R.A. Dickey has Mets fans wrapped around his knuckle.
Scheduled to pitch tonight against Florida, the knuckleballer has been a notable bright spot during a mediocre season for the Mets (62-62). On Aug. 13, the 35-year-old Dickey had one of the best outings in team history, firing a one-hit shutout for a 1-0 win against the Phillies.
Since his call-up from Triple-A Buffalo on May 19, Dickey (8-5) has enjoyed a career year, compiling a 2.41 ERA in 18 starts this season. The reason for Dickey’s success has been the command over his deadly knuckleball, a pitch few major leaguers feature, let alone master.
“Young pitchers don’t just learn how to throw a knuckleball,” baseball writer Rob Neyer said. “It usually takes years of practice before a pitcher can throw it for strikes consistently.”
Often a pitcher with no proven, effective pitch will pick up the knuckleball in one last effort to make it in the big leagues. Dickey, once a touted prospect, began developing his knuckler in 2005 after years on the margins of the major leagues.
The knuckleball also goes against what most young pitchers are taught to do.
“Most pitchers become pitchers because they can throw hard,” Neyer said.
Watch it flutter
A knuckleball is a pitch thrown with very little spin. This allows the air to catch the stitches of the ball, which makes it move erratically as it travels toward home plate. The pitch’s unpredictability makes it difficult for the batter, or even the catcher, to lock in on its path.
The knuckleball is gripped using the thumb, index finger and middle finger. The thumb rests on the bottom of the ball, similar to a fastball grip. The tips of the index and middle fingers grip the top. On release, pitchers flick the ball out of their hands. Because the pitch requires minimal arm exertion, its practioners tend to be durable players who are able to pitch on little rest and often into their 40s.
Eddie Cicotte (1905-20) — Many credit him with inventing the knuckle-ball. He was banned for life as part of the Black Sox scandal to fix the 1919 World Series.
Ted Lyons (1923-42 and 1946) — Known as “Sunday Teddy,” won 260 games and joined the Hall of Fame in 1955.
Hoyt Wilhelm (1952-72) — Hall of Famer helped the New York Giants sweep Cleveland as a reliever during the 1954 World Series.
Wilbur Wood (1961-78) — Twice started both ends of a doubleheader in 1973.
Phil Niekro (1964-87) — Nicknamed “Knucksie,” joined Hall in 1997.
Charlie Hough (1970-94) — Finished his career at 216-216 with a 3.75 ERA.
Tom Candiotti (1983-99) — “The Candy Man” retired with a 151-164 record.
Tim Wakefield (1992-present) — First-time All-Star in 2009 at age 42.