The beginning of a new year is as auspicious a time as any to take a fresh look your career, assets and potential and to ponder whether it makes sense to make a fundamental change. We like knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey’s blunt explanation, in a Q&A with Nubyjas Wilborn, of why he decided to specialize in the knuckleball.
I wasn’t good any more. Orel Hershiser, who was my pitching coach, came to me and basically said I needed to try it [becoming a knuckleball pitcher]. They allowed me the latitude to go to the minors and work the pitch. They basically told me I had no place in the organization as a conventional pitcher. I was humbled, but I needed it. I would’ve been out of the game if it wasn’t for that pitch. It’s changed my life.
The story of how the knuckleball saved the career of Dickey’s colleague, Tim Wakefield (who retired in 2012), is told in a 2004 New Yorker piece by Ben McGrath, “Project Knuckleball.”
Woody Huyke, one of Pittsburgh’s developmental coaches, saved Wakefield’s career. He saw Tim playing catch one day in the spring of 1989, during warmups, when many players goof around with sideline knuckleballs. (Like card tricks, everybody’s got one.) Tim’s ball was visibly of a different order from any garden-variety stunt pitch. “I thought, Jesus Christ,” Huyke recalled recently. “I didn’t say anything, I just played dumb. And then two days later we had an organizational meeting, because, you know, he was on the bubble as an infielder. I said, ‘Before you let him go, I’d like to see him on the mound, ’cause he’s got a good knuckleball.’ So they kept him around. They told him, ‘Either you pitch or go home.’ ”
The 2012 documentary “Knuckleball!” followed Wakefield and Dickey during their 2011 season.
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We’re a little late with K.P. Wee’s recommendation of his own books as a Christmas gift. But since one of them is Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs (which we told you about when it was published in 2014), what the heck. It’s never too late to give a late Christmas present.
Tom Candiotti’s mastery of the knuckleball and his excellent curve ball made him one of baseball’s best pitchers for more than a decade. Candiotti was a consistent winner on a bad Cleveland Indians team—going 72–65 with a 3.53 ERA from 1986 to 1991—and became just the 25th pitcher in Indians history with 70 career victories and the 16th to surpass 750 strikeouts. But after he’d retired as a player, people still took shots at him. Every time Toronto sports writers bring up past Blue Jays teams that “choked” or acquisitions that “fizzled,” Candiotti’s name comes up because he went 0–1 in his two starts in Toronto’s give-game loss to the Minnesota Twins in the 1991 AL Championship Series. Forgotten is the fact that without Candiotti’s efforts—a 2.98 ERA over 19 regular-season starts replacing injured ace Dave Stieb—the team might not have made it to the postseason.
“Get [the book] for the sports lover in your family!” Wee urges. He doesn’t boast about the virtues of his own book. But “Radio DJ Tom from 92.6 The Blitz” is one of those who loved it, and an audio clip of DJ Tom’s enthusiasm (“Wee doesn’t miss a beat!”) is posted on YouTube.
K.P. Wee also penned Don’t Blame the Knuckleballer! Baseball Legends, Myths, and Stories.