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Thumbs up for the knuckler, and the men who throw it

Nov 20, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

Forgive me for going all sciencey about baseball. But it may be best to have a bit of physics explain just what a knuckleball is.

"The knuckleball is perhaps the most mysterious of baseball pitches," said Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois.

"It is thrown at a speed significantly lower than that of other pitches, and with very little spin. The lack of spin means that the knuckleball does not experience the 'Magnus force' that is responsible for the movement on normal pitches. There is still considerable

movement,so much so that the trajectory seems to be completely unpredictable by anyone -- the batter, the catcher, or even the pitcher."

For sure, there is no mystery that Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, the only knuckleballer currently in the big leagues, had a great 20-win season and was rewarded with the National League Cy Young award, given annually to the game's greatest pitchers. It's the first time in the

101 years of the award that a knuckleballer has been so honored.

Dickey won the award this year running away -- the voting for the National League's Cy Young winner wasn't close.

His stats were phenomenal and proved that he was deserving. His record was 20-6, and he led the majors with 230 strikeouts and 233 innings pitched, three shutouts and tossed a league best six complete games. He had a solid 2.73 earned run average.

It is a wonderful story for a dad, the father of four kids, who labored in baseball's minor leagues for 14 years and who's fastest pitch is 20 mph slower than the American League Cy Young award winner, lefty fireballer David Price.

It has been a great year for Dickey. Like Riverton's Bryce Born and Fred Perrett, Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in early 2012.

Dickey also starred this year in the acclaimed documentary "Knuckleball" that has a good chance of winning an Academy Award.

"Knuckleball" is the story of Tim Wakefield and Dickey and how the two developed and refined their mysterious pitch to extend their baseball careers.

"Our central knuckleballers are buoyed, inspired and cajoled by the Greek chorus of past pliers of the knuckleball trade; their only support system and mentors in their profession. Featured former knuckleballers include all the living greats: Hall of Famer Phil

Niekro, Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Jim Bouton and Tom Candiotti," the promotional website for the movie says.

Some of the best scenes of the movie show Dickey and Wakefield with Hough and Niekro, all sharing their knowledge of the game's rarest of pitches, all rooting in the movie for Wakefield's and Dickey's success.

I never had the opportunity to hit a good knuckleballer. But I know exactly what it was like to catch one, and "very difficult" comes to mind.

In my view, Riverton's best knuckleballer ever was David Wrape, whom I played with from Little League to American Legion back in the day.

Wrape, who later pitched for BYU, probably didn't use his knuckleball enough. We used it as an off-speed pitch. A lefty, Wrape had fine control, an above-average fastball and a good breaking ball. When I put three fingers down, and he nodded in agreement, the spinless ball would be coming to the plate and my glove would move up and down and right and left and up and down. I just hoped that somehow the ball would either end up in my glove or in front of me.

I can't imagine what it would be like to try and hit a knuckleball.

How come there aren't more knuckleballers in the Major Leagues?

By the way, my wife Tracy gives the movie "Knuckleball" two thumbs up. I do too.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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