last two years have been tough for Mets fans, but there have been a few bright
spots. They have had the pleasure of
watching Bobby Valentine “manage” another team and R. A. Dickey has posted All-Star
worthy seasons on the mound. When he
signed with the Mets, he was one of two knuckleball pitchers in Major League
Baseball. And then there was one. Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg follow
Dickey as he works to make a name for himself, while his knuckleball throwing
colleague Tim Wakefield chases a series of career milestones in the thoroughly
entertaining documentary, Knuckleball! (trailer here), which opens this
Thursday at the IFC Center.
Wakefield did just about everything you can do as a member of the Boston Red
Sox, an often overlooked Northeastern team best known for trading away Babe
Ruth, including giving up the eleventh inning walk-off homerun in game seven of
the 2003 ALCS. Honestly, that was
something of a fluke. Wakefield always
had success against the Yankees, which made the Red Sox’s decision to banish
him to the bullpen rather baffling. In a
year when the Sox were largely out of contention, beating the Yanks whenever
possible would have been a logical fallback goal. Nonetheless, Wakefield saw little meaningful
time on the mound at the start of the 2011 season, despite the tantalizing
closeness of his 200th win.
journeyman pitcher who stunned the baseball world, particularly including the
Amazins, by winning a spot on the rotation, R.A. Dickey finally signed a
guaranteed contract. However, a nagging
injury threatens to put a damper on the party.
Fortunately, Dickey can call on the knuckleball support network, especially
his mentor, veteran knuckleballer Charlie Hough, for advice.
of Knuckleball’s best scenes capture
the get-togethers of this knuckleball fraternity, including Hough, both active
proponents, and Wakefield’s early guru, Phil Niekro. As one might expect, they have some funny
stories to tell. Wakefield and Dickey do
a fine job explaining what the knuckleball pitch does and does not do. However, all knuckleballers are at a bit of a
loss to explain the deep-seated disdain for their bread-and-butter pitch. Considering how radically different it looks
to batters, one would think every club would want one knuckleballer on staff,
but no, not by a long shot.
and Sundberg do something rather remarkable in Knuckleball by building to a big satisfying emotional crescendo,
even though they are following two pitchers whose respective teams were a
country mile away from the pennant chase.
It comes through loud and clear Wakefield and Dickey are not just
concerned with their individual stats.
They are representing their pitch, like faithful practitioners of an
esoteric martial art. Yet, this is
exactly what baseball is all about: tradition.
Dickey and Wakefield are consistently likable
subjects and the old school knuckleballers, including Hough, Niekro, and Jim
Bouton, are even more so. Prolific
documenterians, Stern & Sundberg’s best known work is probably Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and their
most important project is easily Burma Soldier, but Knuckleball is by
far their most enjoyable. Non-sports viewers
will still find it completely engaging, but for baseball fans, it is like a bag
of salted peanuts at an office getaway game (that’s a good thing). Enthusiastically recommended to general
audiences, Knuckleball! (with
exclamation point) opens this Thursday (9/20) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Baseball, Documentary, RA Dickey, Tim Wakefield