YOU SAY YOU'RE 41
years old and your fastball is slower than gums receding and your pitches are
so wild people get hurt catching you?
Then you must be
Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox righthander who gives every fettuccine-armed wannabe
major league pitcher hope. His fastball is 75 mph. His curve takes 11 minutes
to get home. Yet, through Sunday, he had 16 wins, and nobody in the big leagues
That's because 92%
of the time Wakefield throws the best knuckleball in baseball. Actually, he
throws the only knuckleball in baseball.
knuckler dips, doodles, flips and foozles. Some nights it does a Brazilian
samba on the way to the plate. It doesn't spin, but it does just about
everything else. It's like trying to hit an overcaffeinated moth.
"There are two
theories on hitting a knuckleball," famed hitting instructor Charlie Lau
once said. "Unfortunately, neither of them works."
Wakefield's knuckler flits around like a gum wrapper in a hurricane, which
means we get the joy of watching hulking batters strike out on 66 mph
puffballs. The other day A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox swung belt-high at
one that the catcher caught in the dirt. "You're better off trying to hit
Wakefield when you're in a drunken stupor," Yankees first baseman Jason
Giambi has said.
And if you think
hitters get facial tics from Wakefield's knuckler, imagine the poor slobs who
have to catch it. "I tried once," says Boston righthander Curt
Schilling. "Couldn't do it."
a knuckleball is easy, as former catcher Bob Uecker once pointed out: "Just
wait till it stops rolling and pick it up."
The Red Sox have a
guy on the roster—Doug Mirabelli—whose only job is to catch Wakefield, which is
like saying his only job is to fill the Grand Canyon with a slotted spoon.
"It's a very empty feeling to think you're squeezing the ball and then to
realize it's not in there," Mirabelli says. "You panic. You jump up and
start to run, but you have no idea which way to go."
Mirabelli. Can't hit a lick, though—.232 lifetime. Boston traded him to San
Diego two years ago and gave the job to a hotshot hitter, Josh Bard. He lasted
five starts with Wakefield, who went 1--4. Bard let more balls get by him than
a blind goalie. The Red Sox had to go hat in hand to the Padres to get back