Don’t Throw the Knuckleball Like a Scaredy-Cat

Scared baseballThe following reminiscence about the knuckleball, from a piece about “Mound Presence and Confidence” by a certain Pustulio, is tagged with the category of “mental game” at the Let’s Talk Pitching site. (We agree that mental game is important.) Pustulio had not been a pitcher; he had only been fooling around with a knuckleball. Then…

When I was going from Babe Ruth baseball to American Legion baseball, I had only ever pitched one inning in an actual game in my life. I wasn’t a pitcher, I was an outfielder and a first baseman.

During this time, I had been working on a knuckleball just to fool around with, since I was fascinated by the pitch. Our coach saw me throwing it in a post-practice bullpen with my friend and commented that we might use it at some point.

Not long after, we went on a long road trip, a game in Rock Springs, WY then a double-header in Rawlins, WY and then a double header in Casper, WY. We were from a small town and didn’t quite have the pitching staff to keep up. So when our starter got into a crappy situation in Casper, our coach decided to go ahead and give it a go, the game was a lost cause anyway.

The next week we played a game and a similar situation occurred, and I pitched again. At this point I was getting more and more appearances, and after an all-around crappy day at an invitational tournament, our coach gave all the pitchers a big speech about how they need to have “mound presence” and used me as an example. “He doesn’t throw hard, he hasn’t done this much, but even so, he looks like he’s done this a million times, he looks like he knows what he’s doing, and you all need to follow that example.”

I took that to heart and kept at it, and continued to always make a point of appearing in control at all times, because that’s where I found success. Throwing a scared knuckleball never works out.

* * *

David Climer also reminisces, in an article for Memphis Daily News on “Most memorable interviews,” among which is his interview with Jim Bouton in the spring of  1977. At that time, “seven years after publication of the tell-all book [Ball Four], Bouton was making a comeback as a knuckleball pitcher in the minor leagues.”

Alas, Climer does little more than mention the interview, providing no substantial excerpts. And we were unable to expeditiously excavate a document with that 1977 Q&A.

But we did find a Chicago Tribune archive of its April 17, 1977 issue, which has stories about Alex Haley’s Roots, congressional junkets the cost of which “may top” an astonishing $2 million, U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young’s shocking comment to Arab UN delegates, President Carter’s flexibility, and how “Bouton chases the butterfly of life.” From the last:

Jim Bouton Wikipedia Photo“At one point, I guess I became a little bored with baseball. I don’t like doing the same thing all the time. I wouldn’t want to be the King of England for more than three or four years.

“That’s why what happened to me was a blessing in a way. I got to do all the different things that I’ve done, and I believe more people should do that. Too many people are afraid to change jobs, just pick up and leave, even if they can’t stand what they are doing.

“I was a star with the Yankees for a while. I used to throw real hard. I could throw three fastballs past Harman Killebrew at one time. I probably could now, too, ho, ho, because he’s sitting in the broadcasting booth.

“But seriously, it was all so easy for a while. I thought I would just win 22-23 games a year for 10 years and be in the Hall of Fame. Then, in 1965, I hurt my arm. It wasn’t so easy any more.”

That’s when Bouton took up the knuckleball.