A pitch in baseball that, while never prevalent in its history, has existed at least as far back as the early 20th century. Despite its name, the ball is gripped with the fingertips (and some pitchers are fussy about manicures) and thrown so, ideally, it doesn't rotate, as all other pitches do. Thrown properly, the ball should "knuckle" - behave unpredictably. It can give a catcher fits. Thrown by Hoyt Wilhelm, Phil Niekro, Jim Bouton, et al; current knuckleballers include Tim Wakefield.

An amusing pitch, the knuckleball seems to defy physics with the way it dances towards the plate. Ironically, it is the same laws of physics that make it do what it does. Without any rotational momentum, it doesn't create any stable airflow around it, causing it to move at the whim of the tiny air currents around it. The knuckleball is the hardest pitch to hit in baseball, but unfortunately, it's the hardest to throw... so let's get started.

The grip of the knuckleball is pretty simple. Put your thumb on the underside of the ball, and dig the nails of your remaining four fingers into the top seam. The knuckles of your top fingers should be bent away from the ball -- THE KNUCKLES DO NOT TOUCH THE BALL! To throw the knuckleball, toss it like a regular pitch -- as you release your fingers will kill the normal rotational momentum of the ball, making it incredibly susceptible to outside forces.

The problem with throwing the knuckleball is that in order for it to be successful, the ball has to turn no more than ½ to one full rotation during its journey to the plate. Any more than that, and you're just throwing a really bad change-up. But if you can manage to spin it that slowly, few people are going to be able to hit it.

A word on the knuckleball: It's not going to work. Tell yourself that now, accept it, and move on. Have fun with it as a novelty pitch. Casually throw one when your team is up by nine or ten runs. Do not depend on it as you would any other pitch. There are only two knuckleball pitchers in the major leagues today: Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. There's a reason for that.

Another word on the knuckleball: If you have to ask if it knuckled, it didn't. Many times, if a pitcher is working on a new pitch (in the absence of a pitching coach), he'll rely on his catcher to tell him what happened. He'll ask "Did it break?" or "Did it sink?". And the catcher, usually just trying to be a nice guy, will reply, "A little." And maybe it did, as a beginning pitcher usually gains only a little break on his breaking pitches. But if you ask "Did it knuckle?", and he answers, "A little."... it didn't. If your catcher dropped the ball, dove to block it, or missed it entirely, you're on your way.

The knuckleball is, especially in the modern era, a sort of wild card of a pitch. Sometimes it is utterly unhittable, sailing in like a wounded bird, falling and rising and sliding from plane to plane abruptly, jerking always just when it seems most certain that it will hold a plane.

Because it is thrown so slowly, it looks utterly juicy to any hitter following its approach, and one can hardly resist the urge to try to pull it a light year to leftfield. But the ball seems to be guided by a mind of its own, and it ducks under and pulls around the bat as it comes, always refusing to hold a plane--at least when it's thrown well. When it's not thrown well, anyone can hit it a light year to leftfield.

In the modern era, it has become a rule that knuckleballers (knuckleball pitchers) will be dominant one day and horrendous the next. This has to do with how difficult the throwing of this pitch is, and how perfect a grip and release point must be on any given day in order for it to be effective. Remember, if your index finger is a fraction of a centimeter off--light year, leftfield.

For this reason, Tim Wakefield was able to break into baseball appearing unstoppable, and make a huge impact, asserting himself as one of the best in the game over the course of a handful of starts his rookie season. But his effectiveness was shortlived: he lost the feel of the knuckleball, and it took him years to find it again.

In 2001, Steve Sparks, a knuckleballer, led the league in complete games. He used to his advantage a ballpark of formidable proportions, which no doubt saved him from suffering the occasional longball, and the inordinate stamina inherent to throwing the knuckleball: because he can just lob the ball up at 55 - 80 MPH each time, he never wears down his arm, and can pitch almost indefinitely.

You can make millions of dollars in Major League Baseball, if you figure out how to throw this mystery at an unimpressive speed with any regularity. It helps if you have a fastball to complement it, but it's not wholly necessary.

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