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List of knuckleball pitchers

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Title: List of knuckleball pitchers  
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Subject: Hoyt Wilhelm, Eddie Cicotte, Knuckleball, Jesse Haines, Ted Lyons, Tom Candiotti, Lew Moren, Charlie Hough, Dutch Leonard (right-handed pitcher), Johnny Niggeling
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List of knuckleball pitchers

Knuckleball pitchers are those professional baseball players who have relied on the knuckleball as their primary pitch or who made it to professional baseball based on their ability to throw a knuckleball. The invention of the knuckleball has never been definitively identified, though there are a number of pitchers from the early 20th century who have been credited with its creation. 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. A 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.[1]

Unlike almost every other pitch in baseball, the knuckleball's erratic trajectory has often required teams to use dedicated catchers, often using specialized mitts, to field the deliveries. Catcher Clint Courtney used a specially constructed catcher's mitt, 50% larger than the conventional mitts used at the time, to catch knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm during a game in May 1960. Umpire Al Smith credited the use of the glove with preventing three or four passed balls in that one game.[2] The lower velocity of the knuckleball is credited with giving those who use it the ability to pitch more often and to have pitching careers far longer than those who rely on their fastball to get outs. Tim Wakefield has pitched on consecutive days, when most starting pitchers in the 21st century throw after four-day's rest. Hoyt Wilhelm pitched until he was almost 50 and Phil Niekro used the pitch until he was 48. Wakefield retired at 45.

The prevalence of the knuckleballer has varied over time. The 1945 Washington Senators finished 1½ games out of first place with a starting pitching staff that almost exclusively used the pitch, with four knuckleballers in the rotation. That season, the team's three catchers — regular catcher Rick Ferrell and backups Al Evans and Mike Guerra — combined for 40 passed balls, more than double that of any other team in the league.[3]

Joe Niekro and R.A. Dickey have won the NL Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award. Dickey has won the NL Cy Young Award. Phil Niekro is the only knuckleball pitcher to win 300 games.[4]

Notable knuckleballers

The following lists knuckleball pitchers who are primarily known for throwing the knuckleball or those who established professional careers based on their throwing the knuckleball. Excluded are individuals who threw the pitch occasionally or those who did not play professional baseball primarily as a pitcher. Major League Baseball career statistics are from Baseball-Reference.



Key
G Games pitched
W Career wins
L Career losses
SV Career saves
ERA Career earned run average
Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame
 • Cy Young Award winner
Knuckleball pitchers
Name Debut Final G W L SV ERA Ref(s)
Bearden, GeneGene Bearden 1947 1953 193 45 38 1 3.96 [5][6]
Boone, DannyDanny Boone 1981 1990 16 2 1 4 3.36 [7][8]
Bouton, JimJim Bouton 1962 1978 304 62 63 6 3.57 [9][10]
Burnette, WallyWally Burnette 1956 1958 68 14 21 1 3.56 [11][12]
Candiotti, TomTom Candiotti 1983 1999 451 151 164 0 3.73 [13][14]
Cicotte, EddieEddie Cicotte 1905 1920 502 208 149 25 2.38 [15][16]
Dickey, R. A.R. A. Dickey  • 2001 present 272 75 69 2 4.02 [17][18]
Fernández, JaredJared Fernández 2001 2006 37 4 7 0 5.05 [19][20]
Haefner, MickeyMickey Haefner 1943 1950 261 78 91 13 3.50 [21][22]
Haeger, CharlieCharlie Haeger 2006 2010 19 2 7 1 6.35 [23][24]
Haines, JesseJesse Haines 1918 1937 555 210 158 10 3.64 [25][26][27]
Hough, CharlieCharlie Hough 1970 1994 858 216 216 61 3.75 [28][29]
Leonard, DutchDutch Leonard 1933 1953 640 191 181 44 3.25 [30][31]
Lyons, TedTed Lyons 1923 1946 594 260 230 23 3.67 [32][33]
Moren, LewLew Moren 1903 1910 141 48 57 3 2.95 [1][34]
Niekro, JoeJoe Niekro 1967 1988 702 221 204 16 3.59 [35][36]
Niekro, PhilPhil Niekro 1964 1987 864 318 274 29 3.35 [37][38]
Niggeling, JohnnyJohnny Niggeling 1938 1945 184 64 69 0 3.22 [39][40]
Papai, AlAl Papai 1948 1955 88 9 14 4 5.37 [41][42]
Purkey, BobBob Purkey 1954 1966 386 129 115 9 3.79 [43][44]
Sparks, SteveSteve Sparks 1995 2004 270 59 76 3 4.88 [45][46]
Wakefield, TimTim Wakefield 1992 2012 547 200 178 22 4.30 [47][48]
Wilhelm, HoytHoyt Wilhelm 1952 1972 1070 143 122 227 2.52 [49][50]
Wolff, RogerRoger Wolff 1941 1947 182 52 69 13 3.41 [51][52]
Wood, WilburWilbur Wood 1961 1978 651 164 156 57 3.24 [53][54]
Zink, CharlieCharlie Zink 2008 2008 1 0 0 0 16.62 [55][56]

See also

Baseball portal

Further reading

  • Rob Neyer's definition, which includes any pitcher "who would not have been in the majors without his knuckleball, or whose knuckleball was considered his best pitch, at least for a time." An additional 85 or so individuals are listed as having "Used the Knuckleball as a Regular Pitch", which includes those who didn't make the first list, but "regularly tossed up a knuckler as part of their standard repertoire." Both lists include a handful of non-pitchers who used the knuckleball in some extremely limited circumstances.
  • McGrath, Ben. The New Yorker, May 17, 2004. Accessed April 13, 2009.

References

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