Slow and Fast Knuckleballs

If “60 Minutes” had an interview segment in which tellers of stories about baseball were grilled about some of the fuzzier details of those stories, the interrogator might be K.P. Wee. The viewers would have to be willing to attend to detail.

Bob PurkeyIn a 2003 interview quoted in Wee’s new book Don’t Blame the Knuckleballer!, Bob Purkey (pictured) refers to his success against Roberto Clemente (“I had a knuckleball that he didn’t like very much”), and refers casually to “one game where some guys were hit with pitches,” a game during which he assured the umpire that he wouldn’t be trying to hit Clemente when he pitched him inside. Wee looks at games in which Purkey pitched and at least one batter got hit—May 12, 1961; September 20, 1962; September 25, 1962; September 10, 1964; October 1, 1964; June 16, 1965—until he thinks he’s found the right game. Then Wee puts that game in the context of all the years of pitched pitching battles between Purkey and Clemente.

Yes, Purkey was right in saying that he did well against Clemente, who in 87 career at-bats batted just .195 with three doubles and no homers against him. Interestingly, though, Purkey only struck him out nine times, which was somewhat surprising given the way the knuckleballer described Clemente [as] having the willingness to swing at his inside pitches…. Of course, Purkey would get plenty of opportunities to face Clemente…and the knuckleballer would get him out far more often than not.

Maybe it wouldn’t feel like being under the hot lamp with Mike Wallace, but we can imagine a few nervous throat-clearings and hasty concessions from the interviewee as Wee consults retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com while punching away at his calculator (or calculator app).

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Carjim, administrator of the Sports Card Arena’s News and Discussion page, had a discovery to share last week: “I just watched the coolest documentary on Showtime, called ‘Knuckleball!’ Had all the greats on there, like Wakefield, Neikro, Hough, R.A. Dickey, and many more oldies. Great show. Hope ya’ll can catch it sometime.” Do.

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Jedi NinjaFrank Viola III, described at his Twitter account as an “Ex Professional Baseball Player – Host of Reel Fishing – Founder/CEO of UGrips – Ninja Jedi – High Class Outdoorsman,” has a tweet from January floating above more recent ones. It is about “why catchers hate knuckleballs!” and it comes with a PG-13 animation. (But what’s a “Ninja Jedi”? Is it anything like a “Jedi Ninja”?)

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By way of conclusion let us point to two perhaps more edifying GIFs: of Wright’s knuckleball in action during a Sox game against the Yankees last summer, showcased by NESN.com.