Stephen Cannella Defends Knuckleball, and Dan Johnson, Against Niggling Negativity

Stephen CannellaSports Illustrated commentators Ted Keith and Stephen Cannella recently discussed Dan Johnson’s switch to the knuckleball (our topic last week). “I love these stories about guys trying to come back, trying to learn new positions,” Cannella (pictured) says in the video. But this is no ordinary such attempt, he adds. “This is a guy trying to break in as a pitcher. Not only that, learning the most difficult pitch there is to master, the knuckleball.”

Fellow Sports Illustrated pundit Keith for some reason is a naysayer in the discussion, alleging that too many regard the knuckleball as a “cure-all” for late-career blues; and positing that guys like Dickey and Wakefield may even be shaking their head at news of Johnson’s ambition. “It’s not that easy, or other guys would do it all the time,” Keith tells us. Oh. Has somebody been saying it’s easy? We here at International Knuckleball Academy not only admit but  insist that it is a tough pitch to learn and master (or continually re-master). We also say that if the knuckleball you throw is habitually ineffective, you cannot use it to prolong or advance your career.

Fortunately, Cannella is on hand to rebut Keith’s groundless assertions. He suggests, for example, that any member of the select knuckleball fraternity would be glad for an addition to it, and is doubtless rooting for a guy like Johnson to succeed. If Keith doubts this, perhaps he can take another look at the 2012 documentary “Knuckleball!

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An example in action of the desire of successful knuckleballers to see other knuckleballers succeed and improve is Tim Wakefield’s coaching of Steven Wright. Per Bosox Injection:

Five years after his retirement, Tim Wakefield is working to make sure that the next generation of Red Sox fans experience the thrill of witnessing a knuckleball first-hand. Earlier this year, he expressed a desire to become a pitching coach, and now it seems as if he is turning that want into a reality.

As reported by MLB.com, Wakefield is now serving as a mentor to young Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright, and has even scheduled trips to Red Sox training camp to coincide with games Wright is on the mound, making it the perfect opportunity for Wakefield to get his feet wet in the world of coaching.

According to multiple reports, Wakefield has been helping Wright “[zone] in on his release point and hand placement,” and advising him to “keep his lower body back on the rubber and follow through with more balance when releasing the ball.”

One of those “multiple reports” is published by the Boston Globe, which quotes Wright saying that Wakefield is helping him to “control my body and my hand, which helps me understand where my release point is. If I can understand where my release point is, that’s crucial for me.”

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Nervous batterHere’s a more pleasant kind of knuckleball-related error than Keith’s: R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball has gotten an implausible boost (in speed) because of a caption typo or faulty radar gun. You can see the number at 0:15 in the YouTube video “TOR@PHI: Dickey throws a 102-mph knuckleball!

“That pitch apparently at a 102,” chuckles one of the announcers. “That’s a hard knuckleball.” Within a few seconds, though, the true speed of 72 is reported.

The knuckleball, even Dickey’s slower-than-average knuckleball, gets away with being slower than the average non-knuckleball pitch because it’s also trickier.

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Fegley’s Brew Works, based in Lehigh Valley, PA, has named an American blonde ale after the knuckleball. “Perfect for afternoon sports fans taking a break on a hot sunny day!”

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