Knuckleball Nation, the web site and organization of IKA’s Chris Nowlin (shown above with R.A. Dickey), has introduced a social feature called the Knuckleball Network, and announced a related feature focusing on the achievements of knuckleball pitchers, the Scoreboard (forthcoming).
The Knuckleball Network is a social network for knuckleball pitchers, parents and coaches available only on KnuckleballNation.com. You can sign up right now by clicking The Knuckleball Network link on the left-side menu. It works a lot like Facebook. The primary news feed is public and displays posts made by citizens of Knuckleball Nation from all over the world. You may even find a pro knuckleball pitcher posting in The Knuckleball Network.
The Scoreboard celebrates knuckleballers from all over the world. It lists recent stats and scores by Major League, minor league, college, high school and middle school knuckleball pitchers. It also displays amateur results from members of Knuckleball Nation. Every knuckleball pitcher across this country can sign up for the Scoreboard and have their stats displayed for all their fans.
The Network is just getting started, so click into the Knuckleball Nation to become a charter member, so to speak, as well as to learn about Chris’s training packages.
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Sports Illustrated has an interesting pre-Steven-Wright list of knuckleball pitchers in the MLB. SI uses Rob Neyer’s definition: any pitcher “who would not have been in the majors without his knuckleball, or whose knuckleball was considered his best pitch, at least for a time.” We would say that although knuckleball is likely the “best pitch” of the successful knuckleball pitcher, it is also, crucially, his dominant pitch, the one he throws most.
There may be some borderline cases that make the definition worth arguing over, but the names Sports Illustrated lists are all certainly knuckleball pitchers: R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield, Tom Candiotti, Charlie Hough, Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro, Wilbur Wood, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bob Purkey, Ted Lyons, Jesse Haines, and Eddie Cicotte. Cicotte has, of course, often been named as an inventor of the knuckleball, but the origins of the pitch are too shrouded in historical mist to award anyone certain priority in its development.
One name we do not as often as the others see mentioned in the company of the others is Bob Purkey. But Purkey (pictured above) does have something in common with Dickey (who “operated primarily as a spot starter and frequently bounced between Triple A and the majors” before joining the Mets), Tim Wakefield (at first “a floundering first baseman [who] resurrected his career by developing a knuckleball”), and Charlie Hough (whose “fortunes were reversed when he learned to throw a knuckleball”).
In an interview published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rich Emert asks: “Pirates announcer Bob Prince always said you could throw a knuckleball and make it go where you wanted. Was he right?” Purkey’s response:
He lied. If you throw a good knuckleball you have no idea what it’s going to do. I just tried to throw it down the middle. I was basically a sinkerball, slider pitcher. I didn’t have a great fastball, but I had pretty good location and that’s the most important thing. I started to throw the knuckleball because I needed a strikeout pitch for the big swingers.
Some baseball players start with the knuckleball. There are teenagers out there who are already specializing in the pitch. But other players turn to the knuckleball as their major weapon to revive a career that has never gotten off the ground or that perhaps was going well but has now been stalled by injury. Such players develop above-average skill with the knuckleball because they need to do better professionally. The knuckleball can bring reprieve and advancement.