The Butterfly Effect; Steve Wright’s Recovery; Joe Niekro Foundation’s “Knuckle Ball”

Over at the Sports on Earth blog, Howard Megdal has a fine article about the ups and downs of knuckleballers in general and R.A. Dickey in particular.

The pitch that brought R.A. Dickey to prominence, the knuckleball, is a serviceable metaphor for the career paths of many of its practitioners, including Dickey himself.

Watch the pitch, uniquely vulnerable to conditions, dip, dive and drop in concert with Tim Wakefield’s Baseball-Reference.com page. Dip with him to a 2.15 ERA in 1992, surge upward to a 5.61 ERA in 1993, back down to the 2.95 in 1995. He was a 33-year-old pitcher with a 5.48 ERA in 2000, the kind of line and age that usually means the end is near. Wakefield pitched another 11 seasons, contributing to a pair of World Series championships in Boston.

You can find similar season-to-season sways from other knuckleballers, people like Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough….

[Dickey says:] “The pitch is vulnerable to more parameters that can influence it than a conventional pitcher would. It’s just the way it is.”

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Knuckleballer Steven Wright has been recovering from a parameter that can afflict any athlete: simple injury. Because of surgery back in January for a sports hernia, the Pawtucket Red Sox pitcher has been out of commission for a while. But the Pawtucket Times reports that he is emerging slowly and steadily from the down time.

Steven Wright

The Red Sox right-hander is not rehabbing a bum shoulder or a tender elbow. In effect, he had to re-train the muscles in the lower half of his body following a lengthy stretch of inactivity.

“It’s not the throwing. It’s about getting the body ready so I can compete and throw 100 pitches a game,” said Wright from Fort Myers, Fla. earlier this week. “I had to train my muscles how to work again. That’s something I’m still working on as far as strengthening the lower abs. I went so long without using them that now that they’re healed, it’s about getting them strong again so when I do eventually start getting in games, I don’t to worry about it tearing it again.”

Sounds like Wright knows the virtue of patience, not surprising in a knuckleball pitcher. But how is his knuckleball coming along?

An important step forward in Wright’s quest to resume his butterfly-specialist duties in a competitive environment came [on Tuesday, May 6]. Facing a collection of TampaBay hitters under extended spring training conditions, Wright tossed 22 pitches in one inning.

“The results were pretty good and went better than I thought it would. I threw a lot of strikes and the knuckleball came out better than I expected…. I think right now it’s a matter of building up arm strength and getting my pitching legs back underneath me. The sitting down and getting up, I think that’s the biggest obstacle at the moment.”

Recovering is taking longer than Wright expected, “but it’s one of those things where you don’t want to rush it because if you hurt it again, than you will be out for some time.”

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The Joe Niekro Foundation is preparing for its “5th Annual Knuckle Ball…an unforgettable black-tie evening featuring a festive reception, silent auction, formal dinner, live auction, and the opportunity to mingle with some of baseball’s greatest legends. The evening will honor Joe Niekro, his baseball years and charitable work.” The event will be held on September 20 at the Hotel ZaZa in Houston.

The Joe Niekro Medical Humanitarian of the Year Award will be given on the occasion to recognize “ongoing research advancements and treatment studies of cerebral aneurysms.” Last year’s recipient was Dr. Richard P. Klucznik.

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