Every time we think that the knuckleball might be going away, it rears its head again.
The pitch is one of the most interesting things in sports, simply because of the lack of effort it appears to take yet its effectiveness when things go right.
Not too long ago, R.A. Dickey was struggling after signing a big contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. This season, even, he hasn't been outstanding, holding just a 9-10 record.
But on Monday night, Dickey was nearly unhittable in striking out 10 Boston Red Sox and allowing just three hits in seven innings in a win.
''I kind of wish they could divide them up over, like, three starts,'' Dickey told the Associated Press afterward. ''(I) almost kind of wish we'd have only scored two runs because I felt like I had that kind of knuckleball tonight and saved this outing for when I gave up five, but I'll take it.''
Knuckleball passed down
Knuckleballers are kind of like a fraternity. Before Dickey, who moved to the pitch under odd circumstances after being drafted out of Tennessee by the Texas Rangers and then finding out he had no UCL in his elbow (the ligament where Tommy John surgery is done), was Tim Wakefield and Steve Sparks.
Before that, it was Charlie Hough and Joe Niekro, who taught Wakefield and many others.
The most interesting might be 17-year-old Tampa high schooler Chelsea Baker, who learned the pitch from Joe Niekro.
She's already been offered a pro contract in Japan and recently threw batting practice to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Afterward, Rays manager Joe Maddon tweeted about it, saying “Chelsea’s knuckleball is real. She hit Longo in the back. I loved it. With that pitch & her composure she can compete.”
Why it keeps coming back
Quite simply, it keeps coming back around because the pitch is effective. Knuckleballers use their fingernails to throw a ball that essentially has no spin. The lack of spin causes the ball to dance, darting this way and that without much sign of what will happen.
So the hitter, and the pitcher/catcher, have little idea where the ball is heading at lower speeds that almost any other pitch.
The pitch doesn't wear on a pitchers' arm like a normal fastball or offspeed pitch, so pitch counts are essentially immaterial and pitchers can throw on short rest.
Part of the effectiveness is also that hitters simply aren't used to seeing the pitch.
As long as hitters keep whiffing, the knuckleball will have life.
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