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What is a Knuckleball?

By D Frank
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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A knuckleball is a type of pitch thrown by a pitcher where the ball does not rotate as it moves towards home plate. Due to this lack of rotation, the ball has a tendency to dip and dart as it nears the hitter, especially if the wind is blowing towards the pitcher. Knuckleballs are difficult to throw, catch and hit.

Catchers generally use an oversized mitt when they are catching knuckleball pitchers. Even so, balls can still dip and dart out of their reach and result in a pass ball. Since the knuckleball is subject to last second movements, pitchers are frequently unable to control its placement. For a batter accustomed to seeing fastballs and the occasional curveball or slider, the knuckleball is often a difficult pitch to handle. A hitter must be patient to hit a knuckleball, as it moves much slower towards home plate than do the other pitches. Also, since the ball is prone to dance or flutter when thrown correctly, even a good hitter will often swing and miss at a knuckleball.

To throw a knuckleball, the pitcher will grip the seams with the index finger and forefinger with a claw-like grip, making sure he digs his nails into the seams. The thumb will loop under the ball and the remaining fingers will rest at the side of the ball to give it balance. When the ball is thrown properly, the pitcher will push his claw fingers forward as he whips his arm towards home. As the ball leaves his hand, the pitcher will know instantly if the pitch was thrown properly because the seams on the ball will remain rotation-free as it moves towards the plate.

Knuckleballers do not emphasize velocity. Rather, the emphasis is on lack of rotation. As a knuckleball moves towards home plate, it is more likely to move in unexpected ways, if is has little or no rotation. Since this is a difficult pitch to control and master, very few major league pitchers use it. However, if he can master this pitch, a knuckleballer will always find a place on a professional roster. One of the best knuckleballers to pitch in the major leagues was Phil Niekro. A long time member of the Atlanta Braves, Niekro pitched for 23 years in the major leagues, winning over 300 games with his famous knuckleball. Niekro was inducted into baseball's hall of fame in 1997.

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