Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch
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At forty-four years old, Tim Wakefield is the longest-serving member of one of baseball’s most popular franchises. He is close to eclipsing the winning records of two of the greatest pitchers to have played the game, yet few realize the full measure of his success. That his career can be characterized by such words as dependability and consistency defies all odds because he has achieved this with baseball’s most mercurial weapon—the knuckleball.
Knuckler is the story of how a struggling position player bet his future on a fickle pitch that would define his career. The pitch may drive hitters crazy, but how does the pitcher stay sane? The moment Wakefield adopted the knuckleball, his career sought to answer that question. With the Red Sox, Wakefield began to master his pitch only to find himself on the mound in 2003 for one of the worst post-season losses in history, followed the next year by one of the most vindicating of championships. Even now, as Wakefield battles, we see the twists and turns of a major league career pushed to its ultimate extreme.
A remarkable story of one player’s success despite being the exception to every rule, Knuckler is also a lively meditation on the dancing pitch, its history, its mystique, and all the ironies it brings to bear.
innings, bringing the Niekro family contribution to major league baseball to an astonishing 539 vic tories and 8,988⅓ innings, the latter of which translates into 26,965 outs. Five years younger than his older brother, Joe Niekro had a far more traditional baseball upbringing, playing in Little League and the Colt Leagues; these opportunities had not been open to his older brother. ("My first organized game was as a freshman in high school," Phil Niekro said.) As Joe Niekro grew to be
coming season as he had always done. He ran and got his legs in shape. He strengthened his upper body and core. He began throwing before camp and got his arm in shape. Baseball was his job, no matter who was in charge, and Wakefield believed that it was his responsibility to show up ready to contribute. As it turned out, the changes in the Boston organization were broader and deeper than even Wakefield expected, and they shook the Red Sox at the highest levels. When Wakefield arrived for spring
bullpen. For that, Wakefield had his knuckleball to thank. Or perhaps blame. Knuckleball pitchers are regarded by most baseball historians as nothing more than .500 pitchers, which is to say, they lose as frequently as they win. In fact, given the difficulty of harnessing the pitch and the disproportionate number of those who have failed trying to do so, many knuckleballers have lost more than they won, and many never reached the major leagues at all. Only the good ones have been fortunate
kicking his left leg into the air as he cocked his arm. Grip, kick, throw. He lofted a knuckleball that harmlessly floated to home plate, targeted for the lap of his catcher, but Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone swung and connected squarely, lofting a parabolic blow that headed like a final cannonball into the left-field seats at a delirious Yankee Stadium. Before the ball had even landed, a knowing Wakefield slumped off the mound as Boone raised his arm triumphantly and jogged to first base,
testament to just how evenly matched the teams were. Red Sox players repeated over and over again that Wakefield was not to be blamed for the loss, that he was to be praised for the manner in which he performed, that he was to be lauded for the grace he demonstrated to the bitter end. Wakefield felt inconsolable. I let us down. He had spent an entire career priding himself on being a team player, on doing whatever was necessary for his team to win, on doing the grunt work. He did that for his