What Does the Hard-to-Catch Knuckleball Do to the Hitting of a Knuckleball Catcher?

Tyler FlowersDo knuckleball catchers have a harder time hitting during games in which they are also lunging for knuckleballs? TheRinger.com cites the experiences of catchers like Tyler Flowers (pictured) and Russell Martin to suggest why this may be. Each has caught knuckleballs for R.A. Dickey.

 “It just kind of dawned on me one day that, like, ‘Man, I never seem to get hits when R.A.’s pitching,’ ” [Braves backstop Tyler] Flowers says….

Catching a knuckleball is not only physically painful, but psychologically stressful. “It’s like a constant battle for that 60 feet of just watching it and focusing on it, and you try and predict the moves, but you can’t, because you don’t know what the moves are going to be,” Flowers says. Flowers isn’t sure why that would hurt his hitting, but a Braves trainer proposed a theory to the catcher. “You have X amount of fine focus you can apply per day,” Flowers says the theory went. When working with a knuckleballer, he continues, “you’re using up so much of that trying to catch every single pitch…that you just literally don’t have your ability to have that fine focus that you need [at the plate].” It’s plausible.

The effects of catching the knuckleball on the catcher’s same-game hitting are just one subject discussed in Ben Lindbergh’s interesting article “Two Truths and a Lie: The Hidden Forces That Affect How Catchers Perform at the Plate.” Well worth a look.

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Baseball fan High_n-tight_77 hopes that knuckler R.A. Dickey and the Cleveland Indians do a deal. “Cleveland’s only a short eight-hour drive from Nashville. I’d love to have him for starting depth.”

Being 500 miles away, Cleveland, Ohio isn’t quite next-door to Nashville, Tennessee. But this is the first fantasy draft of Dickey we’ve seen over the last few weeks that acknowledges his preference—if he does play again this year—to play for a team that is based near his home. Other fans want him for the Orioles of Baltimore, Maryland (700 miles away from Nashville) or for the Athletics of Oakland, California (2,300 miles away). Having been released by the Atlanta Braves, Dickey has yet to join another team, but he also hasn’t ruled it out if the right deal comes along.

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Knuckleball in Retro Baltimore TriviaSpeaking of the Baltimore Orioles, the Orioles and a famed knuckleball pitcher are the subject of a recent “Retro Baltimore trivia question at the Baltimore Sun site: “Who pitched the first no-hitter for the Baltimore Orioles?” The photo and caption illustrating the query give us a non-trivial clue: we’re talking about someone who can “demonstrate his grip for a knuckleball.”

Answer: “Hoyt Wilhelm pitched the O’s first no-hitter on Sept. 20, 1958, against the New York Yankees.”

That’s the end of that for the Sun. But the National Baseball Hall of Fame has more about Wilhelm’s feat, including an excerpt from a contemporary sports column on the long-ago game.

“A…knuckleballing right-hander, a relief man for most of his career and regarded as virtually a washout at the beginning of this season, tossed a no-hitter today,” wrote New York Times columnist John Drebinger. “The baldish North Carolinian, whose delivery often baffles catchers as well as batters, held the Yankees hitless and runless as the Orioles gained their second straight triumph over the Bombers, 1-0.”

Although Drebinger’s description of a historic feat seems a bit harsh in retrospect, it’s hard to blame him for being surprised. The 36-year-old pitcher had undergone a somewhat tumultuous two years….

“My knuckler was as good or better than I’ve ever seen it work,” Wilhelm said to UPI after the game. “Gus handles the knuckleball as well as any catcher I’ve ever thrown to.”

Even the weather—a light wind-blown drizzle—seemed to aid him.

“Usually I don’t care for wind, but it seemed to help my knuckleball,” Wilhelm said. “When I threw high, it broke upward; and the low pitches broke down. Most of my eight strikeouts were on knucklers.”

That game was played on September 20, 1958. Hoyt Wilhelm continued to pitch until 1972, and in 1985 was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.