Friday, April 05, 2013

What I Watched Tonight


A documentary film about baseball's most baffling pitch, and the men who pitch it. Follows the recent seasons of Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, with lots of commentary by other legendary knuckleball pitchers such as Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, Wilbur Wood and Jim Bouton.

It's a tough pitch when it works. The pitcher who throws it can't predict what it will do; the batter can't hit it, very often the catcher can't catch it, and the umpire struggles to call it a ball or a strike. Legendary baseball funnyman Bob Uecker, who was himself a catcher, best describes the task of catching a knuckleball: "I wait until it stops rolling and then go pick it up."

The knuckleball will be in baseball as long as the game allows it; there will always be one or two pitchers with more determination than ego who will be willing to put up with the ridicule that comes along with reliance on the pitch. Junkballer, has-been; those are the usual accusations against the man who pitches the knuckleball.

If you've played catch you've probably experimented with it a time or two. There's a definite trick to making it work. It isn't just a slow pitch that falls into the dirt. When you throw one and it actually works your mouth will fall open and you'll gape like an idiot with surprise. A fun feeling.

Well worth the rental.


TOTWTYTR said...

Thanks for the heads up. I'll have to make time to watch it.

Tim Wakefield had a pretty long career with that pitch. No one really made fun of him, especially when he got them on three pitches.

When it works, it drives batters crazy. As R.A. Dickey found out just yesterday, when it doesn't the pitcher gets to watch a lot of balls go over the outfield walls.

Bob said...

@TOTWTYTR: It's responsible for lots of walks and stolen bases, too. It takes a manager with the patience of Job to deal with a knuckleball pitcher on the staff.

Frankly, the pitch is the specialty of the pitcher who's thrown his arm out and can't pitch an effective fast ball. It's the equivalent of a crippled zebra remaining with the herd and avoiding the predators through guile rather than running speed.