How to Pitch a Knuckleball
Throwing a knuckleball is tough to master, and hitting one is even more difficult for opposing batters intent upon hitting your pitches at any level of baseball. Most baseball pitches are thrown with the ball being released from the fingertips in a smooth motion, with spin guiding the flight of the ball as it travels towards the catcher. The arm, and wrist are active in providing a whip-like launch of the ball. The knuckleball, on the other hand, has little spin to it, as it is released in a catapult fashion from a grip utilizing the fingernails, and “stiff-armed” towards the target.
It can seem hard to even hold a baseball in a knuckleball grip, let alone throw it anywhere. Being so difficult to master, only a few knuckleball pitchers are active in any given year in the major leagues. For those who do manage to figure out how throw this unorthodox pitch, they can make batters look foolish as they try to swing at a ball that is never where they expect it to be. The normal elements that help a batter identify a pitch are absent, and his sense of timing the pitch is destroyed.
The actual grip on the baseball is not too difficult to describe. You try to dig your fingernails into the seams of the baseball enough to feel that you can hang onto it as it is held in the palm of the hand . Your thumb holds it in place from the other side of the ball. The tops of the knuckles above the fingernails should be pressed down against the ball for better grip, hence “the knuckleball”. This pitch cannot be thrown at full speed as a fast ball would, because it would be to hard to control. Also, the erratic motion of the baseball would diminish with as speed is increased. As the pitch is mastered, the varying of it’s speed is used to further confuse the batters timing.
After practicing for years, literally, some pitchers can gain enough command, and control of the knuckleball to be able to get it near, or in the strike zone. Major league pitchers seldom throw the knuckleball much faster than 75 miles per hour, compared to a good fastball in the 90s. Some knuckleballers can deliver this pitch in the 50s, and watching a batter trying to hit it resembles watching children trying to catch a butterfly with their bare hands.
Just about all professional pitchers know how to throw a knuckleball, but are unable to master it well enough to make it a viable weapon in their arsenal of pitches. Following in the tradition of past knuckleball pitchers like Hoyt Wilhelm, Phil and Joe Niekro, and others in the current big leagues is Tim Wakefield. He is currently on a roll, and pitching well for his Boston Red Sox. If you can, watch a game in which he pitches to see the results of a pitcher who has mastered this amazing pitch, the knuckleball.
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