May 10, 2004

A rare pitch makes a comeback.: Ben McGrath of the New Yorker takes a look at that most mystifying of pitches. Knuckleballs are the new black.

posted by gspm to baseball at 01:27 PM - 10 comments

Two of many sentences that jumped out at me-- 1) "SCAD had a baseball team—a perfectly uncompetitive Division III team—whose coach, strangely, was Luis Tiant, the nineteen-seventies Red Sox star famous for his pretzel-twist pitching motion." Luis Tiant, coaching for a design school in Savannah GA! 2) "In April of 1993, the expansion Florida Marlins played their first-ever game, and Sean’s dad pulled him out of first grade to watch at a local sports bar." Dad of the Year?

posted by jason streed at 02:24 PM on May 10, 2004

This article kicks a lot of ass. I read it earlier today. I have to say that one of the things I really love about baseball is the culture and the subcultures. Maybe there's a subculture of option quarterbacks in the NFL, but I doubt it. Also, I gotta give props to Epstein for pursuing the knuckleball. That's good thinking.

posted by rocketman at 02:26 PM on May 10, 2004

Oh man, thanks gspm, that was the best thing I've read in weeks. Bouton's book, Ball Four, (which is cribbed from liberally in the article) is really a great read about the pitch and the mentality it takes to throw it. We have one pitcher on the Diablo's who is almost a full-time knuckleballer. He throws two variations on it, one from a three-quarter motion that comes in hard and might only make one or two cuts on the way to the plate, and an overhand that is much slower and dances quite a bit. He also throws a fastball and a curve. So the knuckleball doubles as his off-speed pitch. There's alot of things the catcher has to think about when calling for the pitch. The first one is, if it's the pitcher's best pitch, then you have to let him throw it. But basically you're almost conceding the stolen base to any runners because of not only how long it takes to reach the plate but also the likelihood that you won't catch it clean. For that reason it's also a bit dangerous to call when there's two strikes and a man on third, because if you drop it and have to throw to first to complete the out you've just allowed a run. Also, if you have a plate umpire with a small strike zone, you're going to get even fewer calls with a knucleball than a fastball, and with tight umps the batter is more likely to go deep into the count taking pitches. The deeper he goes the more likely he is to get a fat three-ball fastball. Having said that, it's a good option to have on your staff. We've been known to start our knuckleball pitcher and have him go through the opposing lineup twice, then regardless of how he's doing, pull him and put in our flamethrower. It will take two more at bats per player to get their timing adjusted, and by then it's too late. Ron Luciano had a quote about the knuckler that never fails to make me smile: "Like some cult religion that barely survives, there has always been at least one but rarely more than five or six devotees throwing the knuckleball in the big leagues...not only can't pitchers control it, hitters can't hit it, catchers can't catch it, coaches can't coach it, and most pitchers can't learn it. The perfect pitch."

posted by vito90 at 03:57 PM on May 10, 2004

I've loved that junk ever since growing up with the Texas Rangers and Charlie Hough. From Hoyt Wilhelm to Hough to Tim Wakefield, you could find a great No. 49 on the mound throwing that insane pitch for 50 years.

posted by rcade at 09:37 PM on May 10, 2004

More great junk: the history of the eephus pitch and a current story on the chances someone will throw it again.

posted by rcade at 10:11 PM on May 10, 2004

Personally, I'm awaiting the return of the screwball, but I don't think anyone's willing to risk the wear on their arm.

posted by yerfatma at 07:44 AM on May 11, 2004

Interesting that this came up today. Last night I was working a Pony League (13-14) game behind the plate and a kid I coached last year threw a dead stinking fish of an 0-2 knuckleball just off the inside corner of the plate. I was so stunned I couldn't get the call out (I have a notoriously big zone and the batter, who was pitching for the other team, knew he should have been rung up). That batter ended up walking, and I prayed he wouldn't score and he didn't, but I apologized after the inning. Man, it was a beaut — why didn't he have that last year!

posted by wfrazerjr at 09:12 AM on May 11, 2004

frazer, you are my hero.

posted by rocketman at 09:45 AM on May 11, 2004

After rcade, that is.

posted by rocketman at 09:46 AM on May 11, 2004

Dude, if you start singing "Wind Beneath My Wings", I'm leaving.

posted by wfrazerjr at 10:02 AM on May 11, 2004

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