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Today in Knuckleball History: June 21, 1997

Candiotti Throws Seven Shutout Innings as Emergency Replacement

June 21, 1997

Los Angeles Dodgers 11, San Francisco Giants 0 At 3Com Park

Tom Candiotti:  7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO.

So that’s why the Dodgers kept Tom Candiotti around. As insurance, just in case one of their starters went down.

Sent to the bullpen to begin the season, Candiotti finally made his first start of the year, filling in for injured starter Ramon Martinez, who’d complained the night before about a sore right shoulder. The knuckleballer responded by flummoxing the San Francisco Giants for seven shutout innings, lifting the Dodgers to an 11-0 victory over their arch rivals.

Candiotti had been sent to the bullpen because of the emergence of right-hander Chan Ho Park, who joined a Los Angeles rotation which already included Martinez, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdez, and Pedro Astacio—a pitching staff that was second in the majors only to the Atlanta Braves’ staff headed by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. 

Although Candiotti, with 126 wins and a 3.53 ERA in his 13 big-league seasons entering 1997, was rumored to be traded all spring, Dodger general manager Fred Claire hung on to the knuckleballer, and it proved to be the right decision. 

Through June 10, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, Candiotti had three wins and a 2.03 ERA in 22 games, with five walks and 18 strikeouts, holding opposing hitters to a .212 average. 

Then, on this Saturday afternoon, he held the Giants to just four hits in seven innings as the Dodgers bounced back from a 5-2 loss in the series opener on Thursday and a blown 7-0 lead on Friday night—a game which saw L.A. use six pitchers. Candiotti even delivered at the plate, driving in the Dodgers’ sixth run on a squeeze bunt. The other Dodger heroes offensively were Raul Mondesi, who smacked an RBI triple and two-run single, and Tripp Cromer, who had three hits and three RBIs.

Candiotti and the Dodgers expected this would be his only start, as Ramon Martinez was expected to return after skipping just this start. As it turned out, though, Martinez’s injury was revealed to be a torn rotator cuff, and the Dodger ace would be sidelined for two months.   

Although the Dodgers did not win the division in 1997, losing out to the Giants by two games, Candiotti did do the job for L.A., going 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA in 11 starts during Martinez’s absence. It should have been at least seven wins; he nearly beat San Francisco again on July 12, handing the bullpen a 2-1 lead only to see the Giants rip two relievers for seven runs in the ninth. 

Candiotti pitched well enough as a starter that when Martinez did return in August, the Dodgers dealt fourth starter Astacio (4-8 with a 5.19 ERA over a three-month stretch) to Colorado for second baseman Eric Young while keeping the knuckleballer in the rotation for the rest of the 1997 season.

A free agent after the season—he signed with the Oakland Athletics in the off-season—Candiotti would finish his six-year Dodger career with a 3.57 ERA but just a 52-64 record, thanks primarily to a paucity of run support. No Los Angeles pitcher with an ERA as low as Candiotti’s had a lower winning percentage than his .448 in a Dodger uniform. (It should be noted that Ramon Martinez, who received much better support from the Dodgers, was 72-48 with a 3.67 ERA during that same stretch. In 1995, for instance, Martinez was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA and a league-leading 81 walks and 138 strikeouts over 206.1 innings. Candiotti, perhaps L.A.’s unluckiest pitcher ever, was 7-14 with a 3.50 ERA in 190.1 innings with 58 walks and 141 strikeouts.)

But, as Charlie Hough often told other knuckleballers, “When the other guys get hurt or don’t pitch well, be there when they need someone.” And that’s exactly what Candiotti did for the Dodgers in 1997.

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Video of Candiotti pitching in 1993

Thanks to YouTube, we are able to once in a while come across rare videos uploaded by people just like you and me. I recently came across a video of Tom Candiotti pitching for the Dodgers in Philadelphia back in 1993, posted by a YouTube user called Classic Phillies TV. Thank you, CPTV!

Now, this wasn’t one of Candiotti’s best games, and most baseball fans will be more interested in seeing a young Pedro Martinez pitch a few innings late in the game. However, following this contest, one in which Candiotti fell to 0-3 with a 6.55 ERA through four starts, the knuckleballing Candy Man would then have a dominant four-month stretch that has since been forgotten. In his next 22 starts following this disaster in Philadelphia, Candiotti posted a minuscule 1.85 ERA and the Dodgers won 15 of those games. Unfortunately, Candiotti’s won-loss record wasn’t great because the Dodgers rarely gave him much support, resulting in a modest 8-2 record in those 22 outings, even with that 1.85 earned-run average. Included in that stretch was a 15-start undefeated streak which saw Candiotti go 5-0 with 10 no-decisions. One of his two losses in those 22 starts was a 2-0 defeat to Atlanta’s John Smoltz, where Candiotti gave up just one run – on four hits – in eight innings (the only run came on a sacrifice fly and then the Braves added that second run in the ninth inning off Pedro Martinez).

In the 22-start stretch after the Phillies game, here were Candiotti’s numbers:

155.2 IP, 122 H, 43 BB, 120 SO, 6 HR, .217 opposing BA

It’s pretty amazing given the fact that Candiotti threw a knuckleball and yet averaged under 2.5 walks per nine innings. And only six home runs given up in those innings with nearly a 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

That run actually gave Candiotti the National League ERA lead going into September, at a major league-best 2.43.

Thanks again, CPTV, for posting the video.

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Uhm, how about doing some homework before you speak?

This post isn’t about baseball or knuckleballs, but rather, about commentators mouthing off about football when they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Last night on TSN 1410, a sports talk station in Vancouver, Canada, David Pratt was a guest on one of their shows and proceeded to talk about things that made him look like he needed to do more homework about the NFL before speaking.

*He talked about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at 2-11, still had a shot at the NFC South because both Atlanta and New Orleans led the division at 5-8. Uhm, no. If he’d bothered to do his research, he would have realized that the Falcons and Saints play each other once more, meaning that there would be a winner in that one. So, either Atlanta or New Orleans would, at worst, have six victories. Even if Tampa Bay were to win out, the Bucs could finish only at 5-11. Last I checked, six wins beats five victories for the division. Perhaps Pratt was doing his own system of math there. Okay, even if the Falcons-Saints game ended in a tie, we’ll say that New Orleans, for example, would finish at worst, 5-10-1. Again, that’d still put them ahead of Tampa Bay. So, obviously, during their current three-game losing streak, the Bucs had already been eliminated from the playoffs, but Pratt still was talking like they were alive and had more to play for the rest of the year. Nice try – how about knowing the facts before going on the air?

*Pratt also mentioned how he was annoyed that the Miami-New England game was being shown on TV in the Vancouver area, instead of the Cincinnati-Cleveland game with Johnny Football (Johnny Manziel) making his first ever NFL start. Uhm, again, please do some research. Yes, both games are AFC matchups, meaning traditionally they would be airing on CBS (as FONFL_on_FoxX does the NFC games). So, yes, the Dolphins-Patriots tilt is being shown on CBS in the Vancouver market, but FOX actually has the Bengals-Browns game because the latter network didn’t have enough 1:00 p.m. Eastern games so the Cincinnati-Cleveland contest was moved to FOX. This was a new rule that was in effect beginning this season and had already affected some other games earlier in the year. Even I knew that FOX had gotten the Manziel game earlier in the week, so it is laughable that a professional radio personality was clueless about that. (From what I heard, FOX had already gotten this game even before the Browns announced Johnny Manziel would start against Cincinnati.) So, instead of lamenting the fact he had to watch Miami-New England, Pratt should have been crying about how Green Bay-Buffalo on FOX in the Vancouver market was being aired instead of Johnny Football’s first career start. Get it right, bro! And by the way, if you’re not happy you get to watch Tom Brady and the Pats or Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, then something’s wrong with ya!

Anyway, since we’re on the subject, I was thinking that the Falcons, with their silly 5-8 record, was going to lose something like 58-34 to Pittsburgh, which has been on a roll with Le’Veon Bell carrying the load and playing well. I still hope New Orleans wins that division, though if the Saints lose at home to Atlanta next week, then they’re done.

As for baseball, it was announced earlier today that the White Sox have signed Melky Cabrera. I believe he’ll have a big year and will make the Blue Jays regret not re-signing him. R.A. Dickey could lose 18 games for Toronto this year, I say. He’s no innings-eater in Toronto. So many times last season when I looked at the boxscores, I noticed he was logging 6 innings or 6.1 innings consistently. I thought a knuckleball pitcher was supposed to go eight innings instead of being a six-inning pitcher? He gives up way too many home runs at Rogers Centre, and I predict a horrible 2015 season for him.

Chris SaleWas talking to a buddy a few days ago, and I still contend that Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez rank as the top two pitchers in baseball. Don’t get me started about Clayton Kershaw. NL pitchers don’t have to face the DH, and Dodger Stadium is a pitchers’ park. What Sale and Hernandez, in particular King Felix, have been doing the past few seasons, facing the DH and pitching against tougher AL opponents, should put them at the top of any lists concerning the best pitchers in baseball.

I’m no White Sox fan, but perhaps this season Chris Sale will win the AL Cy Young Award, Melky Cabrera will contend for the AL MVP, and Chicago will make it to the one-game AL Wild-Card game? I’m still not sure about Jeff Samardzija, whom the White Sox acquired from Oakland last week, as he hasn’t really proven himself over a long stretch. But at least he’ll be giving Chicago a lot of innings – something that R.A. Dickey, Mr. Six-inning Knuckleballer, hasn’t been for Toronto.

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Don’t give me the ball….

Twins right-hander Phil Hughes is one out shy of reaching 210 innings this season, which will cost him a $500,000 bonus. His half-million-dollar bonus kicks in if he reaches 210 innings, and he is at 209.2 after a rain delay forced him out of his final scheduled start on September 24 against Arizona, in a game where he went eight innings.

Of course, Hughes also set a record in that last start, as he finished the season with 16 walks and 186 strikeouts, with his 11.63 strikeouts-to-walks ratio the best all-time for pitchers with a qualifying number of innings. He also has the same number of wins and walks, 16.

Whose record did Hughes break? Bret Saberhagen, who had 143 strikeouts and 13 walks for the Mets in the strike-shortened 1994 season for an 11.00 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. That was a great year for Saberhagen, as he had more wins (14) than walks (13) for a bad Mets team. It was also Saberhagen’s final great season – he was 14-4 with a 2.74 ERA in 24 starts and finished third in the Cy Young race and 22nd in NL MVP balloting. He was also an All-Star that year for the third and final time in his career. (Yes, I know Saberhagen had some success with the Red Sox in the late 1990s – 15-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 1998 and 10-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 1999 – but by that time he was a No. 3 starter at best.)

Another guy I remember is former Cards pitcher Bob Tewksbury, who in 1992 walked only 20 batters and went 16-5 with a 2.16 ERA. Never a big strikeout pitcher, Tewksbury had only 91 K’s in 233 innings that season. But he nearly had the same number of walks and victories! Tewksbury was also poised to win the ERA title, but the Giants gave reliever Bill Swift enough innings down the stretch and the San Francisco right-hander finished at 2.08 in 164.2 innings, beating him out. (The minimum number of innings to qualify for the ERA title is 162.)

bob tewksburyYou can also argue that the Cardinals’ main rival, the Chicago Cubs, cost Tewksbury that ERA title too. On August 31, his ERA was 2.01 after he gave up zero earned runs (and two runs total) in a complete-game victory over San Diego. He gave up two earned runs in each of his next two starts to improve to 16-5 with a 2.07 ERA. Then on September 18 at Wrigley Field, the Cubs pounded him for six earned runs in five innings and his ERA rose to 2.27. Tewksbury rebounded in his final two starts of the year – one earned run in 15 innings – but lost out to Swift.

Another thing too was at the time, he was thought of as a guy who would steal the Cy Young from reigning winner Tom Glavine, who raced out to a 19-3 start by August 19 before slumping late in the year (going 1-5 the rest of the way). On September 13, Tewksbury was 16-5 with three more starts to go, and had he won all three, would have had a shot. Alas, it was Greg Maddux (20-11, 2.18) of the Cubs who wound up being hot in the final weeks to take that sure Cy Young victory away from Glavine (20-8, 2.76).

So, that Hughes story made me think back to Tewksbury losing a couple of major accomplishments in 1992. Of course, they are not the same as one is money and the other is about awards… though I’m sure Tewksbury probably would have had some bonus clauses in his contract that would be triggered had he won the ERA title and/or the Cy Young.

In 1993, Tewksbury then went 17-10 (but with a mediocre 3.83 ERA) and walked just 20 batters, again nearly having the same number of victories and walks. He looked like the second coming of Bob Gibson the following year, winning each of his first six starts and getting out to an 8-1 record. Alas, the wheels fell off and he finished 12-10 with an ugly 5.32 ERA, notching a 6.72 earned-run average in his last 14 starts before the strike wiped out the remainder of the season. He walked 22 in 155.2 innings in 1994.Gullickson

Bill Gullickson was another guy who gave up a lot of hits and didn’t walk that many hitters, though he didn’t have the control that Tewksbury did. After going 20-9 with a 3.90 ERA for the powerful Tigers in 1991, Gullickson was poised to win 20 games for the second straight season. On August 7, he beat Toronto 7-2 on a complete-game eight-hitter to improve to 13-7 with at least 10 starts remaining. Alas, he went 1-6 in his final 10 starts with a 6.45 ERA, including 0-5 and 7.79 in September and October.

And finally back to the Twins, who have said that they would let Hughes pitch out of the bullpen on the final weekend of the season to get the one out to trigger the bonus, according to USA Today. However, Hughes has declined. …which reminds me of another Twins pitcher from 1988.

That season, lefty Allan Anderson had a scheduled start on the final day of the season, but teammate Bert Blyleven told manager Tom Kelly that if Anderson sat out, he would win the ERA title. Kelly gave the left-hander a choice, and Anderson decided to sit out indeed, backing into the ERA championship. It was the first time he had led the ERA race all season, because on the penultimate night of the season on October 1, ERA leader Teddy Higuera of the Brewers gave up three earned runs in 6.2 innings to bump his ERA from 2.41 to 2.45. More accurately, it was 2.4545. Anderson’s ERA was 2.4465, after his shutout against Oakland on September 27. While both ERAs rounded to 2.45, Anderson’s ERA was lower, and he won the ERA title by sitting out his final start on October 2.

What Phil Hughes has decided in 2014 – declining to pitch again just so that he could make an extra $500,000 – is certainly more admirable than what Anderson had chosen in 1988. Bravo, Phil Hughes.

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The best knuckleballer over the past 25-30 years….?

In the Blue Jays’ 10-2 victory over the Mariners on September 23, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitched a five-hitter through seven innings to thwart Seattle’s fading playoff hopes (while Toronto hammered M’s ace Felix Hernandez for eight runs).

For Dickey, he improved his record to 14-12 with a 3.78 ERA, the third straight season that he’s won at least 14 games.

Well, I was asked recently on Quora.com: Who was the best knuckleball pitcher in baseball in the last 25-30 years?

A lot of fans are going to come up with the names Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield. Some might even say Dickey, who won the National League Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012.

I’m going to, however, go with former Indians and Dodgers knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti, who was the most consistent knuckleballer over the last 25-30 years.

2012-R.A.-Dickey-213x300While Dickey had his one big season with the Mets (as well as a couple of other solid campaigns in New York where he pitched well but didn’t get much run support), he has not been that great with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013-2014. He hasn’t been able to duplicate his success from that 2012 season, which kind of makes him a one-hit wonder.

Wakefield will always be highly regarded in Boston because of his longevity and his being on two World Series championship teams with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, but he had some very ugly seasons where he pitched poorly. In his rookie year with the Pirates, he was nearly unhittable and was a postseason star as he nearly pitched Pittsburgh into the World Series. However, over his postseason career, he was hit very hard and compiled an overall ERA of 6.75 in 18 career playoff appearances. In his final four career postseason starts, Wakefield was 0-3 with a 10.47 ERA. He especially struggled against Cleveland in the playoffs, allowing at least five runs in each of his three career postseason starts versus the Indians. Yes, he wound up winning 200 regular-season games over a 19-year career, but his ERA was over 4.00 in 15 of those seasons. He had six seasons where his ERA was over 5.00. However, he always seemed to win because of good run support with the Red Sox, as he was 14-13 with a 5.14 ERA in 1996 and 17-8 despite a 4.58 ERA two years later.

As for Tom Candiotti, he pitched 16 seasons in the big leagues, and though he finished with a career losing record and “only” 151 victories, he had an ERA over 4.00 only six times. Candiotti nearly won the ERA title in 1991, finishing with a 2.65 earned-run average that was second in the American League only to Roger Clemens (2.62). Had he allowed just one fewer earned run over the course of that season, Candiotti would have won the ERA championship. In 1993, he finished just 8-10, but suffered from atrocious run support while pitching for the Dodgers. That year, he was the ERA leader in the major leagues, pitching to a 2.43 earned-run average entering September before struggling in the season’s final weeks to finish at 3.12. In fact, for a full decade from 1986-1995, Candiotti had a 3.44 ERA, which was one of the best earned-run averages in baseball during that stretch. He also averaged 30 starts and over 200 innings during that decade, proving to be a very dependable pitcher for his clubs. He and Mark Langston were the only pitchers in the majors to work at least 200 innings in each season from 1986-1993, until the 1994 strike ended both streaks. His career ERAs after the 1995 season were 3.51 in the American League and 3.38 in the National League. Of his 151 career wins, 70 came in starts where he allowed one run or none. Even though he threw the knuckleball primarily during his career, he consistently had a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, meaning he consistently had twice as many strikeouts as he did walks.

Yes, R.A. Dickey was 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA at one point during the 2012 season, and Tim Wakefield started 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 1995. However, Candiotti had similar brilliant stretches of pitching…but not the gaudy won-loss records to show for them because the quality of his teams. In 1991, for instance, Candiotti had a 2.01 ERA in his first 19 starts…but only a 9-8 record and was left off the AL All-Star team. In 1993, he had a 1.53 ERA over a stretch of 17 starts, but was 6-1 with 10 no-decisions. The same summer when Wakefield made all the headlines in Boston with that 1.65 ERA in 1995, Candiotti had a stretch of 13 starts where his ERA was 1.74 for Los Angeles. Alas, the Dodgers gave him very little support, resulting in a 4-6 record in that stretch. Naturally, over time his accomplishments are no longer remembered.

Tom Candiotti never truly got any recognition because of the losing records he suffered while pitching for bad teams in Cleveland and Los Angeles. Had he gotten better support, he would have been better remembered. Or, if he had pitched today and gotten the same results, he would be talked about as a hard-luck pitcher because the baseball media now weigh more importance on other statistics and less on wins. During Candiotti’s time, it seemed that wins-and-losses were the be-all, end-all, and with his losing record he didn’t get as much press. Thus, he is forgotten today. On some lists on the Internet that talk about the best knuckleballers in baseball history, some bloggers cite Candiotti’s best season as 1988, when he was 14-8 with a 3.28 ERA. However, he won 15 games in 1990, nearly won the ERA championship in 1991, and from 1992-95 had the fifth-best ERA in the NL (behind only Greg Maddux, Jose Rijo, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz). People have forgotten that he was one of the best pitchers in baseball for a while, knuckleball or not.

To learn more about Candiotti and his career, check out his biography titled Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, which is available on Amazon.

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