In news more consequential to me than anything in politics…
In the past month a documentary, “Knuckleball,” was released. You can find it on iTunes and in some theaters. I recommend it. Here is the trailer:
The film has many fascinating little scenes. I especially liked how it documents the fraternity of knucklers; how Charlie Hough, Phil Neikro, and the modern flutter-pitchers talk to each other, coach each other, and commiserate.
In the movie’s telling, the knuckleball is a mystery: sometimes it is unhittable, at others it is the easiest pitch to hit. Nobody in the big leagues “trusts” a knuckleballer. Hitters find it “spooky” the way the ball moves through the air without rolling. No pitcher can master it, they must surrender to it. For good and ill.
I feel bad for the filmmakers because they should have waited one more year. Their film’s narrative thread is Tim Wakefield’s chase for 200 wins and his retirement last year. There is a nod to him passing on the torch and tradition to R.A. Dickey. They do very well with this material. But they went to print before the big story broke.
This afternoon Mets knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey will attempt to win his 20th game this year in what has turned into a dismal season for the Mets. With a solid performance today he will likely secure the Cy Young Award.
Currently he has a 2.66 ERA (1st in the NL), he has 209 strikeouts (2nd) and a 1.04 WHIP (tied 1st among starters).
This isn’t the old knuckleball. This is a revelation. No knuckleballer has ever had a year like this. Because the pitch floats and darts, knuckleballers typically have low-strikeout rates and high walk rates. Dickey throws this pitch for strikes, reliably. He can also throw the pitch much harder than most of his predecessors. His 80 mph knuckleball doesn’t flutter, it zips. He says it is more like a wasp than a butterfly.
I’m a Met fan, but I’m a lunatic on Dickey. For those that don’t know, Dickey is a 37-year old who was once a washed up bum of a conventional pitcher. Mysteriously, he has no ulnar collateral ligament. He spent a decade languishing in the minors and was the first person cut when he arrived at Mets training camp a few years ago. Now he is the best pitcher in the National League. Everything except that last bit is wonderfully described in on one of the most excellent books about baseball in years, Wherever I Wind Up.
Because there are thousands of games a year and baseball has over a century of history, very often baseball commentators search for absurd novelties. “No batter has ever done this or that on consecutive these while doing this other thing.” The qualifications pile up into meaninglessness. They serve only to emphasize that these things happen all the time.
But Dickey has done something new in baseball. You don’t need qualifications to see it, you don’t need to beat it to death with description. If you watched him pitch this year, you saw something that has never been done before. The knuckleball is still spooky, but now only for the batter. It is beautiful.
UPDATE: R.A. Dickey got his 20th win giving up 3 earned runs, but also collecting 13Ks through 8.2 innings. He will likely make one more start before the end of the season.