By the end of this month, we may find out that former USC quarterback John David Booty is a viable candidate to be the No. 3 starter in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation this season.
Then again, it could be Doug Flutie.
Or . . . wouldn’t it depend on whether these guys can actually harness the art of the knuckleball first?
The MLB Network has come up with its first reality series competition called “The Next Knuckler,” starting Wednesday and Thursday with the first two episodes and finishing up on Feb. 20 and 21. In the end, one of five former Division I college football quarterbacks asked to compete will get an actual invite to the D’backs’ spring training camp.
Booty, the 28-year-old who started two seasons at USC and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, will be up against his older brother, 37-year-old Josh Booty, a former LSU quarterback who played for the Florida Marlins from 1996-’98.
Flutie, who turned 50 last October, has been working as a college football TV studio analyst since his days of winning the 1984 Heisman Trophy with Boston College and having a run in the CFL and NFL. The other two competitors are David Greene, the 30-year-old who played at Georgia, and Ryan Perrilloux, the 26-year-old who played at LSU and Jacksonville State before a brief time with the NFL’s New York Giants.
D’backs president and CEO Derrick Hall said he jumped on the idea of participating in the show before he even consulted with manager Kirk Gibson or general manager Kevin Towers. The concept was presented at an owners meeting by MLB Network president and CEO Tony Petitti.
The results are already known to Hall, who watched it taped at the Dodgers’ former spring training home in Vero Beach, Fla., last month.
“I doubt whoever it is will end up on the major-league roster, but our farm director says that if he’s not major-league material, he could definitely end up in Double-A or Triple-A if he wants to take it further,” said Hall, attending the Caribbean World Series final Thursday in Mexico.
“I know a few of the contestants had some really good ones working. Age really isn’t a factor, so we may have something on our hands that we couldn’t have had with the emergence of this show.”
Tim Wakefield, the recently retired knuckleball pitcher who revived his career with the pitch and won more than 200 games, is the co-host of the MLB Productions show along with MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar.
During the show’s taping, former knuckleball specialists Charlie Hough and NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey worked with the former quarterbacks.
“It’s good publicity for the team, but it also bring a different look,” said Hall, who worked 12 years in the Dodgers’ organization, most with their communications department, after gaining a broadcasting degree from Arizona State and working in L.A. sports-talk radio for a time. “Who knows, it may just stick.”
Another former USC quarterback, Mitch Mustain, is currently in the Chicago White Sox organization trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher. He’s also playing for the San Jose Sabrecats of the Arena Football League. He was at USC from 2007-’10.
The concept of finding a big-league pitcher through a reality TV show isn’t all that new. In 2008, a show in India called “Million Dollar Arm” awarded the winners $1 million and a chance to go to the U.S. to try out for a big-league team. Two aspiring cricket players, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel, won and ended up going to Los Angeles, where USC pitching coach Tom House, as well as pitchers Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, worked with them.
The 23-year-old Singh, a left-hander, has stayed in the Pirates organization but only as high as Single-A; Patel returned to India to play for his country’s national baseball team. Sony is believed to have bought the rights to the story of Singh and Patel in 2009 to make a movie of it.