Offspeed pitches have always been my favorite. I love to see how a batter is swinging for a ball even before it is at the plate. But did you know that for many knuckleball pitchers, the knuckleball has been a last refuge from being sent down or from being released?
Many great knuckleball pitchers like Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield failed at being a good fielder or hitter. In all of their cases, they turned to throwing the knuckleball in an attempt to stay in the bigs and they succeeded. Through the years, there have been only 80 knuckleballers. So you may say it is a rare breed.
Take Tim Wakefield for example. At college, he batted 22 home runs so he got the attention of several clubs. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as one of the top draftees. But as soon as he had to hit with wood bats, he couldn’t hit anymore. Nothing of that promising hard-hitting first baseman was left. At one point, he started to pitch and tried to throw some knuckleballs. Eventually the brass of the club gave him the choice: Turn to pitching or be released. And that is where it all started for him. In his Major League debut, he pitched a complete game in which he allowed only two unearned runs on six hits as he walked five and struck out ten.
Charlie Hough was a similar case. He could not hit, he could not field, so turning to the knuckleball was his only option. The same goes for Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.
Even though the knuckleball is an awesome pitch which can be very effective, it can go wrong terribly as well. When the pitcher cannot get his proper grip, he will be shelled. But nevertheless it is great to see how a knuckleball is floating like a butterfly without having any spin.
For the real baseball fans, not those who are only fascinated by pitchers that throw 90+ MPH, there is a great documentary about the knuckleball that goes by the same name. Most of the information of this blogpost is coming from that documentary. As far as I am concerned it is of the same quality as the Netflix documentary Battered Bastards of Baseball.
I can highly recommend this documentary in case you haven’t seen it yet. Several former knuckleball pitchers are interviewed: Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey, Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, and the late Jim Bouton.
I’d like to thank Patrick Noote of http://www.baseballmapper.com for making me aware of this documentary. Just visit his Facebook page for some really nice vlogs about (minor league) baseball and all that comes with it.
Here is the documentary: