Slower than a turtle walking uphill.
Dances faster than a politician under tough questioning.
Less powerful than a pebble hitting the ocean.
The tantalizingly slow, catcher-twisting, hitter-confounding knuckleball, practiced only by a few hearty souls over the course of baseball history. Today, I believe Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey are the only two practitioners of this pitch in the Major Leagues. That’s a shame because not only is it fun to watch the ball move around, particularly on a windy day, it also can save the arm of many a pitcher. The grip and release of the ball allows these guys to pitch much longer than the average hurler.
There have been a number of pitchers throughout the course of baseball history that have had success with the knuckleball as their primary pitch. Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ted Lyons and Jessie Haines are all in the Hall of Fame. Pitchers such as Wakefield, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, Joe Niekro and Wilbur Wood have carved out solid if not spectacular careers each spanning 15 years or longer. In January 2011 the website bleacherreport.com came out with a list of the Top 10 knuckleball pitchers in Major League history. Two traits all of these pitchers share are durability and no arm troubles. Given the fragile nature of pitching, these are traits that cannot be underestimated.
I have often wondered why we have not seen more knuckleball pitchers over the years. Perhaps there is a stigma that comes with the pitch, which I suppose would almost be the equivalent of shooting free throws underhand. That is short-sighted. Not only are knucklers innings-eaters, they can cause havoc on opposing lineups. How about if you have to face one of these guys after a day after seeing a guy who throws 98 plus? Say you are playing the Tigers and the first guy you see is Justin Verlander. Then the next day (or worse in a few hours) you face R.A. Dickey. Don’t you think opposing batters would have their timing disrupted because of the difference in velocity?
I grew up watching Candiotti, the Niekros and Hough baffle hitters. Sure, they could be wild at times because of the unpredictability of the knuckleball but it was fun watching hitters take these big cuts and come up empty. There are worse things in baseball to be than a knuckleball pitcher. Who among us would jump at the chance to be a .500 pitcher with an annual salary of $5 million dollars?