Never heard of a Padawan? Just check out the (ahem) Wookieepedia: it’s “a Force-sensitive adolescent who had begun one-on-one instruction with a Jedi Knight or Master outside of the Jedi academy.” As Darth Baras puts it, a Padawan “is what Jedi call their trainees.” (Surely you know what a “Darth Baras,” a “Jedi,” and a “Wookieepedia” are.)
The “Star Wars” lore does have a metaphorical connection to the knuckleball, specifically to aspiring knuckleballers, courtesy Peter Duffy’s take on the 2012 documentary “Knuckleball!” (“A Knuckleball a Day Keeps Father Time Away”).
The film leans heavily on talking-head interviews and eschews the history of the pitch (who ever came up with this? and when?) in favor of following Wakefield’s quest not only for a personal milestone, but also the Red Sox career record for wins; as well as Dickey’s quest to find his footing in the big leagues after a decade and a half of hardship. When the four pitchers get together to share stories and technique, there is a certain Jedi Knight vibe to them; as if they are the last guard of an ancient order (the film’s tagline—“To gain power, you must first give up control” even sounds like a directive out of the mouth of Yoda). Now that I think about it, the Order of the Sith applies more to Wakefield and Dickey. As Samuel L. Jackson tells us at the end of Star Wars Episode I, there are always two—a master and an apprentice. With Wakefield’s retirement, it is Dickey who is now the lone master of the knuckleball in Major League Baseball. Who will be his apprentice in the coming years?
Questions we can answer are great. So let’s first direct Mr. Duffy and other interested parties to IKA’s “Knuckleball History,” where his queries about who came up with the knuckleball, and when, are answered with a definitive “either Toad Ramsey or Eddie Cicotte, or both, and somewhere around the turn of the twentieth century.”
As for who will be Dickey’s Padawan, this is a club that already exists, and with more than one member: several aspiring knuckleballers have benefited from his dark-side experience grappling with the knuckleball, and from the experience of retired pitchers like Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro willing to spend time with promising practitioners of the pitch. We canvassed today’s up-and-coming knuckleballers in our last post. Although a few of them have in fact spent time in the big leagues, none yet shares Dickey’s permanent MLB status.
We don’t know which of these Padawans will become the next knuckleball Jedi(s). But we’re rooting for all of them.