Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield won MLB 200 games. Wakefield (a.k.a. Wake), who mastered the knuckleball, pitched most of his 17 seasons as a Red Sox and was a starter, middle reliever and even a closer. He was a team player, fan favorite and all-around good guy. Wake was part of the last two Red Sox championship teams and throughout his career he dazzled batters with his ever-elusive knuckleball.
The new documentary, Knuckleball!, had its Boston premiere the other night. The movie focuses on knuckleballers Wakefield and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets and their 2011 seasons. It’s a film that all baseball lovers should see as the mysteries of the knuckleball and its masterful magicians are chronicled.
The knuckleball is a tough pitch to predict in many ways. Pitchers, catchers and batters never really know how that knuckleball is going to behave as it rotates, rolls and dips and doodles at around 65 miles an hour. It may look like a meatball coming in, a real can of Campbell’s Soup that can be ripped over the fence. But it is so tough to track it’s doubtful any radar will ever be invented that can accurately document its course.
The Boston premiere featured a starting rotation of knuckleballers—Wakefield, Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro, former Texas Ranger Charlie Hough, and Chicago White Sox great Wilbur Wood. What a scary collection of hurlers! Imagine those four simultaneously throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the season!
Prior to the premiere, Wake said, “The guys that are standing behind me now with Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, and Wilbur Wood have been mentors of mine when I first started throwing [the knuckleball].” He added, “You’ll see in the film it’s a very close-knit fraternity. There’s only a handful of guys that ever did it in the big leagues and it’s a way that we share our thoughts and ideas with each other.”
The knuckleball is a very tough pitch to learn to throw and it’s one that is distrusted by managers and often mishandled by catchers. For the Red Sox Doug Mirabelli and not the Captain and starting catcher Jason Varitek tended to catch for Wake. I don’t think there was a better knuckleball backstop than Mirabelli. (At least not one that I ever saw.)That is not to say that Varitek was a poor knuckleball catcher. But more times than not it was Mirabelli who earned the chance to catch for Wakefield. In 2006 when Mirabelli went to the San Diego Padres, the Red Sox had a tough time finding an adequate replacement who could handle Wake’s pitch.
Boston Red Sox fans, Wakefield and baseball lovers need to see Knuckleball!