The question I am most asked is, “How do you release the knuckleball?” I tell them the usual answer — the knuckleball has less to do with the release and more to do with mechanics than you think. I could tell you how to release a knuckleball, but it won’t do you any good until your body moves in an incredibly consistent manner. Asking how to release the knuckleball is the same as asking for a weeks-long seminar on knuckleball-specific pitching mechanics.
But it is the question that I am asked second-most that shocks me — Do I have what it takes to be a pro knuckleballer? Now, it is true that some people will never “get it”, and that inability to be able to pitch a pro-quality knuckleball is evident from the start. But I don’t see a lot of those people. Pitchers who come to me overwhelmingly already know how to pitch a little bit.
If you can throw a baseball for a strike at 72 miles per hour, then you can make it into professional baseball as a knuckleball pitcher. That’s all you need. It’s all Wakefield needed at the end of his career, it’s all Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm needed, it’s all 7-year Big leaguer Dennis Springer needed, and it’s all you’ll need, too. If you can throw harder, great! If you can’t, no problem… you’ll just have to have a fantastic knuckleball.
The knuckleball is extremely difficult. You’ve got to take this 5-ounce hardball and throw it off your fingernails at least 65 mils per hour at a relatively small target 60 feet away without knowing exactly which way it’ll break. It’s absurd. It’s an absolutely insane thing to expect someone to be able to do once, let alone 100 times during a start. It is the apex of human performance. Think about that — it is the absolute edge of human potential.
Yes, throwing a knuckleball requires less athleticism than throwing a Big League fastball, but it is much more difficult to do overall. If you are blessed with an arm, you can throw 95. But the knuckleball is a blend of finite touch on your fingertips, a musician’s rhythm in your delivery, a meditative mental state, the balance of a dancer AND a little bit of athleticism.
And when something is the apex of human performance — as is the knuckleball — you must commit yourself to it like an Olympian commits herself to an event. You’ve got to eat, sleep and breath the knuckleball. You have to understand every little nuance of your delivery. You have to battle the weather, muscle tightness, the direction of the wind, the temperature, the health of your fingernails, your “feel” that day… you have to know yourself so well that you can adjust and overcome any obstacle.
A conventional pitcher can feel bad. He can have a bad day mechanically and miss his spots. But 93 with movement will get outs, even by accident. As a knuckleballer, you have no such luck. You need to be perfect everyday. You have to work harder than them.
So, can you make it? Do you have the stuff? If you can throw 72mph, then, yes, you have the stuff. But that’s just the beginning of a long, difficult journey full of pain at the gym, hardship on the mound, and a sacrificed social life. And all that hard work might earn you a spot in the minor leagues, with poor pay, junky motels and long bus rides.
Can you make it? It’s more like, do you want it bad enough?