Hough Had It Rough, Then Switched to Knuckleball

Michael Clair of MLB.com’s Cut4 celebrates Charlie Hough’s 67th birthday (January 5, 2015) by recounting many of his accomplishments, all achieved after he suffered a shoulder injury in 1969.

  • He has the most wins (216) “for any pitcher with a .500 record.”
  • He is the only pitcher to start over 400 games.Charlie Hough with Marlins shirt
  • He started 40 games in the 1987 season, which no pitcher has equaled since. (That’s quite a different scene from the beginnings of baseball, when there was typically “only one pitcher,” according to BasballProspectus.com. “In 1876, George Bradley started all 64 games for the St. Louis Brown Stockings, completing 63 of them; his teammates combined to throw four innings all year…. The 40-game starter was rendered extinct; whereas there were 12 of them in 1973 alone, since 1982 there has been only one such season.”)
  • He pitched 13 innings in a single game in 1986, another feat yet to be equaled. “Even more shocking, even as a knuckleballer, he walked only two batters that day.”

Like many another knuckleballer-to-be, early in his career Hough lived a moment analogous to the “best part in an action movie.”

No, it’s not the awkward and stilted love scene and it’s certainly not the bombastic and impersonal climactic explosion scene. It’s when the hero, bruised, battered and beaten, must slowly lift himself up, grit his teeth and decide to carry on.

For pitchers, that’s when they turn to the knuckleball. Hurlers enter the professional ranks on the strength of their blazing fastballs, and occasionally (if they’re left-handed), on an array of breaking balls. No one dreams of knuckling. For pitcher Charlie Hough, who turns 67 today, his progression was much the same….

But in 1970, at the age of 22, Hough took up the knuckler…. At the age of 34, when most pitchers are wrapping up their careers and being pushed to the bullpen, Hough was just coming into his own. Over the next seven seasons, Hough would win 111 games while averaging 252 innings per year with an above an ERA+ of 116. Again, this was in his mid-30s…

Hough has told the Dugout Dispatch that when the knuckleball is done well, “it looks very easy, but it’s awfully hard to do…. It’s quite a trick to do it. Your two fingers are different lengths, and you’re trying to push them out with the exact same pressure on each finger so the ball doesn’t turn.”

Say you’re a baseball player who’s bruised, battered and beaten. How do you lift yourself up?

“Perhaps all that’s missing between you and 20+ years in the Major Leagues,” suggests Clair, “is a floating, hopping, time-defying knuckleball.”

It’s not for everyone. But maybe it’s for you.



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