Baseball Knuckleball (KN)
A knuckleball is one of the rarest and most interesting pitches to watch in the game of baseball. These pitches are high-risk, high-reward, and extremely difficult to master, but their unique movement over the plate makes them fascinating to watch, throw, and study. In this article, you will learn the purpose of a knuckleball, how to throw one, and a brief history of this distinct pitch.
The knuckleball is an uncommon, difficult to master baseball pitch with an extremely high upside and an extremely low downside. When thrown correctly, knuckleballs travel toward the plate with impossible to predict movements, confounding batters. When thrown incorrectly, though, this pitch can be dangerous to the defense, as knuckleballs are extremely slow compared to most other pitches. Most pitchers who have perfected the knuckleball use this pitch more than any other in their arsenal. The goal of throwing a knuckleball is to toss a pitch that lacks the typical spin of a pitch. This creates slow but unpredictable ball movement.
How to Throw a Knuckleball
Throwing a knuckleball requires a great amount of practice and comfort on the mound. Because of this, knuckleballers have some options in pitch grip, and should choose what works for them and feels the most comfortable. Knuckleballs can be thrown with two, three, or four finger grips. For a two-fingered knuckleball, your index and middle finger should be arched on the ball, with one of your fingers placed directly below the red seams. Support the ball on two opposing ends with your thumb and ring finger, and make sure your grip on the ball is tight.
To throw a three-fingered knuckleball, your index and middle fingers will be placed in the same positions. However, you will press down with your ring finger underneath the seams too, moving your pinky to the side of the ball for support. Finally, some pitchers add their pinky finger to the top of the ball, along with their middle, index, and ring fingers. This leaves less stabilization on the sides of the ball, but it proves an effective grip for some.
Regardless of how you choose to grip the ball, it is important to focus on releasing with your fingertips rather than your knuckles. This advice runs contrary to the pitch’s name, but too much knuckle movement can create spin on the ball, the opposite of what a knuckleball aims to do. Additionally, while releasing the ball, think about pushing the ball towards the plate, letting it slip from your hand more than your hand propelling it. Many pitchers find it important to keep the logo of the baseball facing the catcher when they release the pitch. Knuckleballs are a difficult pitch to master, as they feel quite different in grip and release than the majority of baseball pitches.
The traditional knuckleball has three variations in grip: two-fingered knuckleballs, three-fingered knuckleballs, and four-fingered knuckleballs. Beyond these varying grips for the same pitch, expert knuckleballers may choose to throw a knuckle change-up, knuckle slider, and knuckle curve. These variations of the knuckleball can be even more difficult to pull off and require an immense amount of practice before trying out in a game.
History of the Knuckleball
Thomas “Toad” Ramsey pitched for AA baseball teams in Louisville and Saint Louis from 1885 to 1890. Beyond playing baseball, Ramsey was also a bricklayer, and a work injury resulted in this pitcher having to hold the ball with his fingertips rather than the traditional pitching grip. Although the circumstances were far from ideal, Ramsey’s new grip on the ball made his pitches float to the plate in a never before seen way. As the years went on, Ramsey was remembered, and his unfortunate tactic of gripping the ball eventually became something many pitchers practiced and few perfected: the knuckleball.
Best Knuckleball Pitchers
At any given point in time in the MLB, there are typically only a few professional pitchers utilizing the knuckleball due to the risk of the pitch, and it’s overall difficulty to throw. These are some of the best knuckleballers in major league baseball history:
- Charlie Hough
- Hoyt Wilhelm
- Phil Niekro
- R.A. Dickey
- Tim Wakefield
What is a knuckleball in baseball?
A knuckleball is a spin-less baseball pitch, thrown by gripping the ball with your fingertips rather than knuckles or palm. This pitch is extremely uncommon, and only a few major leaguers utilize it in any given season. A knuckleball is a slower pitch, making the risk of throwing one high, but its bizarre movement toward the plate makes the pitch’s possible reward high, too.
How is the knuckleball thrown in baseball?
A knuckleball’s distinctive feature is that it is thrown by gripping the baseball with one’s fingertips. Knuckleballs can be thrown with two, three, or four fingers, but they are always pushed toward the plate more than they are thrown. Finger placement and ball support are important when throwing a knuckleball, the pitcher’s middle fingers of choice should be placed just below the red seams of the ball, and any additional fingers should be supporting the sides of the ball.