Jump to content

Providing independent coverage of the Minnesota Twins.
Photo

Knuckleballers - gone the way of the sacrifice bunt (and dinosaurs)

  • Please log in to reply
30 replies to this topic

#1 puckstopper1

puckstopper1

    Junior Member

  • Member
  • 535 posts

Posted 08 April 2020 - 09:46 AM

All:

 

With all the free time due to not having a new MLB season to follow, I was thinking back to baseball past. Things like the sacrifice bunt, the importance of the RBI and the fun that Knuckleball pitchers brought to the game. This led to try and find if there were any Knuckleball pitchers still baffling hitters in the big leagues.

 

According to an article last summer in the Washington post (https://www.washingt...y-going-extinct) Steven Wright of the Red Sox was the only active Knuckleballer in the big leagues last season.

 

The article talks about the steady decline of Knuckleballers over the past dozen years, and the likely reasons why.

 

I'm wondering how the T.D. Universe feels about Knuckleballers.

 

Who was your favorite Knuckleballer? (Mine is Wilbur Wood - He averaged more than 350 innings a season from 1971-73, with an ungodly 376.2 inning pitched in 1972. In 1973 he would become the first pitcher since Walter Johnson to win and lose 20 games in the same season, with a 24-20 mark.)

 

Did you like the craziness that often came went a Knuckleballer pitched?

 

How would Knuckleballers fair today with the hitting emphasis on Launch Angle, Exit Velocity, etc.?

  • glunn, Vanimal46, David HK and 1 other like this

That Twins 2nd baseman - #29 - he doesn't run, he "ca-rew-zes" - Earl Weaver


#2 Dantes929

Dantes929

    Senior Member

  • Member
  • 2,866 posts

Posted 08 April 2020 - 10:29 AM

In Ball Four Jim Bouton talked about how he could never get enough throwing in between starts cuz catchers didn't like catching them. He maintained that he needed to throw a lot because a live arm was no good to him. Made me think he would have preferred to start way more often than once every 5 games.Why couldn't a good one go 400 innings?What I always seemed to notice back in the 80's was the Twins didn't do so great against them but they also didn't do so great the game after facing a knuckleballer. It was like facing one just completely threw off their timing for a couple days.  My favorite knuckleballer was Tim Wakefield.

  • glunn, mickeymental, David HK and 1 other like this
If you build a man a fire, he'll be warm for a day.
If you set a man on fire, he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

#3 IndianaTwin

IndianaTwin

    Junior Member

  • Member
  • 1,581 posts

Posted 08 April 2020 - 10:54 AM

I'm 54 and still working on mine. I figure it's my last shot of making the majors, since there seems to be little interest in a center fielder with no arm who has lost any speed he once had.

 

Oh, and who can't hit a curve.

  • glunn, DocBauer, David HK and 1 other like this

#4 Vanimal46

Vanimal46

    Getting Ready to Show Up to ST in the Best Shape of My Life!

  • Member
  • 13,442 posts
  • LocationAustin, TX

Posted 08 April 2020 - 11:07 AM

I love knuckle ball pitchers. When I played I was unable to throw an effective curve as an offspeed pitch, so I worked on a knuckle ball and utilized it on the rare times my high school team was up or down by 12 runs and I got to pitch. 

 

Tim Wakefield immediately comes to mind as my favorite knuckle baller. Unfortunately the art of throwing the pitch is lost in the era of high velocity. I can't think of a better curve ball (pardon the pun) a team could use by bringing in a knuckle baller after the opposing batters spent 5 innings timing a 97 MPH fastball. 

  • glunn, Dantes929, David HK and 1 other like this

#5 Number3

Number3

    Ft Myers Miracle

  • Member
  • 484 posts

Posted 08 April 2020 - 11:08 AM

I always got a kick out of Bob Uecker when asked how he caught a knuckle ball pitcher....."Easy, just go back to the backstop and pick it up."

 

My favorite was Phil Niekro. Ironically, one key to a good knuckle baller was knowing when to throw his 80mph fastball which appeared to be 95 to the unsuspecting hitter.

  • glunn, Dantes929, DocBauer and 2 others like this

#6 Nine of twelve

Nine of twelve

    Minnesota Twins

  • Member
  • 2,819 posts
  • LocationEarth, for the time being

Posted 08 April 2020 - 12:00 PM

I'm not a baseball insider but I think any competent professional pitching coach should understand how a knuckleball is thrown and be able to teach it. The paucity of knuckleball throwers through the years is evidence that it is a difficult pitch to master. I like the pitch not because it's "fun", but because it is proven to be effective if thrown well, and no team should rule out a player learning the pitch if he can make it work.

  • glunn and DocBauer like this

#7 DocBauer

DocBauer

    Senior Member

  • Member
  • 6,391 posts

Posted 08 April 2020 - 06:08 PM

I'm not a baseball insider but I think any competent professional pitching coach should understand how a knuckleball is thrown and be able to teach it. The paucity of knuckleball throwers through the years is evidence that it is a difficult pitch to master. I like the pitch not because it's "fun", but because it is proven to be effective if thrown well, and no team should rule out a player learning the pitch if he can make it work.


I would agree. But, I have no idea why the knuckleball pitcher has become almost extinct. I've read before it is more of an art and a "feel" than a talent and is very hard to master. Can't recall who said it, might have been one of the Niekro brothers, but it's also very mental because you have to believe in what you're doing and keep repeating it even when you get slapped around. I doubt a lot of pitching coaches are very familiar with the pitch, but then again, there are still guys out there who have succeeded with it to draw knowledge from.

I recall the Joe Niekro fiasco when be was caught doctoring the ball and had a nail file in his pocket, lol. But I also recall statements that you needed strong fingers and fingernails to throw the pitch, unlike something like the split finger pitch which I understand needs larger hand and long fingers.

BTW, whatever happened to the "knuckle curve" we used to hear about? Where's Parker when we need him? Lol
  • glunn and RaoulDuke like this
"Nice catch Hayes...don't ever f*****g do it again."

--Lou Brown


#8 RaoulDuke

RaoulDuke

    Cedar Rapids Kernels

  • Member
  • 200 posts

Posted 08 April 2020 - 07:34 PM

Dickey is my favorite, he was an oddity of an odd category throwing the knuckle faster than most and starting off in the pen.

 

I have a real soft spot for funky pitchers, knucklers/ side armers/ submarine/ weird windup ect, Pat Neshek is my favorite Twin he was so fun to watch when he first came up. 

 

My fantasy (that I have created in multiple video games) is a submarine guy that throws a knuckle.They probably don't exist because both the delivery and the pitch are kinda last resort mechanisms for guys trying to stick around but it would be awesome.

  • glunn, DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan and 3 others like this

#9 RaoulDuke

RaoulDuke

    Cedar Rapids Kernels

  • Member
  • 200 posts

Posted 08 April 2020 - 08:00 PM

 

I would agree. But, I have no idea why the knuckleball pitcher has become almost extinct. I've read before it is more of an art and a "feel" than a talent and is very hard to master. Can't recall who said it, might have been one of the Niekro brothers, but it's also very mental because you have to believe in what you're doing and keep repeating it even when you get slapped around. I doubt a lot of pitching coaches are very familiar with the pitch, but then again, there are still guys out there who have succeeded with it to draw knowledge from.

I recall the Joe Niekro fiasco when be was caught doctoring the ball and had a nail file in his pocket, lol. But I also recall statements that you needed strong fingers and fingernails to throw the pitch, unlike something like the split finger pitch which I understand needs larger hand and long fingers.

BTW, whatever happened to the "knuckle curve" we used to hear about? Where's Parker when we need him? Lol

Knuckle curves are in more use now that ever.Its more often called the spike curve these days, the "knuckle" part comes from the way its gripped and not from any resemblance to the knuckle ball.I think they tend to be a somewhat faster pitch with tighter break that a normal curve, think Tyler Duffey.

  • DocBauer likes this

#10 Linus

Linus

    Senior Member

  • Member
  • 2,402 posts

Posted 09 April 2020 - 06:47 AM

I loved watching catchers waving around trying get leather on a really good knuckler

#11 Linus

Linus

    Senior Member

  • Member
  • 2,402 posts

Posted 09 April 2020 - 06:48 AM

In Ball Four Jim Bouton talked about how he could never get enough throwing in between starts cuz catchers didn't like catching them. He maintained that he needed to throw a lot because a live arm was no good to him. Made me think he would have preferred to start way more often than once every 5 games. Why couldn't a good one go 400 innings? What I always seemed to notice back in the 80's was the Twins didn't do so great against them but they also didn't do so great the game after facing a knuckleballer. It was like facing one just completely threw off their timing for a couple days. My favorite knuckleballer was Tim Wakefield.


Great book. For any out there that haven’t read it I highly recommend it
  • nclahammer likes this

#12 Dantes929

Dantes929

    Senior Member

  • Member
  • 2,866 posts

Posted 09 April 2020 - 07:35 AM

 

Great book. For any out there that haven’t read it I highly recommend it

Ball Four is to baseball literature what Spinal Tap is to film. There are more memorable quotes and scenes that I still remember 40 years after reading it than any book I have read since.

  • DocBauer and David HK like this
If you build a man a fire, he'll be warm for a day.
If you set a man on fire, he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

#13 Trov

Trov

    Ft Myers Miracle

  • Member
  • 320 posts

Posted 09 April 2020 - 08:10 AM

I was always a fan of knuckelball pitchers.Tim Wakefield was my favorite, mainly because he was the best at it when I watched baseball, the 70's pitchers were before I was born.What I like best about them, much like the side arm or submarine guys is they were the underdogs.The guys that were cast off as failures in the sport and they decided to try something else to make it.How many top prospects fizzle out and never heard from, then you see theses guys, that at times needed to go through years of convincing teams they had a spot.

 

It would be interesting to see how the new style of hitting would do against a good knuckleball pitcher.I am sure there will be others in the future, as teams will always try to find some level of an edge, and will buck the trends for that something different.Pitching is just as much of a chess game as a physical game, but knuckleballers are like playing whack a mole.You know what is coming but no one knows where the ball is going to be.  

 

The path to the next good knuckleballer will be one of two paths.A top prospect that fizzles but teams still willing to give a chance and he works on it separate until a team lets him do it full time, or a guy who is not in MLB affiliated teams and gets picked up by independent teams and works on it until a MLB team takes a waiver on him.It will take a player that will be willing to do anything to see his dream of playing at the MLB level and never give up on believing the knuckleball is his or her path.  

  • DocBauer and RaoulDuke like this

#14 Number3

Number3

    Ft Myers Miracle

  • Member
  • 484 posts

Posted 09 April 2020 - 08:31 AM

The 1960s Baltimore Orioles had one of the originals, Hoyt Wilhelm, who was a relief pitcher and maybe even a closer. The catcher, Gus Triandos, would go to the dugout when Wilhelm came in and grab a huge over sized catcher's mitt so he could at least get a glove on Wilhelm's pitches. The fun part about the knuckle ball is that no one knows where it is going including the pitcher. The good ones can keep the ball around the plate and the batter almost has to swing.

  • DocBauer, David HK and Nine of twelve like this

#15 David HK

David HK

    Minnesota Twins

  • Member
  • 3,526 posts
  • LocationHong Kong

Posted 09 April 2020 - 10:25 AM

I'm old school, so gotta go with Hoyt and Wilbur. Geez, the longevity of those guys.

 

In my 40's I had moved from Chicago to LA, and lived across from a high school where I saw a bunch of similar vintage dudes playing ball.I went over and soon joined up with one of the over 40 leagues there. Went to the cage, tuned up on the hitting- and by golly, I got some of the old stroke back- or so I thought.

 

There were a couple of exhibition-type games before the season started, and I was stinging the ball. The mgr batted me leadoff in the first game. On the mound was this fireplug of an old guy, probably pushing 60 at the point, who threw a knuckler. The other guys were saying that he was a nightmare to hit, and I had never faced one before, but thought, what's the big deal?

 

Never even came close to touching the ball in 5 trips. Never saw the top half of the batting order again, either...

  • Dantes929, DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan and 2 others like this

#16 Twodogs

Twodogs

    Rochester Red Wings

  • Member
  • 1,204 posts

Posted 09 April 2020 - 04:37 PM

I wonder if the newer strike zone has pushed the knucklers out a little? I mean, the old zone from what I remember, think back to Greg Maddux, was a little wider but it didn't go as high, anything just above the waist seemed to be called a ball back then, but you could get a good inch or two off the plate sometimes, especially if you had a good catcher. Now the strike zone seems to be narrowed but it seems to go more up and down, I see things called just below the knee and it goes pretty high up like maybe belly button high maybe depending on the ump up to the chest, think Odorizzi's high strikes. Since the knuckle ball seemed to move all over the place, those knucklball pitchers may have had an easier time throwing strikes if they could get an extra inch or two on the plate?? I have no idea why, but I'm just putting forth a guess here. It would seem that if you could get one who could throw strikes that it would be a good day for the bullpen to get a day off 20 times a year as those guys could throw forever it seemed.

You cannot succeed without hate for your enemy


#17 Nine of twelve

Nine of twelve

    Minnesota Twins

  • Member
  • 2,819 posts
  • LocationEarth, for the time being

Posted 09 April 2020 - 05:26 PM

 

I wonder if the newer strike zone has pushed the knucklers out a little? I mean, the old zone from what I remember, think back to Greg Maddux, was a little wider but it didn't go as high, anything just above the waist seemed to be called a ball back then, but you could get a good inch or two off the plate sometimes, especially if you had a good catcher. Now the strike zone seems to be narrowed but it seems to go more up and down, I see things called just below the knee and it goes pretty high up like maybe belly button high maybe depending on the ump up to the chest, think Odorizzi's high strikes. Since the knuckle ball seemed to move all over the place, those knucklball pitchers may have had an easier time throwing strikes if they could get an extra inch or two on the plate?? I have no idea why, but I'm just putting forth a guess here. It would seem that if you could get one who could throw strikes that it would be a good day for the bullpen to get a day off 20 times a year as those guys could throw forever it seemed.

When (not if) automated strike calling comes into use (and it can't be too soon) a strike will be a strike and a ball will be a ball (like god intended).


#18 lecroy24fan

lecroy24fan

    Member

  • Member
  • 263 posts

Posted 10 April 2020 - 04:20 PM

How has no one mentioned Charlie Hough? That's who I watched to master the knuckleball. Neikro's and Wakefield too.

 

If only I would have been allowed to throw it in high school....

  • DocBauer likes this

#19 DocBauer

DocBauer

    Senior Member

  • Member
  • 6,391 posts

Posted 10 April 2020 - 08:45 PM

How has no one mentioned Charlie Hough? That's who I watched to master the knuckleball. Neikro's and Wakefield too.
 
If only I would have been allowed to throw it in high school....


That's it! I had forgotten Hough! Love the Niekro boys but Charlie was the knuckleballer of my teens and early 20's I had forgotten about. Good call!

It does make you wonder, if you could transplant one of these guys,or have the "next" knuckleballer suddenly in your system what he would do against the launch angle, HR driven batters of today. He could be devestaed, or he could pitch 200 innings and win 15-20 games.

Would anyone know what to do when facing him? Someone get Wes Johnson on the phone!
"Nice catch Hayes...don't ever f*****g do it again."

--Lou Brown


#20 Brock Beauchamp

Brock Beauchamp

    A Little Teapot

  • Owner
  • 23,434 posts

Posted 10 April 2020 - 11:13 PM

 

I'm not a baseball insider but I think any competent professional pitching coach should understand how a knuckleball is thrown and be able to teach it. The paucity of knuckleball throwers through the years is evidence that it is a difficult pitch to master. I like the pitch not because it's "fun", but because it is proven to be effective if thrown well, and no team should rule out a player learning the pitch if he can make it work.

My understanding is that it's *extremely* easy to teach a knuckleball, but it's *extremely* hard to learn how to do it and get it near the plate.

 

The entire point of a knuckleball is to stop spin and let wind and gravity take hold. 

 

Literally *stop* spin.

 

A bad knuckleball is basically a 75mph fastball.

  • DocBauer likes this