Feisty New Book on the Knuckleball Career of Tom Candiotti

We like the pitching metaphors. But we have to say that K.P. Wee’s Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs (McFarland, 2014) comes out swinging, not to say slugging.

Candiotti A Life of Knuckleballs

Wee argues that Candiotti has suffered a bad rap in the penumbrae of Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, being underrated by even knowledgeable sports writers.

[In] 1995, Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield went 14-1 with 1.65 ERA in his first 17 starts for Boston, going undefeated in 12 starts in one stretch. Wakefield received a lot of accolades—which, obviously, he deserved—for pitching Boston to an improbable American League East Division title….

Oddly enough, Candiotti did most of the above in 1993 [for the Los Angeles Dodgers] but somehow flew under the radar. That year he had a 1.53 ERA over a 17-start stretch, losing only once. He had a 15-game unbeaten streak from June 12 to August 15….On July 4, Candiotti pitched a two-hit, no-walk shutout over seven innings as Los Angeles won, 1-0, in Montreal…. No, Candiotti didn’t go 14-1, but who could quibble with his 1.53 ERA during his 17-start stretch and 15-game undefeated streak?

In 1997, sports writer Bob Ryan praised Wakefield in a piece for the Boston Globe…. “Wakefield did a very silly thing two years ago. He created a monster by coming to Boston and embarking on the greatest prolonged stretch of knuckleball pitching in the history of baseball. Better than anything HoytWilhelm ever did. Better than anything Wilbur Wood ever did. Better than anything Charlie Hough ever did. And it was surely better than anything Wakefield will do again….”

Only three-plus years had elapsed at the time of Ryan’s piece, but he didn’t consider Candiotti’s accomplishments. The Dodger knuckleballer’s 1993 efforts were not even a footnote to the story, which suggests he was overlooked because he didn’t compile a gaudy won-lost total. And 1993 wasn’t the only time Candiotti had a prolonged stretch of knuckleball pitching where he logged an earned run average around 2.00….

When New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey began the 2012 season with an outstanding 12-1 record and 2.15 ERA in 16 starts, nobody brought up Candiotti’s dominant stretches of knuckleball pitching during the 1990s as a comparison.

And we’re still in the Preface here.

This is Wee’s story to tell, and the longtime Candiotti fan—who undertook this book in part because Candiotti himself never published a projected memoir about his pitching career—tells it ably. (If you want to take him on, you better have your stats in order.) But let us call your attention to one other section of the book, relating Candiotti’s swerve to the knuckleball.

Though Candiotti’s return from Tommy John surgery did not make the news globally, it was still one of the most courageous comeback stories in baseball history. Had social media existed back then, his being the second player to ever come back from reconstructive elbow surgery—at a time when recovering from it was highly unlikely—would have resulted in a movie being made out of his story….

During his first two seasons, Candiotti threw the knuckleball only 10 percent of the time. He threw mostly 80-mph fastballs as well as curveballs and sliders. But without a major league-caliber fastball, it looked as though his career was finished.

Then, during spring training in 1985, Candiotti flung a lot of knuckleballs at catcher Bill Schroeder. He was just fooling around, trying to discombobulate Schroeder; but manager George Bamberger witnessed the exhibition and had some advice. “My advice was, ‘Why don’t you throw it? It might mean a new career for you.’ ” Famous first words in more than one knuckleball career.

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