Dan Johnson on the Knuckleball: “Give yourself every chance”; Fifth Annual Knuckle Ball

Another position player has recognized the career-extending potential of the knuckleball.

Dan Johnson

The year 2014 is “the year of the position player pitching,” in Ben Nicholson-Smith’s not-quite-catchy characterization. The SportsNet writer reports this trend—motivated in large part by the desire to spare the arms of the regular pitchers when games are unsalvageable—as background to Dan Johnson’s turn to the knuckleball:

Big league managers asked position players to pitch 23 times in 2014, and everyone from Adam Dunn to Drew Butera to J.P. Arencibia got in on the action.

Dan Johnson wants to be next.

Now 35, the first baseman knows he’s not viewed as an up and comer anymore, but he wants to stay in the big leagues, so he’s working to increase his versatility by developing a knuckleball that would allow him to become a two-way player.

“Why not have something else in the bag? Give yourself every chance,” Johnson said. “I’m not 24 anymore. I want to help out as much as possible and still be relevant in this game.”

After “toy[ing] with” a knuckleball for years, Johnson took up the pitch in earnest in the summer of 2013. This year, as part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, he would have benefited from the experience of R.A. Dickey in spring training but for the injury that is the bane of all knuckleballers, a damaged fingernail. But Johnson, currently a free agent, has the virtue of patience, the sine qua non of the knuckleball pitcher.

“It’s not one of those things that you get overnight, so I know that there’s a learning curve and you’ve got to pay your dues and get control of it, because it’s not an easy pitch,” he said. “If you knew how hard R.A. had to work at it to get to where he’s at, it’s pretty amazing.”…

Johnson hopes that he can go a step further [than big league position players who can get a few outs here and there] and refine his knuckler to the point that he offers more than just a willingness to tire his arm out for the sake of the team.

“I don’t want to do it as a sideshow. If I’m going to do it, I want to do it right.”

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The October newsletter (pdf) of the Joe Niekro Foundation—dedicated to supporting research into the risk factors, causes and treatments of brain aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and hemorrhagic strokes—reports that its Fifth Annual Knuckle Ball…a Pitch for Life was a “smashing success.”

Emcee Deborah Duncan, an aneurysm survivor herself, shared her story and her passion for the JNF. Bobby Tudor was honored as the Joe Niekro Humanitarian of the Year for his outstanding commitment and contributions to the Houston community. Dr. Orlando Diaz and Dr. Huda Zoghbi were each recognized as the Joe Niekro Medical Humanitarians of the Year for their research and treatment studies of the neurosciences.

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