The book: “Knuckleball: The History of the Unhittable Pitch”
The author: Lew Freedman
The vital statistics: Sports Publishing/Skyhorse, 310 pages, $24.99
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: Two knuckleball-related stories that are fresh in our knuckleheads:
One: A Bob Uecker quote: “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up.”
Two: In 2013, former major league infielder and LSU quarterback Josh Booty beat out a group that included his brother, former USC quarterback John David Booty, as well as Doug Flutie, and won an MLB Network reality show called “The Next Knuckler.” With it came a spring training invite to the Arizona Diamondbacks spring camp. The elder Booty didn’t pan out.
While neither that Ueck quote nor the updated yarn is even broached in this book by Freedman, a former Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer, inquiring minds may want to know: Why not?
Meaning, if what little we know already about the story of the pitch can be found in somewhat greater detail on Wikipedia, we’re kind of wondering what else we’re supposed to learn by this, which simply reads like an elongated newspaper story.
There are only so many ways to describe the goofiness of the pitch, but Freedman tries them all. We get it. Just use the analogy of the Wiffle Ball, and we’re cool.
We get some history in that former “Black Sox” scandaler Eddie Ciocotte is thought to be the first to really use it regularly back in the early 1900s, whether he learned it from someone else or not. It’s still not clear.
Those who have perfected it in today’s game: Toronto’s 40-year-old R.A. Dickey (sorry, Russell Martin). And while some think that’s about it, Boston’s Steven Wright is trying to make it right.
Here’s another attempt at an “active” list of throwers.
Those who tried it in the past but didn’t have much success: Once-upon-a-time Dodgers Charlie Haeger, and former Angel Steve Sparks.
The Tigers had a backup shortstop last season worth noting — Danny Worth — who came in and threw the knuckler in a desperation situation.
That story isn’t this book.
Oh, wait, we just remembered another knuckleball story: In the 2001 Billy Crystal movie “’61,” about Roger Maris’ pursuit of the single-season home-run record, there’s a dramatic scene where Baltimore Orioles pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm faces Maris. In the movie, Wilhelm is serendipitously played by Tom Candiotti.
Because, you see, both Wilhelm and Candiotti were knuckleball specialists.
That’s another thing not in the book, either.
More to know:
== In a recent Sports Illustrated, a “tweetable review” of “Knuckleball” read: History of the pitch dips into all characters and kookiness but can leave a yearning for a deeper, wonkier dive #fingertips.”
== A Wikipedia list of all-time knuckleball pitchers. Quick quiz: Can you name the four primary knuckleball pitchers who made the Hall of Fame?
== A novella by Tom Pitts called “Knuckleball,” that has Dodgers and Giants subplots woven into a dark murder mystery, can be found here, just released in paperback.
== Find the highly enjoyable 2012 documentary “Knuckleball” by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
== A 2005 book, “The Knucklebook,” on how to throw the darn thing.