Archive for category Knuckleballs
As I’ve been busy, I haven’t had the opportunity to post more regularly. In the meantime, here’s one from Fantasy Sports insider Drew Farmer.
One more knuckleball is one too many
By Drew Farmer | Twitter @DrewMFarmer | Facebook @DrewMFarmer
One more knuckleball is one too many… or perhaps one more season in the Big Leagues is too many. For former Major League Baseball player Phil Coke, the knuckleball was an attempt at preserving his Big League career. It was a chance for one more day in the sun as a member of the elite class of the boys of summer. Yet, one more knuckleball is one too many.
Coke’s dream of returning to The Show at 35-years old was spurred on by the befuddling pitch that defies bats, catchers’ mitts and the laws of physics. Coke hoped he could master the greatest pitch in a hurler’s arsenal for one more chance at MLB glory. It is the pitch few attempt and even fewer master. It is an uncontrollable slow-moving bastard of a pitch. But the nine-year veteran of the mound just didn’t have it and the knuckleball was too elusive.
Coke made his MLB debut with the New York Yankees as a relief pitcher. His stuff was average as his four-seam fastball hit the mid-90s and topped out at 97 on a good day. He was hittable, and for the most part, Coke’s ERA showed it. Good left-handed relief pitching is difficult to come by, however. The need for an arm to gobble up innings is a necessity and Coke played the role perfectly for the Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays. His success as a relief pitcher provided Coke with the chance to play in the Big Leagues as a journeyman. The need to play match ups late in games gave Coke an extended career. Perhaps one others haven’t been afforded.
Coke’s best season came in 2010 as a Tiger. He recorded a 7-5 record while posting a 3.76 ERA in 74 games. He also had two saves. But as the arm declined, so did Coke’s chances. Every season was a fight to stay with an MLB team. Every spring there was the fear of being cut. He had to perform on the days he was called upon. Two innings here, four innings there; whatever he could get was a chance to impress. It was also a chance to move closer to the exit, if he gave up runs.
After bouncing around the bigs in 2015 and 2016, playing for four different teams, Coke’s MLB career was finished. He went to Japan and pitched one season for the Orix Buffaloes. It was more of the same for the hurler, and after just one season, the club parted ways with Coke.
Despite registering a 4.56 ERA in Japan, Coke had one last go at an MLB career. In the spring of 2018, he attempted a comeback. He was accompanied by a new pitch; the unharnessed, unreliable knuckleball.
Coke hoped to make a club in spring training, but the best he could do was a contract in Mexico with Acereros de Monclova. The knuckleball didn’t last long, however. Coke was released less than two months after signing on with Monclova.
The lefty reliever wasn’t able to get the knuckleball to work and impress clubs. Nor could he get his knuckleball to defy the bats and batters in spring training or south of the border. The odds of returning to MLB with a new pitch in his mid-30s were always against him. Although Coke is still searching for a team that will let him take the hill just one more time, it looks like one more knuckle ball is one knuckleball too many.
This day in knuckleballing history: April 4, 1989: In a matchup of the two winningest pitchers in the majors over the past seven seasons, it was the knuckleballing Charlie Hough who outpitched Tigers ace Jack Morris, a future Hall of Famer, as the Texas Rangers beat Detroit 4-0 on Opening Day.
From 1982 to 1988, Hough had recorded 111 victories with a 3.58 ERA and 84 complete games. Morris, meanwhile, had logged 126 wins with a 3.55 ERA and 97 complete games during that same stretch.
But in this opening-day matchup, it was Hough who pitched just a bit better with a complete-game five-hitter with two walks and five strikeouts.
“Charlie’s my idol,” Morris, who fired a six-hitter with eight strikeouts, told USA Today afterward. “Just once in my life I’d like to pitch a game without sweating the way he does. Just once before I die, that’s all I ask. It must be great.”
Here’s a vintage video of a Tom Candiotti interview. Candiotti, then with the Indians, discuses his pitching style the day following a 3-1 win over the Brewers on May 10, 1988.
Well, Christmas is a couple of weeks away, so have you bought a gift yet for the sports lover in your family?
If not, then why not one of these two books?
The hockey book is about the Boston-Montreal rivalry from 1988-1994, when the Bruins won five of the six series played between the two clubs, ending a streak of 18 consecutive playoff series losses to the Canadiens. Click to purchase this book here.
The baseball book is a biography of Tom Candiotti, the former knuckleball pitcher who pitched in the 1980s and 1990s. Candiotti won 151 major-league games and this book highlights his career. You can purchase this book here.
Get them for the sports lover in your family! 🙂
It’s fun to look back sometimes at feats of knuckleball pitchers over the years… Here’s the May 15th edition of “This Day in Knuckleball History”:
On May 15, 1973, Phil Niekro earned career win #99 when he pitched a complete-game five-hitter to lead Atlanta to a 5-1 victory in Houston. In outpitching Astros right-hander Don Wilson, Niekro struck out six without walking a batter. Braves centerfielder Dusty Baker delivered a three-run homer in the sixth inning to break up the scoreless tie and give Niekro the win. (Incidentally, Baker wasn’t the only hitter in the Atlanta lineup that day who went on to become a big-league manager; Braves catcher Johnny Oates and second baseman Davey Johnson also went on to manage in the majors.) With the win, Niekro improved to 99-85 for his career with a 2.95 ERA.
Things weren’t as good for Niekro four years later on May 15, 1977, when neither he nor future Cy Young winner John Denny was effective in a 15-12 Atlanta win over St. Louis. (Was this the Falcons against the old NFL St. Louis Cardinals?) Niekro was hammered for six runs over three innings, while Denny, who had won the NL ERA title the year before and would capture the Cy Young in 1983, was hit for four runs in only five innings. The Braves, who trailed 10-1 after four innings, rallied for three runs in the fifth, five in the sixth, and six more in the eighth to pull out the comeback win. Centerfielder Barry Bonnell’s three-run single (yup, that’s what the play-by-play account says) off righty John D’Acquisto in the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied 12-12, proved to be the game-winner.
On this date, May 15, in 1988, Charlie Hough gave up a leadoff homer to Willie Wilson (!!) and a grand slam later to Danny Tartabull, as the Kansas City Royals beat Texas 5-4. It turned out to be the only home run Wilson hit that year in 628 plate appearances. (I always assumed he never hit a lot of homers, if any, because I remember when he played for Oakland in 1991 and 1992, he hit exactly zero home runs.) Despite his lackluster performance that day (6 IP, 11 H, 4 R), Royals right-hander Mark Gubicza still got the win, his fourth of the season, en route to 20 victories in 1988. It would prove to be Gubicza’s best year, as he went 20-8 with a 2.70 ERA and finished third in the Cy Young race (behind Frank Viola and Dennis Eckersley). Hough, in 1988, would finish 15-16 even with a 3.32 ERA.
Finally, on May 15, 1996, Tom Candiotti retired 21 straight Montreal Expos in one stretch – the equivalent of seven perfect innings of baseball – as the Dodgers won, 7-2. Candiotti pitched a complete-game four-hitter, giving up just one walk, and both runs off of him were unearned thanks to second-inning errors by left-fielder Billy Ashley and shortstop Greg Gagne. From the second inning until two outs in the ninth, no Expos hitter reached base until David Segui doubled to right field. And this was an Expos team that included Moises Alou, Henry Rodriguez, Mike Lansing, and Mark Grudzielanek, and Montreal went on to finish two games out of the NL wild-card race.
There you have it, a look back at some of the performances by knuckleball pitchers on May 15th over the years… we’ll do it again next time.