A Good Knuckleball Is Hard to Hit

The Detroit Free Press offers an imprecise statement about the trouble a batter may have connecting his bat to a knuckleball.Dancing Knuckler

According to the Press’s June 4 story, “Blue Jays’ R.A. Dickey hopeful his knuckleball will miss Miguel Cabrera’s bat,” a good knuckleball “can be a tough pitch to hit if you don’t see it often.” The implication is that if you do often see a good knuckleball—i.e., one with a scanty spin and an unpredictable trajectory that crosses the strike zone—it may be a not-tough pitch to hit.

Well…no.

Yes, lots of practice swinging at a knuckleball is better than little practice (or, heaven forfend, none). To the extent that that which one can never fully prepare for can be prepared for, it is better to be better prepared than worse prepared.

If that’s all that the Detroit Free Press is trying to say, sure, okay. Fine.

But no matter how relatively good a hitter may be at hitting the knuckleball, when a knuckleballer is on his game, the pitch is still hard to hit. It’s tough! It’s a tough one. Because of the unpredictability. Indeed, the tough-to-hit feature of the tough-to-throw pitch is the very point of learning to throw it.

It’s not just the InternationalKnuckleballAcademy who says that a good knuckleball is always hard to hit. Many an accomplished ball player has lamented the elusiveness of the knuckleball.

Ernie Banks: “It comes flying in there dipping and hopping like crazy and you just can’t hit it.”

John Kruk: “You just hope it hits your bat in a good spot.”

Bobby Murcer: “Trying to hit Phil Niekro is like trying to eat Jell-O with chopsticks. Sometimes you get a piece but most of the time you get hungry.”

Randy Hundley: “You see the ball and you just know you’ve got a bead on it, then you swing, and poof, it’s not there any more.”

Tim McCarver: “Hitting that thing is like trying to catch a butterfly with a pair of tweezers.”

Pete Rose: “I work for three weeks to get my swing down and Phil [Niekro] messes it up in one night.”Baby masters knuckler

The best knuckleball pitchers have enjoyed careers that stretch for many years, longer than the average baseball career. The longtime sluggers who come up against these knuckleballers typically have plenty of opportunity to get the hang of situating their bats in the vicinity of the knuckleball as it hiccups across the plate. When these experienced professional ball players testify that, despite their very best efforts, it’s damned hard to hit a good knuckleball loosed by the likes of Eddie Cicotte, Jesse Haines, Ted Lyons, Dutch Leonard, Hoyt Wilhelm, Wilbur Wood, Jim Bouton, Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, Tim Wakefield, or R.A. Dickey, it’s because these ball players know.

Therefore, on behalf of all who throw, study and/or are fans of the knuckleball, we implore Detroit Free Press to immediately and unequivocally retract its perplexing if perhaps inadvertent intimation that a well-launched knuckleball can ever be easy to hit.

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