The knuckleball was the last resort. The last pitch that pitchers who were at a dead end tried was the knuckleball. Since his debut, the pitchers who have used the knuckleball at the forefront are Hoyt Wilhem and Phil Nikro. Both pitchers were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Knuckleball is a mutation. That’s why there are a handful of pitchers in each era. Led by Wilhem and Niekro, Charlie Huff, Tom Candiotti, Tim Wakefield, and RA Dickey are representative pitchers who succeeded the knuckleballers. Because they are comprised of a small number of elites, their ties are strong. Wakefield received help from Niekro, and Dickey learned the knuckleball from Huff. Dickey, who won the Cy Young Award in 2012 with his own high-speed knuckleball, is the last player to lead the golden age of the knuckleball.

After that, the knuckleball gradually faded away. I couldn’t even see a pitcher who wanted to throw, let alone a pitcher who was throwing. In 2021, the LA Times reported that the knuckleball “has become a relic like a paper ticket.”

In fact, the decline of the knuckleball was predicted. Even the ‘godfather of the knuckleball’, Niekro, did not expect the knuckleball to become prevalent. Niekro pointed out the key reason why there cannot be more knuckleballers.

“Who teaches?”

There were 11 knuckleballers who played in the major leagues for 30 years since 1990. Wakefield and Dickey are well known, but most pitchers are unfamiliar with their names. Charlie Zink, Charlie Hager, and Eddie Gamboa failed to pitch even 20 games in the major leagues. The knuckleball is a ball that guarantees long runs if you get it, but it is a ball that is difficult to get. Even Niekro, who had only studied knuckleballs his entire life, was not sure if he had thrown a proper knuckleball.

The player who reminded us of the forgotten knuckleball was Mickey Janis in 2021. Janis, who was selected in the 44th round of the 2010 draft, played in the minor league and independent league for over 10 years. His talent was not up to the major league level. However, after persevering with passion, he made his major league debut.

Janice, a 33-year-old late pitcher, received more attention for throwing a knuckleball. As the second pitcher of the game on June 24, 2021, he faced the Houston Astros, the best team in the league. Janice struck out the first batter, Jordan Alvarez, with four knuckleballs. With this momentum, they ended the top of the 5th inning with no runs. But this joy was short-lived. Janis, who gave up the first run in the next inning, allowed a home run to Alvarez, who appeared as the leadoff hitter in the top of the 7th inning. And then, as they gave up two more home runs, they collapsed out of control. Janice’s debut performance was 8 hits, 4 walks, and 7 runs in 3⅓ innings.

Janice no longer received a chance in the major leagues. Although he spent 11 years in the minor leagues, he only spent four days in the major leagues. Contrary to the ideal, reality was cold.

Janice failed to achieve results and retired from the major leagues. Just as knuckleball skepticism was rising again, this year’s next challenger appeared. It was San Diego Padres Matt Waldron. Waldron, who used to throw knuckleballs as a joke during training, began practicing his knuckleballs seriously at the urging of his teammates. And on June 25, he made his name as another knuckleballer when he debuted against the Washington Nationals.

Waldron was a little different from existing knuckleballers. Until now, knuckleballers had an overwhelmingly high proportion of knuckleballs. It accounted for more than 70% of the total repertoire. Janice, the previous knuckleballer, also had 57 out of 71 pitches being knuckleballs (knuckleball 80.3%, four-seam 12.7%, and curve 7%). However, although Waldron used knuckleballs as his main weapon, the proportion of knuckleballs was around 20%. He was not a pitcher who only threw knuckleballs.

Waldron’s proportion by pitch (%)

24.1 – Sinker
23.9 – Knuckleball
23.2 – Four-seam
16.6 – Slider
12.2 – Cutter

In general, it is difficult to harmonize the knuckleball with other pitches. The throwing method itself is different. The knuckleball must be pushed with the strength of the finger joints, but for other pitches, rotation of the shoulder and arm is important. Waldron left these conventional wisdom behind and sought a way to become a unique knuckleballer.

But Waldron is also still dull. In his first start in about a month, he allowed only 4 runs in 5 innings. His performance in 5 games this season is only 3 losses and an ERA of 5.55 (24⅓ innings, 15 strikeouts, 7 walks, 6 home runs). If Waldron also performs poorly, the popularity of the knuckleball in the major leagues will decline further.

Why are knuckleballers neglected? First of all, he does not follow the latest trends. Recently, the Major League is in an era of velocity and rotation speed. Faster, more flashy balls are the trend. The knuckleball, which has a slow velocity and little rotation, is a pitch that goes against the times. In fact, as pitchers with excellent velocity and rotation speed produce good results, each team also focuses on finding and nurturing pitchers with these two qualities.

The uncertainty of the knuckleball is also burdensome. With a knuckleball, even the pitcher cannot know exactly where it will go. Hall of Fame hitter Willie Stargell described the knuckleball as a “hiccupping butterfly.” A quiet classic suddenly changes. As a result, the catcher who receives the knuckleball cannot come to his senses. This was clearly evident while watching Luis Campusano, who worked with Waldron. Campusano also had a hard time catching the ball properly. His mentality was shaken by two fastballs from the catcher, so he made two errors.

It is not compatible with the new regulations of the Major League. This year, the Major League is encouraging active baseball by limiting the ability to check runners and expanding the base size. However, knuckleballers are inherently weak at tying up runners. Waldron also gave up five stolen bases. Even if a catcher has a fast pop time, it is not easy to prevent a base stealer without the pitcher’s help. Even better, catchers have to worry about catching knuckleballs before they worry about runners.스포츠토토

Knuckleballers were mainly pitchers who had a long life. Because there was less strain on my body, I was able to run until late even if I started late. Wilhem played until he was 49, Niekro played until he was 48, Huff played until he was 46, Wakefield played until he was 44, and Dickey played until he was 42. Dickey was 37 when he won the Cy Young Award.

The problem is the changing status of prospects in the major leagues. As promising players are considered the present and the future, there is no time to wait for the perfect knuckleballer.

Today, the major leagues prefer players who come up quickly and rise quickly. As the farm system becomes more systematic, players looking for opportunities are constantly appearing. You can use a knuckleballer for an event, but if he doesn’t make a mark quickly, the opportunity will immediately go to the next player. The environment itself has changed a lot, and this changed environment is disadvantageous for knuckleballers to settle down.

Will the knuckleballer be able to continue his legacy in the upcoming Major League? Perhaps a successful knuckleballer may be as difficult to find as the next two-batting player.

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