Knuckleballer Steven Wright, On Mend, Will Likely Pitch Again This Season; PLUS: Life After Knuckleball for Dickey and Zink

Early in the 2017 season, Steven Wright had major knee surgery that kept him off the mound for the rest of the season. This year, although he got a late start, he lobbed his knuckleball excellently for several weeks before inflammation of that knee put him back on the disabled list. He is still out of the game.

If we’re dismayed by Wright’s ups and downs, we imagine he’s been a lot more dismayed by them. But he’s coping, and it looks like his patience is paying off. Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora thinks there’s a good chance that Wright will be pitching again in 2018. “He’s feeling a lot better than when he came back the first time,” Cora told MassLive.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I do feel that he’s going to be back at some point during the season,” Cora added. “I’m not saying that’s next week. But the way he’s been working the last week, him getting on the mound for a few pitches, it’s telling us that it’s going to happen. When? I don’t know. But it’s going to happen.”

According to Logan Mullen at NESN, “If Wright gets back to full strength and does make a return, Boston’s pitching depth will be dangerous heading into the postseason.”

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Knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey, recently a guest speaker “at the 37th annual Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame and Induction Ceremony at the Knoxville Convention Center,” seems to be in full retired-from-baseball mode.

According to a Knoxville News story, Dickey spoke of “his life after baseball” on the occasion. Despite the ambivalence he had expressed late last year and early this year about retiring, the report offers no hint that he may still looking for a chance to suit up.

One theme of the evening was survival.

“My life story has a lot to do with (handling failure),” Dickey said. “In any sport, there are times when you’ve got to know how to survive. From 8 years old on, I grew up learning to do that.

“I developed, at times, some unhealthy ways to survive; toxic ways to survive. But, nonetheless, I was very stubborn. I was very resolute. When I saw something I wanted, I had a lot of equipment to go get it.”

Dickey also showed kids in attendance how to hold a knuckleball.

In an early August podcast, SportsSpectrum spoke to Dickey “about his first season away from baseball, acclimating himself to ‘dad life,’ growing up in a broken home, seeking treatment, how faith in Christ saved him, and the platform God gave him” after Dickey won the 2012 Cy Young Award.

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If you want to find out all about Charlie Zink and his journey with the knuckleball, slide into a 3,300-word profile at WEEI.radio.com, by Marty Dobrow (author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: Six Minor Leaguers in Search of the Baseball Dream).

Late in the summer, the Sox minor league pitching coordinator, Glen “Goose” Gregson, was visiting the GreenJackets to assess the team’s prospects. Zink was idly playing catch in the outfield with the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Darren Wheeler. He decided to throw a knuckleball, and…shazam!

The ball shattered Wheeler’s Oakley sunglasses. Zink ran over in horror, and reacted with three words: “Dude, you’re bleeding.”

In spring training in 2003, the Sox imposed a knuckleball edict on Charlie Zink: you’re never going to make it as a conventional pitcher, they told him. You will throw this pitch 95 percent of the time.

They gave him a tutorial with the resident knuckle guru, Tim Wakefield, and let the experiment roll….

By midseason 2003 he was getting a lot of nasty movement and some absurd swings and misses.

Unlike the old-fashioned knuckleballers from the game’s early days, who actually put two knuckles on the ball, and unlike the modern practitioners, who used their fingernails, Zink employed a unique hybrid grip. He had his thumb under the ball, his index knuckle pressing in, and the extended fingernail of his third finger alone digging into the cowhide. >That one middle digit—with three coats of nail hardener applied to the claw—was pointed at the batter after the delivery.

In the last month of the season, he was elevated to Double-A Portland, and the results were startling. He took one no-hitter into the 8thinning. In his last start of the year, he took another until two outs in the 9th.

When the revered scouting guide known as Baseball Prospectus came out before the 2004 season, Zink was regarded as the top prospect in the Red Sox organization. Along with people like Zach Greinke, Cole Hamels, Edwin Encarnacion, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau, Zink was listed as one of the top 50 prospects in the entire game.

After enjoying some success and suffering some disappointment as a knuckleball pitcher, Zinc left professional baseball in 2011. He is currently a sales manager for a car dealership. He’s not planning a comeback, but “he does keep a glove and ball at the dealership.”

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