My obsession with the knuckleball (and making sure it doesn’t go extinct) has been fueled this summer by the amazing year New York Mets’ pitcher R.A. Dickey is having. I admit, I have a man crush on him, but really it all began when I was in fifth grade. At that point I was obsessed with baseball and eventually learned about Charlie Hough and the strange pitch he threw called a knuckleball. The knuckleball is actually held by the fingernails, knuckles never touch the ball, but they do stick up in the air when the ball is gripped.
While most pitches in the majors are about speed and getting the ball to spin fast in one direction causing the ball to move, the knuckleball is the exact opposite. It spins less than a single rotation over the 60 feet and 6 inches it travels to the plate. The pitch tends to be around 60 to 70 mph as opposed to the 90s, which is a good fastball. The result of this odd pitch is that no one knows where it will go. Not the batter, not the pitcher, not the catcher. Bob Ueckler once famous stated, “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until the ball stops rolling and then to pick it up.”
So when I was a child I was both intrigued by this quirky pitch and further intrigued that a guy with my odd last name was throwing this pitch. I have spent many afternoons trying to throw this difficult pitch.
Since then the baseball strike happened and I quit following baseball with the exception that I have always checked in on knuckleballers. The last worthwhile guy in the bigs was Tim Wakefield in Boston who retired a few years back.
As I’ve gotten into this summer sport again in recent years I’ve been following the career of a guy named R.A. Dickey. He started in Texas and traveled around until landing with the Mets. He’s done well for them until this year when he began playing unbelievably well. He is 14-2 with an ERA under 3. That means for every 9 innings he pitches he gives up less than three runs. He’s also striking people out swinging at an amazing rate.
So all this is great, but my intrigue with him goes further after reading his autobiography earlier this year. In it he shares his troubled past, his difficult family life, his being sexually molested by a female babysitter and eventually how God brought him to faith in Christ. God used a Christian family that invited him into their home and who answered his questions. He sees their love for God and eventually sees their God as his eyes are opened to see reality.
R.A. (Robert Alan) was drafted by the Texas Rangers as a normal pitcher and was about to sign a contract with a nearly million dollar signing bonus. However, the results of his physical showed he didn’t have a UCL, some ligament in the arm that was needed for pitching. His bonus after that was about $75k as the wondered how he was even able to pitch without the ligament.
It wasn’t until after his career stalled out that he began learning the knuckleball in 2006.
As the narrative goes on he struggles in baseball and life before he nearly kills himself trying to swim across the Missouri River. He makes mistakes in his marriage and owns up to it all repenting and getting back on track. This book is foremost a personal and baseball story, but throughout the book is seen the redemptive work of the Gospel in his life. I highly recommend it for anyone remotely interested in baseball or biography in general or just wish to read an honest (and not cheesy) story of how the gospel is constantly transforming sinners washed in the blood of Christ. I greatly appreciated how open he was about his life whether it made him look good or look like a jerk.
Dickey is a member of West End Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee. This church is a member of the PCA, the same denomination of Redeemer (our church). Dickey pitches again tonight at 9 pm when I hope he will be the first pitcher to reach 15 wins this season.
Here’s how you throw one in case you want t go out into the backyard and give it a try.