Will the Knuckleball Survive R.A. Dickey’s Eventual Retirement? Plus: Gamboa, Wilson

MLB.com’s Terence Moore is careful to say (though in a piece entitled “Enjoy Dickey, knuckleball while you can”) that he doesn’t expect R.A. Dickey to retire anytime soon. “It’s just that, when the 39-year-old Dickey goes into retirement one of these centuries, then what?” (“One of these centuries” because Moore knows that pitchers who successfully specialize in the knuckleball tend to enjoy greater career longevity than their more conventional brethren.)

Dickey (above, in an ESPN video from last year, explaining his knuckleball) told Moore that

“…there is just something about [the knuckleball] that has a sustaining aspect and that causes people to remain curious about it, and because of that, a guy or two will always be throwing it… There have been some guys professionally who have been trying to pick it up. In the Minor Leagues, there are a few guys who throw it presently that I know of personally. There’s a guy in Triple-A in Boston, and there might be another guy with Boston.”

For sure, there is Frank Viola III, the son of the former Cy Young Award winner with the Twins. Since [Viola joined] the Blue Jays earlier this month, Dickey has helped the younger Viola learn the knuckleball.

So maybe there is hope for the pitch.

“I think so, because I have people call me for advice on how to improve what they have [regarding the knuckleball], or they are just curious about how I started my own journey with the pitch,” Dickey said. “But, for the most part, there still is a very small percentage of people who are able to do it. Yet with that curiosity, there is hope that it’s not going to die, and that hope gives me confidence that somebody will be able to pick up the torch once I leave.”

Yes, there is hope for the pitch, especially with at least a few MLB organizations (Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays) especially hospitable to knuckleballers.

In addition to Viola, the elite crew of aspiring knuckleballers currently includes Zack Clark, Eddie Gamboa, Charlie Haeger, Tomo Ohka, Kevin Pucetas, Blaine Sims, maybe Brian Wilson, and Steven Wright. No doubt a few other guys not yet on our radar are making the switch from fooling around with the pitch to a more serious embrace of it even as we speak.

Gamboa has been in the news recently for his pitching, with which he baffled Pittsburgh pirates.

After right-hander Eddie Gamboa closed out the Orioles’ 7-6 Grapefruit League win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field on Monday, catcher Johnny Monell gave the knuckleballer a high five and a catcher’s mitt….

Gamboa retired the Pirates quickly Monday [March 10]. He allowed a leadoff single to Chase d’Arnaud, but picked him off first base. Overall, Gamboa baffled the Pittsburgh batters, mixing in a hard knuckleball in the high 70s and a soft one in the low 60s. He struck out former Orioles infielder Robert Andino looking….

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has used Gamboa both early and late in games. He has allowed him to open innings, as he did Monday, and has brought him in during the middle of frames with men on base.

The results have been there. In four scoreless spring innings over five outings, Gamboa has allowed just one hit with six strikeouts and one walk.

Maybe we should detach the “maybe” from the name of Brian Wilson, who at any rate isn’t shy about the value of the knuckleball as one go-to pitch in his repertoire. Eno Sarris at FanGraphs reports asking Wilson, about a recent opening-pitch knuckleball, whether

he was just screwing around. “I never [expletive] around, it’s an out pitch,” Wilson responded….

He taught himself the knuckler—“everyone in this locker room has a knuckler”—and he’s not scared to throw it this year. “Why would you be scared? I don’t understand,” said the Dodgers reliever, “I’ve seen a lot of lot of home runs on 100 mph fastballs and a lot of people think that’s the best pitch on earth, I’ve seen Mariano give up runs and he’s got arguably the best pitch in the history of baseball.” Once again, there’s this lack of fear that’s pervasive in his image and his approach….

Pitching is simple to Wilson: “You just need to be more confident than the hitter.”

It’s not quite that simple, surely, but we agree about the pervasive importance of mental approach.

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