“Newton's apple drops. Gravity is discovered. A knuckleball laughs…. A random dance on the wind. Drawn from mound to mitt.” (Kirkpatrick) A knuckleball is so simplistic in nature: a simple flick of the fingers aimed at the distant target of the catcher’s mitt, with utmost reliance on optical deception and wind resistance. Yet, it is able to deceive even the most skilled hitters in the world. From its origins in the 1920s to its modern evolution, the knuckleball has been a pitch that is responsible for countless cases of managerial hair loss and unfruitful swings for the fences. If Bugs Bunny had one pitch in his repertoire, that pitch would be a knuckleball. It seemingly negates all respect for conventional pitching methods, opting for a zigzag pattern that has a mind of its own.
The question is: if such a pitch is so deceptive, why do more pitchers not incorporate the knuckleball into their arsenal? (Noe) The culture of baseball is one of traditionalism, one consisting of purists and seasoned fans. They want to see a four-seam fastball on the inside half of the plate, not a pitch that appears to be doing its best dance moves. In other words, the knuckleball is just not sexy. (Noe) Habitually in the world of professional sports, athletes are told they will be out of a job if they are unable to run faster, jump higher, or throw a baseball with more velocity than their peers. The knuckleball gives a flying middle finger to this notion, thereby giving hope to you and I. The art of throwing the perfect knuckler is not a measure of athletic ability, nor is it a supernatural case of magic; instead, it is a perceptible case of science at work in an unconventional form. For even non-baseball enthusiasts, the science behind the knuckleball is undeniably intriguing. Although it may seem unattainable, anyone can throw a successful knuckleball, guided by proper mechanics and an understanding of the physics occurring to produce this deceptive pitch.
The primary and initial goal in conquering any new task is to overcome or eliminate the adversary. “If the enemy of the knuckleball is spin, then anything that you do that would impart spin, you have to remove.” (Dickey) Spin is an unconventional enemy, particularly in baseball. Typically a fastball that spins more will have more velocity, whereas a curveball with more spin will have a sharper break, making them both more successful with spin. Conversely, the knuckleball has the opposite effect. (Nathan) R.A Dickey, reigning N.L Cy Young Winner and perpetual knuckleballer, explains that this abhorrence of spin is accomplished through his grip. Grip is essential in throwing any pitch, principally a pitch with miniscule room for error such as the knuckleball. Dickey attempts to remove all spin from his pitch by placing his pointer and middle fingernails behind the horseshoe of the baseball (the point where the curvature of the seams appears to be a horseshoe). He then presses his thumb against the seam on the left side of the ball to increase friction, and rests his ring finger and pinky off the right side of the ball. (Dickey) Dickey then attempts to transfer his knuckles to the top of the baseball amidst his pitch to create optimum movement. (Dickey) Although an average player might not be a connoisseur in the art of the knuckleball, the consummate goal is to find a grip that is a personal preference. However, it is vital to keep in mind to eliminate spin, the ultimate enemy, in whatever grip you choose.
Further accentuating the deceptive grip of the knuckleball are the eccentric hygienic techniques that it entails. Countless professional athletes, baseball players in particular, are superstitious creatures of habit. In the same way they find their rhythm on the field or court, they also find a routine in their preparations. A knuckleballer’s preparations, however, are as unconventional as his repertoire. Fingernail clippers are cherished among knuckleballers.