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.
Yes, we’re almost a month into the 2016 season and this is only the first post of the new campaign here on A Life of Knuckleballs! (I guess our coverage here is just like “The Baseball Network” way back when – haha.) Yes, we know that Steven Wright of the Red Sox has surprised quite a few people with his strong start to the season – albeit with a losing record of 1-2 despite his 1.40 ERA – and it’s no surprise to me personally that R.A. Dickey continues to struggle, but the first post of the year deals with a couple of knuckleball pitchers from the 1980s and 1990s.
And yes, I realize that it was 21 years ago this week that the Red Sox signed Tim Wakefield. But c’mon, he gets a lot of press – and has gotten plenty of accolades over the years – so I’ll take a pass on that one other than to mention this piece of history in one line.
What we’re going to do instead here in this first post is post an interview that Seamheads.com, which covers the Red Sox, did with Tom Candiotti this week. As mentioned near the end of the hour (after Candiotti left), the guys noted the ex-Indian and Dodger knuckleballer averaged only one wild pitch per 30 innings for his career – great control for a knuckleball pitcher.
And we pay tribute today too to Charlie Hough as he pitched the first game in Marlins history and beat Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers back in 1993:
We’ll post more stuff throughout the season, so catch up with you later!
It’s annoying to hear these sports talk show guys go on the air and spew nonsense without first checking their facts.
On ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” show on Friday (Dec. 18, 2015), for instance, those guys were talking about how the Philadelphia Eagles needed to beat Arizona in Week 15, a game against the 11-2 Cardinals on Sunday night (Dec. 20), in order to have a shot at the NFC East title.
Uhm. No. That’s totally wrong.
You see, the Eagles, at 6-7, are tied with the Washington Redskins and New York Giants atop the East with only three games left. The Eagles control their own destiny, as do the Redskins. The Giants, meanwhile, do not.
Yes, if Philadelphia wins out, the NFC East belongs to the Eagles. But they don’t need to beat Arizona in Week 15. As long as they beat the Redskins in Week 16 and then the Giants in Week 17, the Eagles will be NFC East champs, regardless of what happens in the Cardinals game.
If the Eagles should lose to the Cardinals, and then beat Washington and New York, their record would be 8-8. Assuming the Redskins and Giants win their remaining non-Philadelphia games (but lose to the Eagles), those two teams would also be 8-8.
Under that scenario, the Eagles would win the East because of a better division record (4-2 vs. 3-3) over Washington, and a 2-0 head-to-head record over New York.
So, the game against Arizona in Week 15 on Sunday night is not a “must win” for the Philadelphia Eagles. The divisional games in the final two weeks, though, would be.
BleedingGreenNation.com’s Brandon Lee Gowton couldn’t have explained it better about the Eagles’ playoff scenario here. Thanks for staying on top of it and laying everything out so clearly.
Shame on ESPN Radio’s crew, meanwhile, for not doing their homework and getting things wrong on the air.
Had the opportunity to chat baseball and about my book “Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs” on Vancouver Canadians Game Day with Rob Fai on TSN 1040.
Here’s the part of the program where I talked about the book and about the Blue Jays:
To me, there’s no comparison with Tom Candiotti on the 1991 Blue Jays and R.A. Dickey on the 2015 team. As I’d mentioned on the program, Candiotti in 1991 was looked upon to lead the young pitching staff (one that included rookies Mike Timlin and Juan Guzman as well as youngsters David Wells and Todd Stottlemyre). His innings took pressure off of the bullpen as well as the other starters. Candiotti, in fact, nearly won the 1991 American League ERA title – losing it to Roger Clemens in the final week of the season. (Candiotti, who led the ERA race in late September, finished at 2.65 while Clemens was at 2.62.)
As for Dickey? As I’d noted, he’s basically a six-inning pitcher and he might not even be part of the postseason starting rotation (assuming Toronto makes it to the playoffs).
I got cut off when I was talking about rooting for a guy like Candiotti, but what I’d wanted to say there was that how can one not root for the guy? He was a guy who went undrafted, developed elbow problems that required surgery before he even got to the big leagues, underwent Tommy John surgery and became the second player to ever appear in the majors after the operation, and reinvented himself by throwing a knuckleball after two seasons in the bigs where he was a conventional pitcher. The guy nearly won the ERA title twice, and finished his career with more than 150 victories. How can one not root for a guy like that? Had social media existed then, his story would have been more recognized and remembered.
A couple of items from Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez’s autobiography, Pedro (by Martinez and Michael Silverman):
The first excerpt is Martinez talking about what led to his first MLB start.
Even though I never had any physical issues with my right shoulder while I was a Dodger, I sensed that there was more to me being parked in the bullpen and not in the rotation. They said they did not have a vacancy there, but things got weird.
In the middle of September, the Dodgers did ask me to start, in Colorado. It was Tom Candiotti’s turn, but either he or the Dodgers or both decided that a knuckleballer at mile-high altitude was a bad idea. So they told me I’d get my first big-league start at Coors Field. And I had nothing—I blew up like a balloon. Maybe it was pitching on five days’ rest after five months of pitching every other or every day, maybe it was the thin air, maybe it was both.
—Page 78, Pedro
When Martinez then was traded from the Expos to the Red Sox, he made his Boston debut on Opening Day in 1998 against Candiotti and the Athletics in Oakland.
The Athletics started my old Dodgers teammate, the knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. … Seeing Candiotti also reminded me how he was the starter who Tommy Lasorda decided to rest late in the 1992 season, when we were in Colorado and Tommy thought the Coors Field bandbox would be a good place to make my first major league start.
—Page 138, Pedro
Well, that’s very convenient, blaming the knuckleballing Candiotti for his having to get lit up in Colorado.
- At the time, the Rockies played at Mile High Stadium, not Coors Field.
- Martinez’s first start was in 1993, but for some reason “1992” was written on page 138.
- And finally, Tom Candiotti didn’t bail out of his start in Colorado. A simple check on Baseball-Reference.com reveals that Candiotti actually pitched earlier in the series, so Pedro obviously misremembered and nobody bothered to fact-check. Just blame the knuckleballer, right?
And besides, if you’ve read Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, you would already know that Candiotti’s start in Colorado late in that 1993 season was one of the reasons the knuckleball specialist lost the National League ERA title that year!
But to blame a knuckleball pitcher for your failures…it seems that’s what always happens.