Gendelman: Unpredictable and unmanly: baseball’s fear of the knuckleball

From David Gendelman at The Guardian on September 23, 2016:

When Kevin Pucetas, a minor-league baseball player in the Texas Rangers organization, converted from a conventional pitcher into a knuckleballer, his biggest problem wasn’t one typically associated with the macho culture of professional sports: he needed to find a good manicurist. “I couldn’t keep nails on,” he said.

As Pucetas first began to throw the knuckleball, he developed a bad habit of splitting nails in the middle of games. Since a knuckleball pitcher’s grip is dependent upon the length and strength of his nails, this was no small matter. “It would hurt like hell,” Pucetas said. The day after it would happen, “I would have to go into nail salons and get acrylics, and it would always be a battle for me, especially on the road, because I would have to find a nail salon, and certain people do better stuff with nails.” But grooming is just one aspect of a pitch that in almost every way puts its practitioners at odds with baseball’s accepted conventions.

The knuckleball has been called an oddball pitch, a distrusted art, the baseball equivalent of a carnival act. When thrown well, the pitch moves in unpredictable ways, often more than once on its way from the pitcher to the batter, and in directions that not even the player who throws it can predict. The late Hall of Fame hitter Willie Stargell likened its movement to a butterfly with hiccups. Its speed is far slower than the average major-league pitch, inspiring fans to heckle and mock any player who dares attempt it. And it requires a different throwing motion than other baseball pitches. When properly employed, one former knuckleballer told me, it’s less a pitch than an “over-exaggerated game of catch”. A knuckleballer’s pitching motion looks more like your grandfather’s than that of a professional athlete.

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Originally published: September 26, 2016. Last Updated: September 26, 2016.