20 June 2012


Take a breath Mets fans. I know you are all very excited over the wonderful season that R.A. Dickey is having but don't go ordering his Hall of Fame plaque just yet or hanging #43 on the outfield wall.

Historically, knuckleballers are .500 pitchers (as starters) over a career with a knack for double digit loss seasons. Most of their compiled records are due to longevity since most pitch into their 40's as relievers. While R.A. might win 20, don't be shocked if he loses 15 next season.

Here is a brief history of the knuckleball and some of its more famous users:

History:  (from Wikipedia) The identity of the first pitcher to throw a knuckleball is uncertain, but it appears to have been developed in the early 20th century. Lew "Hicks" Moren (1906) of the Philadelphia Phillies was credited as its inventor. However, Eddie Cicotte apparently also came up with the pitch while at Indianapolis, and brought it to the modern major leagues two years later in 1908. Since Cicotte had a much more successful career (and also gained later notoriety as one of the players implicated in the Black Sox scandal), his name is the one most often associated with the invention of the pitch today.

Hall of Famer Phil Niekro is probably the greatest of them all. Niekro's 318 career victories are the most by a knuckleball pitcher. He also amassed 274 losses in his 24 year career with the Braves, Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays.  "Knucksie" lead the NL in losses in 4 consecutive seasons between 1977 -1980. He won 20 games twice and lost 20 games twice. He pitched a no-hitter in 1973 and his #35 was retired by the Atlanta Braves in 1984 even though he didn't retire until 1987. He actualy played for the Braves AFTER they retired his number.

Joe Niekro (brother of Phil), went 221-204 with the Cubs, Padres, Tigers, Braves, Astros, Yankees and Twins over 22 seasons. His best season was 1979 (21-11. 3.00) with the Astros. He had double digit losses 11 times. including an 18 loss season in 1969.  In 1987 Niekro was suspended for 10 games when umpire Steve Palermo discovered a nail file in his pocket. Neikro died in 2006. His family sponsors the Joe Neikro Foundation which is committed to aiding in the research and treatment of aneurysm patients.

Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, primarily a reliever, (52 starts / 1070 appearances), went 143-122 in 21 seasons with 10 teams. His best season was 1952 (15-3, 2.43). He pitched in a NL leading 71 games, all in relief. Wilhelm retired with the lowest career Earned Run Average of any Major League hurler after 1927 (2.52) who pitched more than 2,000 innings.

Charlie Hough went 216-216 in 25 seasons with 4 teams. Hough ad 13 double digit loss seasons, including 12 in a row between 1982-1993.

Wilbur Wood went 164-156 with the Red Sox, Pirates and White Sox. Between 1971 and 1974 Wood went 22-13, 24-17, 24-20 and 20-19. In 1975 he was 16-20. In a 6-1 loss to the California Angels, on September 10, 1977, Wood hit three consecutive batters in the first inning. Wood started both games of a doubleheader for the White Sox against the Yankees on July 20, 1973. (He lost both games).

Tom Candiotti compiled a 151-164 record over 16 seasons with 5 teams, notably the Indians and Dodgers. Candioti lost 10+ games 10 times and won 10+ games only 8 times. His best season was 1988 (14-8). He lead the NL in losses with 15 in 1992 and the AL with 16 in 1996. Candiotti appeared briefly in Billy Crystal's 2001 movie "61*" as pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm and was was inducted into the International Bowling Hall of Fame in 2007.

Recently retired Tim Wakefield finished with a 200-180 record over 19 seasons, 17 with the Red Sox and 2 with the Pirates. Wakefield started 463 out of 627 appearances. He lost 10+ games 11 times and lead the AL in losses with 15 in 1997 and won 10+ games 11 times. His best season was 1998 when he went 17-8 but followed that with 6-11, 6-10 and 9-12 seasons between 1999-2001.

Steve Sparks became a knuckleballer after he dislocated his shoulder by attempting to rip a phone book in half while in the minor leagues with the Brewers. His best season was with Detroit in 2001 when he went 14-8. In 9 seasons he was 59-76. Sparks retired in 2005 and does some TV work with the Astros.

R.A. has never faced the Yankees. That changes Sunday night vs. CC Sabathia.

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