Distributed By: FilmBuff
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When R.A. Dickey first came to the New York Mets as a starting pitcher and I got a look at that crazy pitch called the knuckleball, I thought, “Whoa! How do you hit a ball like that?!” Dickey became the guy I would root for on the Mets and would go on to have a Cy Young Award winning season in 2012. But just before that season would begin, a documentary was made about the pitchers who throw this elusive pitch, aptly titled Knuckleball!
Mainly focusing on the careers of the last knuckleballers at the time, Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, Knuckleball! discusses the ups and downs of being a knuckleball pitcher. A ball thrown not at the knuckles, but at the tips of the nails, the knuckleball is the only pitch in baseball designed not to rotate. This lack of rotation causes the ball to be affected by the wind in very unpredictable ways, making it very hard for batters to zero in on. Unfortunately, it also makes the pitch unpredictable for both the pitcher and the catcher, causing passed balls and, sometimes, homeruns. The mechanics of the pitch are difficult and its unpredictability makes managers less inclined to trust in it.
However, if you have a good knuckleball, you can extend your baseball career. Tim Wakefield had success in high school with the knuckleball, but initially be signed by the Pirates as a first and third baseman. When his batting never really materialized, someone saw him playing catch using the knuckleball. After he showed them he could throw it for strikes, the choice was easy – let’s turn him into a pitcher. After his stellar first year, his mechanics were off and he was eventually let go by the Pirates, only to be picked up by the Red Sox, where he learned better mechanics from Phil Niekro, another successful knuckleballer. Wakefield’s success with the knuckleball allowed him to play for seventeen years on the Red Sox, making him the longest serving player on the team when he finally retired.
R.A. Dickey had been poised to be a star for the Texas Rangers until an intensive physical prior to signing revealed missing cartilage in his ulna. He had success with the knuckleball throughout high school and college, so it made sense to become a knuckleballer to save his pitching career. Over the years, when his knuckleball was on, he couldn’t be hit, but when it was off, it was horrendous. Then, he came to the New York Mets as an add-on and began showing signs of greatness. Once called up to the Mets, Dickey showed he deserved a spot on the team, going on to have a great year, especially when he adjusted his knuckleball speeds after talking to former knuckleballer Charlie Hough. The movie was created before opening day of 2012, which happened to be Dickey’s best year ever.
What I found most impressive is the fact that knuckleballers help one another, regardless of team or franchise. Their team loyalty is there, sure, but they have what they feel is a loyalty to the pitch and a responsibility to teach their skill to others. It’s a dying art and they feel they must impart their knowledge to keep it alive. With Tim Wakefield retiring, R.A. Dickey was the last of his kind until just recently, but there are still only two active knuckleballers left in major league baseball. Amazing, when you think about it. Even more so when you realize that this new knuckleballer was picked up by Time Wakefield’s team, the Red Sox. Seems they have a lot of faith in that pitch.
I enjoyed this look at what may be the rarest of pitches and one of the most difficult to master in all of baseball. Knuckleball! gives fan a great inside look and some interesting insight into what pitchers who chose to add the knuckleball into their pitching rotation go through to perfect their skill and be taken seriously.