Who Wants to Learn the Knuckleball?

“I got to the big leagues. I want to stay there. And conventionally, I’d probably have to be at my best all the time for that to be a likely scenario. With the knuckleball, maybe it takes me a little while to figure it out, but my career could be exponentially longer. It could double or triple what it could have been if I stayed conventional.”
—Zach Clark, quoted in “Orioles minor leaguers Clark and Gamboa hope knuckleball lands them in big leagues,” Baltimore Sun, May 16, 2013

“Q. You talk a lot about the ‘vertical shoebox.’ When did you come up with this? How long did it take you to feel like you had mastered it to a sufficient degree?


“A. Charlie Hough gave me the idea of how to get my mechanics to be compact enough so that I could repeat it and I could visualize getting through the doorframe without coming apart, so to speak. I took it a step further, [and] turned the doorframe into a shoebox at the plate. I don’t want to try to use hyperbole here, I want to give you a real honest answer—it took over…over 30,000…over 30,000 balls thrown against a brick wall before I really felt like I knew what I was doing….

“In 2006, I remember I was with the Texas Rangers trying to make the club and I would come into the cages before anybody even got to the stadium and take a bucket of balls and just throw them into the net. I would go pick that bucket of balls up and go back to the mound and throw it into the net.

“That was early on in my transformation, so I would get so angry because I could see that it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do and I didn’t know how to fix it. Out of sheer stubbornness, I just would keep going—just hoping that at some point something would click. I certainly held onto the hope that it might. I had no guarantees, but I trusted that if I worked hard and put in the time, it would eventually reap a fruit. I just didn’t know what that fruit was going to be or how big it was going to be.”
—R.A. Dickey, quoted in “Master of the Knuckleball: How Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey saved his career by conquering the most elusive skill in sports,” Slate, October 29, 2012

“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that your hard work is slowly paying off We’re going on the right track here. But this is always where I expected to be. Now I have the opportunity to do something and just compete and just try to open up some eyes again like I did last year…. I’ve come a long ways, just with the confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing. I’m confident that I can go out there and pitch with it…. I feel like a different pitcher than I did last year.”
—Eddie Gamboa, quoted in “After nearly a year, Gamboa’s knuckleball education continues with Orioles,” The Baltimore Sun, February 28, 2014

Front_Pitch“[How to throw the knuckleball] is not a simple question and the answer can take years to understand. Being a professional knuckleball pitcher myself, I know just how difficult the journey can be. There were times I was out on the baseball field practicing, throwing into my strike zone net that I would set up, where I would get incredibly frustrated; angry to the point of spiking my glove into the ground with a terribly sore arm. It was at those moments that I thought I would give up.

“Then, through the years, the lessons that Charlie Hough had taught me began to sink in. I finally understood what it meant to be on top of the ball. I finally understood hip-to-shoulder separation. I finally understood what it meant to follow through over the top of the baseball. Sometimes these realizations would happen in the middle of a game. I would think, ‘Oh, that’s what he meant!’ Something would click and my knuckleball would develop.

“It took years to finally craft a professional quality knuckleball. And after those years I could finally call myself a knuckleball pitcher.”
Chris Nowlin, “How to Throw a Knuckleball,” KnuckleballNation, January 27, 2014

“I had to do it [master the knuckleball] or finish school and get a job. I had to take it seriously.”
—Tim Wakefield, quoted in “A Knuckleballer’s Winding Path,” The New York Times, July 11, 2009



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