
  14. ^ "The art of the mysterious knuckleball is on the verge of extinction". The Tuscaloosa News – via Google News Archive Search.
  15. ^ McAdam, Sean (2008-07-22). "Wakefield, Dickey share a unique relationship". ESPN. Retrieved 2013-05-03.
  16. ^ Schilken, Chuck (2012-11-15). "R.A. Dickey calls Cy Young Award a victory for all knuckleballers". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-04-07.
  17. ^ "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers". google.com.
  18. ^ Nate Beard. "The Future of the Knuckleball". Bleacher Report.
  19. ^ Administrator. "The Sunday Saga of Ted Lyons". sabr.org.
  20. ^ Martin, Dan (20 June 2012). "Mets pitcher OK with sharing his secrets". www.nypost.com. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  21. ^ Taylor, Phil (24 September 2012). "Striking A Blow For Slow". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on 2014-03-10. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  22. ^ Speier, Alex (March 3, 2010). "Knuckleball life comes full circle for Wakefield". WEEI. Retrieved May 24, 2011.
  23. ^ Witz, Billy (May 30, 2010). "Japan's 'Knuckle Princess' Arrives in U.S." New York Times.
  24. ^ a b Keating, Steve (2013-04-02). "Arencibia lives knuckleball nightmare on opening day". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-04-07.
  25. ^ Sullivan, Jeff. "All-Star Game 2012: The Glove To Catch R.A. Dickey". SB Nation. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  26. ^ Barbarisi, Dan (August 26, 2009). "Victor Martinez passes the Wakefield test". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved May 24, 2011.
  27. ^ a b "Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway ties big league record with four passed balls". mlb.com. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
  28. ^ Mark Feinsand (19 October 2004). "Yanks, Sox headed back to NY". MLB.com. Retrieved 2014-09-18. The passed balls allowed Yankees batter Gary Sheffield to reach first after a strikeout, and then advance to second and third. But no runs scored, and the Red Sox won the game.

Bibliography

External links

Bob Purkey

Robert Thomas Purkey (July 14, 1929 – March 16, 2008) was an American right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball known for his use of the knuckleball. From 1954 through 1966, Purkey played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds / Redlegs, and St. Louis Cardinals. In 1974 he was elected to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

Bobby Shantz

Robert Clayton Shantz (born September 26, 1925) is an American former professional baseball pitcher, who played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Philadelphia Athletics (1949–1954), Kansas City Athletics (1955–1956), New York Yankees (1957–1960), Pittsburgh Pirates (1961), Houston Colt .45s (1962), St. Louis Cardinals (1962–1964), Chicago Cubs (1964), and Philadelphia Phillies (1964).A left-hander, Shantz began his career as a starting pitcher, but about halfway through he converted to a competent relief pitcher. In 1951, he added the knuckleball to his repertoire. Standing only 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m), Shantz had a career record of 119 games won, 99 games lost, and an earned run average (ERA) of 3.38.

Charlie Hough

Charles Oliver Hough (; born January 5, 1948) is a former Major League Baseball knuckleball pitcher.

Dutch Leonard (right-handed pitcher)

Emil John "Dutch" Leonard (March 25, 1909 – April 17, 1983) was an American professional baseball player. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a right-handed knuckleball pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1933–36), Washington Senators (1938–46), Philadelphia Phillies (1947–48), and Chicago Cubs (1949–53). He was born in Auburn, Illinois.

In a 20-season career, Leonard posted a 191–181 win–loss record with 1170 strikeouts and a 3.25 earned run average in ​3218 1⁄3 innings pitched. He was a six-time All-Star selection, and became the pitching coach of the Cubs immediately after his playing career ended (1954–56).

On July 4, 1939, Leonard pitched a complete game and the Senators defeated the New York Yankees in the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. At the conclusion of the first game, Lou Gehrig delivered his famous "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech.

During the 1945 season, Leonard was part of what was possibly the only four-man rotation in baseball history to have been all knuckleball pitchers.

Reportedly, after facing Leonard, Jackie Robinson once said: "I am glad of one thing, and that is I don't have to hit against Dutch Leonard every day. Man, what a knuckleball that fellow has. It comes up, makes a face at you, then runs away."In a biographical movie about Robinson called 42, former MLB pitcher C. J. Nitkowski plays the role of Leonard pitching against Robinson.Leonard's nickname 'Dutch' was also taken in his honor by crime novelist Elmore Leonard, and was tattooed as such during his time in the SeaBees.Although his nickname suggests otherwise, Leonard was of Belgian descent. Leonard died in Springfield, Illinois at age of 74.

Eddie Cicotte

Edward Victor Cicotte (; June 19, 1884 – May 5, 1969), nicknamed "Knuckles", was an American right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball best known for his time with the Chicago White Sox. He was one of eight players permanently ineligible for professional baseball for his alleged participation in the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series, in which the favored White Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds in eight games. The "fixing" of the 1919 World Series is the only recognized gambling scandal to tarnish a World Series.

Eddie Rommel

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Edwin Americus Rommel (September 13, 1897 – August 26, 1970) was an American right-handed pitcher and umpire in Major League Baseball. He spent his entire playing career (1920 to 1932) with the Philadelphia Athletics. He is considered to be the "father" of the modern knuckleball.

Hoyt Wilhelm

James Hoyt Wilhelm (July 26, 1922 – August 23, 2002), nicknamed "Old Sarge", was an American Major League Baseball pitcher with the New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, California Angels, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers between 1952 and 1972. Wilhelm was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, and is one of 78 pitchers enshrined in the Hall.

Wilhelm grew up in North Carolina, fought in World War II, and then spent several years in the minor leagues before starting his major league career at the age of 29. He was best known for his knuckleball, which enabled him to have great longevity. He appeared occasionally as a starting pitcher, but pitched mainly as a reliever. Wilhelm won 124 games, still the record for relief pitchers. He was the first pitcher to reach 200 saves, and the first to appear in 1,000 games.

Wilhelm was nearly 30 years old when he entered the major leagues, and pitched until he was nearly 50. He retired with one of the lowest career earned run averages, 2.52, in baseball history. After retiring as a player in 1972 Wilhelm held longtime coaching jobs with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves. He lived in Sarasota, Florida for many years, and died there in 2002.

Jim Bouton

James Alan Bouton (; born March 8, 1939) is an

American retired professional baseball player. Bouton played in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a pitcher for the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves between 1962 and 1978. He has also been a best-selling author, actor, activist, sportscaster and one of the creators of Big League Chew.

Bouton played college baseball at Western Michigan University, before signing his first professional contract with the Yankees. He was a member of the 1962 World Series champions, appeared in the 1963 MLB All-Star Game, and won both of his starts in the 1964 World Series. Later in his career, he developed and threw a knuckleball.

Bouton authored the baseball book Ball Four, which was a combination diary of his 1969 season and memoir of his years with the Yankees, Pilots, and Astros.

Knuckle curve

In Major League history, the term knuckle curve or knuckle curveball has been used to describe three entirely different pitches.

The first, more common pitch called the knuckle curve is really a standard curveball, thrown with one or more of the index or mean fingers bent. According to practitioners, this gives them a better grip on the ball and allows for tighter spin and greater movement. In all other respects, this knuckle curve is identical to the standard curveball. This version of the knuckle curve is currently used by Major League pitchers Phil Hughes and Brad Peacock. Mike Mussina was well known for his incorporation of the pitch into his repertoire. Justin Verlander formerly threw a knuckle curve but was forced to abandon the pitch due to problems with blisters. This knuckle curve is usually called the spike curve by MLB players and coaches because the pitch is nothing like a knuckleball.

The second type of knuckle curve is a breaking ball that is thrown with a grip similar to the knuckleball. Unlike a knuckleball, which spins very little, a knuckle curve spins like a normal curveball because the pitcher's index and middle fingers push the top of the ball into a downward curve at the moment of release. Since only two fingers produce the spin, however, a knuckle curve does not spin as fast as a curveball, meaning the break is less sharp, and less predictable. Because this knuckle curve can be thrown with the same general motion as a fastball, it is more deceptive than a normal curveball. This kind of knuckle curve is rare—it is easier to control than a standard knuckleball, but still difficult to master. The most famous practitioners of this type of knuckle curve are Burt 'Happy' Hooton, who pitched for the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, and former reliever Jason Isringhausen.

The third type of knuckle curve was thrown by Dave Stenhouse in the 1960s. Stenhouse's knuckle curve was thrown like a fastball but with a knuckleball grip. Stenhouse discovered that this pitch had excellent movement, and when he came to the majors, he utilized it as a breaking pitch. This pitch may have been the same as the knuckleball thrown by Jesse Haines and Freddie Fitzsimmons. The pitch would be perfected by Chicago White Sox legend Hoyt Wilhelm during the later stages of his career, after flirting with it for most of his time in the majors.

Knuckleball!

Knuckleball! is a 2012 documentary film that follows the 2011 seasons of Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, Major League Baseball's only knuckleball pitchers that year. It was released in theaters on September 20, 2012 and on DVD on April 2, 2013. Wakefield won his 200th game in 2011 and Dickey won the 2012 Cy Young Award.

Larry French

Lawrence Herbert French (November 1, 1907 – February 9, 1987) was a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1929–1934), Chicago Cubs (1935–1941) and Brooklyn Dodgers (1941). A knuckleball specialist, French batted right-handed and threw left-handed. He was born in Visalia, California.

One author has described French as the best pitcher not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In a 14-season career, French posted a 197–171 record with 1,187 strikeouts and a 3.44 ERA in 3,152.0 innings pitched, including 40 shutouts and 198 complete games.

French joined the United States Navy after the Dodgers and became a career sailor, retiring in 1969 with the rank of Captain. He died in San Diego, California, at age 79.

Passed ball

In baseball, a catcher is charged with a passed ball when he fails to hold or control a legally pitched ball that, with ordinary effort, should have been maintained under his control, and, as a result of this loss of control, the batter or a runner on base advances. A runner who advances due to a passed ball is not credited with a stolen base unless he breaks for the base before the pitcher begins his delivery.

A passed ball may be scored when a base runner reaches the next base on a bobble or missed catch by the catcher, or when the batter-runner reaches first base on an uncaught strike three (see also Strikeout).

A closely related statistic is the wild pitch. As with many baseball statistics, whether a pitch that gets away from a catcher is a passed ball or wild pitch is at the discretion of the official scorer. Typically, pitches that are deemed to be ordinarily catchable by the catcher, but are not, are ruled passed balls; pitches that get by the catcher that are thought to have required extraordinary effort by the catcher in order to stop them are wild pitches. If the pitch was so low as to touch the ground, or so high that the catcher has to rise out of his crouched position to get to it, or so wide that the catcher has to lunge for it, it is usually then considered a wild pitch and not a passed ball.

A scored run due to a passed ball is not recorded as an earned run. However, a scored run due to a wild pitch is recorded as an earned run.

Passed balls and wild pitches are considered to be part of the act of pitching rather than fielding. Thus they are kept as separate statistics and are not recorded as errors.

There tends to be a higher incidence of passed balls when a knuckleballer is pitching. The physics that make a knuckleball so difficult to hit make it similarly difficult to catch. While teams with a knuckleballer on their pitching staff often employ a special "knuckleball catcher" who is equipped with a knuckleball mitt, similar to a first baseman's glove, it is still extremely difficult to catch.

Phil Niekro

Philip Henry Niekro (pronounced NEE-kro) (born April 1, 1939), nicknamed "Knucksie", is a former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher. He played 24 seasons in the majors, 20 of them with the Milwaukee / Atlanta Braves. Niekro's 318 career victories are the most by a knuckleball pitcher and ranks 16th on the overall all-time wins list. He won the National League (NL) Gold Glove Award five times, was selected for five All-Star teams, and led the league in victories twice and earned run average once. Niekro was also a key to the only two division titles Atlanta won before 1991.

Phil and his brother Joe Niekro amassed 539 wins between them, the most combined wins by brothers in baseball history, and Phil's 121 career victories after the age of 40 is a major league record. His longevity is attributed to the knuckleball, which is a difficult pitch to master but is easy on the arm and often baffles hitters due to its unpredictable trajectory.

Niekro was the last MLB pitcher to have both won and lost 20 or more games in the same season. With the 1979 Braves, Niekro finished with 21 wins and 20 losses. This was his third and final 20-win season and his second and final 20-loss season. That season, Phil and Joe Niekro were National League co-leaders in wins.

R.A. Dickey

Robert Allen Dickey (born October 29, 1974) is an American former professional baseball pitcher. He has played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves.

After limited success in the majors as a conventional starting pitcher, Dickey learned to throw a knuckleball. In 2012, Dickey was selected to his first All-Star Game, won the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award, and became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award after posting a 20–6 record with a league-leading 230 strikeouts. From 2013 to 2017, Dickey and Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright were the only two active knuckleballers in the Majors.

Steve Lombardi

Steven Kenneth Lombardi (born April 18, 1961) is an American semi-retired professional wrestler and road agent, better known by his ring name, The Brooklyn Brawler. He worked for the professional wrestling promotion, WWE, as well as several independent promotions.

Ted Lyons

Theodore Amar Lyons (December 28, 1900 – July 25, 1986) was an American professional baseball starting pitcher, manager and coach in Major League Baseball (MLB). He played in 21 MLB seasons, all with the Chicago White Sox. He is the franchise leader in wins. Lyons won 20 or more games three times (in 1925, 1927, and 1930) and became a fan favorite in Chicago.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. He has the third highest career ERA of any Hall of Fame pitcher. He is also the only Hall of Fame pitcher who gave up more walks than he had strikeouts.

Tim Wakefield

Timothy Stephen "Tim" Wakefield (born August 2, 1966) is an American former professional baseball pitcher. Wakefield began his pitching career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but is most remembered for his 17-year tenure with the Boston Red Sox, starting in 1995 and ending with his retirement in 2012 as the longest-serving player on the team. Wakefield, at the time of his retirement, was the oldest active player in the majors.

Known for his signature knuckleball, Wakefield won his 200th career game on September 13, 2011 against the Toronto Blue Jays, and is third on the Boston Red Sox with 186 team victories, behind both Cy Young and Roger Clemens. He is second in all-time wins at Fenway Park with 97, behind Roger Clemens' 100, and is first all-time in innings pitched by a Red Sox pitcher, with 3,006, having surpassed Roger Clemens' total of 2,777 on June 8, 2010.Wakefield was nominated eight times for the Roberto Clemente Award, winning the award in 2010.

Tom Candiotti

Thomas Caesar Candiotti (born August 31, 1957) is a former right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball who was known for his knuckleball. He played for the Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers. As of the 2015 season, Candiotti is a television and radio analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Wilbur Wood

Wilbur Forrester Wood, Jr. (born October 22, 1941) is an American former professional baseball player. He was a pitcher in Major League Baseball for seventeen years, most notably with the Chicago White Sox where he earned 163 of his 164 wins. A knuckleball specialist, he threw left-handed, and batted right-handed.

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