You’re Tim Wakefield and you come from a long line of oddballs who threw the knuckleball, which was also called the fingernail-ball, floater, flutterball, dry-spitter, or Cuban butterfly.
In a game that that rewards power and speed, the sluggers who “crush” home runs and the pitchers, who can crank the heater up to 100 MPH, you lasted 19 years in the majors, gently launching a ball to waft slowly, toward the plate.
You’re Tim Wakefield and you have been the oldest player in the American League for the last three seasons and you are starting to feel it now; you wanted to make 200 wins and set a Red Sox record, but you know the Sox cannot afford the 20 losses it would cost to do it.
When you came up with the Boston Red Sox in the 1992 season, the only knuckleballers in Major League Baseball were Tom Candiotti and Charlie Hough. During the 1995 season, Milwaukee Brewers rookie Steve Sparks joined you as the only two hurlers in the American League throwing the pitch. Now, R. A. Dickey [Mets] is the only knuckle ball pitcher in the Majors.
Only opposing batters were more dismayed to see you come into a game, than your own catchers. One of the greatest hitters in baseball history, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, hated you knuckleballers; he said you threw his timing off for days after.
And you shake your head as you read what that goofy Nash guy on the Botox Injection website wrote:
And the batters, flummoxed, flailed futilely at your flutter, whose illusion was your “bread and butter”–befuddled batsmen, stared in panic, then swung n’ swore at its aerodynamic terpsichore.
Frustrated batters would curse you and think it was unfair to use a “trick” pitch, that you were not manly enough to challenge them with a high hard one; you were considered a freak of the game, who was getting-by with a form of cheating.
You’re Tim Wakefield and your agent, Barry Meister, got you four offers–one was a guaranteed big league deal. But, none of them was from your beloved Red Sox.
You won your 200th career game on September 13, 2011 against the Toronto Blue Jays, and are third on the Boston Red Sox with 186 team victories, behind both Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who have 192 each.
You’re Tim Wakefield and you stare at the screen at your career stats: 200 Wins, 180 losses, 4.41 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 3,226.1 pitches launched. Wow! You see you gave up 3,152 hits; you struck out 2,156 and walked 1,205. You lead active AL pitchers in HRs allowed, 418, but, happily, Jamie Moyer leads MLB with 551.
You’re Tim Wakefield and you look at that HR number again: “Four hundred and eighteen….Geez!” And you still remember who hit that first one: Robby Thompson, Giants, August 21, 1992, the score was tied 3-3. And, the last one last year, during that horrific September Swoon: September 25th, Posada, you took the L, 6-2 another nail in the Wild Card coffin.
You’re Tim Wakefield and you are a record holder in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
You’re second in all-time wins at Fenway Park with 97, behind Roger Clemens’ 100,
You’re first, all-time, in innings pitched by a Red Sox pitcher, with 2,944 (through July 24, 2011); you surpassed Roger Clemens’ total of 2,777 on June 8, 2010.
You’re Tim Wakefield and you have your memories of the game: playing in the All-Star game in 2009; being nominated eight times for the Roberto Clemente Award, winning the award in 2010; tossing a complete game against the St. Louis Cardinals, striking out 10 batters while throwing 146 pitches in your first game in the majors. And, what the paper said was an:
“Oh so close for Wakefield: Knuckleballer’s no-hit effort stopped in 9th”, The Dallas Morning News, June 20, 2001.
And, you appreciate what FanGraphs said today in your pitching career obituary:
“Tim Wakefield wasn’t the best pitcher in Red Sox history (that’s Pedro Martinez), nor was he the most entertaining (guys like Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Luis Tiant and yes, Pedro, have that territory marked), but what he was one of the Nation’s favorites. For 17 years, he pitched, and acted, with the same stoicism. He never put himself above the game, and was always, always ready to take the ball, be it the top of the first, the bottom of the fourth, or the top of the 12th. He is set to announce his retirement today, but his legend will live forever.”
You’re Tim Wakefield and you are a member of the Butterfly Brotherhood, an elite gaggle of the quirky, who could lob the herky-jerky, and just seven of your guild made the Hall of Fame.
Cool Papa (James) Bell, 1922-50
Some say he was the fastest man ever to play professional baseball. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Ted Lyons, 1923-46
Began throwing the knuckler after 1929 arm injury. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.
Phil Niekro, 1964-85
Won 318 games. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Hoyt Wilhelm, 1952-72
The first relief pitcher to be inducted in the Hall of Fame, 1985.
You’re Tim Wakefield and your mind wanders back to two of the greatest of your quirky ilk: Hoyt Wilhelm and Wilbur Wood:
With the New York Giants Wilhelm had 143 wins and 227 saves. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985. Umpire Bill Kinnamon said: “He was by far the best knuckleballer who ever lived.”
Wilbur Wood, former Sock , tossed for 17 seasons [1961-78], career 72-75, led the AL in innings in 1972 [376.2] and topped 300 innings for four consecutive years [1971-1974] and just missed a fifth with 291.1 in 1975; 2,684 career pitches; 3.18 ERA, 1.23 WHIP.
You smile and ponder Phil Niekro, maybe the greatest knuckleballer in history; 16th on the all-time career wins list , just ahead or Gaylord Perry  and Tom Seaver , and just 6 W’s behind Nolan Ryan.
You read in the Wiki that Niekro’s Hall of Fame bio describes how “During a 24-year career, Phil Niekro relied not on velocity but on a fluttering knuckleball to frustrate Major League hitters”; His plaque at the Hall of Fame starts by defining him as a “Preeminent knuckleball pitcher”.
You’re Tim Wakefield and you have to laugh, when you recall you were the AL leader in losses [15 in 1997], HBP, hit batsmen [16 in 1997] and again in 2001 . There were no plaques or trophies for those records, but, hey, you bounced back in 1998 to 17-8.
But, you could not convince yourself that you have another bounce back left and Time said:
“It’s time, Tim.”
You’re Tim Wakefield and you wonder…Maybe they will have a “Day” for you at Fenway; maybe, instead of a Tim Wakefield Bobble-head, they can give away a “Bobble-Hand” doll?
KNUCKLEBALL PITCHERS FROM THE FIFTIES TO PRESENT:
Hoyt Wilhelm 1952 1972
• New York Giants (1952-1956)
• St. Louis Cardinals (1957)
• Cleveland Indians (1957-1958)
• Baltimore Orioles (1958-1962)
• Chicago White Sox (1963-1968)
• California Angels (1969)
• Atlanta Braves (1969-1970)
• Chicago Cubs (1970)
• Atlanta Braves (1971)
• Los Angeles Dodgers (1971-1972)
Wally Burnette 1956 1958, Kansas City Athletics
Bob Purkey 1954 1966
• Pittsburgh Pirates (1954-1957, 1966)
• Cincinnati Reds (1958-1964)
• St. Louis Cardinals (1965)
Wilbur Wood 1961 1978
• Boston Red Sox (1961-1964)
• Pittsburgh Pirates (1964-1965)
• Chicago White Sox (1967-1978)
Jim Bouton 1962 1978
• New York Yankees (1962-1968)
• Seattle Pilots (1969)
• Houston Astros (1969-1970)
• Atlanta Braves (1978)
Phil Niekro 1964 1987
• Milwaukee / Atlanta Braves (1964–1983), (1987)
• New York Yankees (1984–1985)
• Cleveland Indians (1986–1987)
• Toronto Blue Jays (1987)
Joe Niekro 1967 1988
• Chicago Cubs (1967–1969)
• San Diego Padres (1969)
• Detroit Tigers (1970–1972)
• Atlanta Braves (1973–1974)
• Houston Astros (1975–1985)
• New York Yankees (1985–1987)
• Minnesota Twins (1987–1988)
Charlie Hough 1970 1994
• Los Angeles Dodgers (1970–1980)
• Texas Rangers (1980–1990)
• Chicago White Sox (1991–1992)
• Florida Marlins (1993–1994)
Tom Candiotti 1983 1999
• Milwaukee Brewers (1983-1984)
• Cleveland Indians (1986-1991, 1999)
• Toronto Blue Jays (1991)
• Los Angeles Dodgers (1992-1997)
• Oakland Athletics (1998-1999)
Steve Sparks 1995 2004
• Milwaukee Brewers (1995-1997)
• Anaheim Angels (1998-1999)
• Detroit Tigers (2000-2003)
• Oakland Athletics (2003)
• Arizona Diamondbacks (2004)
Charlie Zink 2008 2008
• Boston Red Sox (2008)
Tim Wakefield 1992 2012
• Pittsburgh Pirates (1992-1993)
• Boston Red Sox (1995-2012)
R. A. Dickey 2001 Present
• Texas Rangers (2001, 2003-2006)
• Seattle Mariners (2008)
• Minnesota Twins (2009
• New York Mets (2010-present)
Jared Fernández 2001 2006
• Cincinnati Reds (2001-2002)
• Houston Astros (2003-2004)
• Milwaukee Brewers (2006)
• Hiroshima Toyo Carp (2007) (NPB)
Charlie Haeger 2006 Present
• Chicago White Sox (2006-2007)
• San Diego Padres (2008)
The pitch we now know as the knuckleball was first thrown in the major leagues during the first decade of the twentieth century. Four pitchers: Eddie Cicotte, Ed Summers, Nap Rucker, and Lew “Hicks” Moren were among the first to throw it, and all may have played some part in its invention. It is likely that the pitch was first invented by Eddie Cicotte in the summer of 1905, while he was a teammate of Nap Rucker in the minor leagues.
Baseball statistician / historian Rob Neyer lists four different individuals in an article he wrote in the 2004 book The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers as potentially deserving credit, any of whom may have originated the pitch in either the 1907 or 1908 seasons. Nap Rucker of the Brooklyn Dodgers came up to the majors in 1907, initially throwing hard stuff but later switching to the knuckleball. A 1908 article credited Lew Moren as the inventor of the pitch. Ed Cicotte earned a full-time spot with the Detroit Tigers in 1908, earning the nickname “Knuckles” for his signature pitch. Picture of Ed Summers showed him gripping what he called a “dry spitter” using a variation of the knuckleball grip using the knuckles of his index and middle fingers. [Wiki]
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