List of knuckleball pitchers
Knuckleball pitchers are baseball players who rely on the knuckleball as their primary pitch, or pitch primarily based on their ability to throw a knuckleball. The inventor of the knuckleball has never been established, although several pitchers from the early 20th century have been credited. Baseball statistician and historian Rob Neyer named four individuals in an article he wrote in the 2004 book The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers as potentially deserving credit, any of whom may have originated the pitch in either the 1907 or 1908 seasons. Nap Rucker of the Brooklyn Dodgers came up to the majors in 1907, initially throwing hard stuff but later switching to the knuckleball. A 1908 article credited Lew Moren as the inventor of the pitch. Ed Cicotte earned a full-time spot with the Detroit Tigers in 1908, earning the nickname "Knuckles" for his signature pitch. A picture of Ed Summers showed him gripping what he called a "dry spitter" using a variation of the knuckleball grip using the knuckles of his index and middle fingers.
Unlike almost every other pitch in baseball, the knuckleball's erratic trajectory has often required teams to use dedicated catchers, often using specialized mitts, to field the deliveries. Clint Courtney used a specially constructed catcher's mitt, about 50% larger than the conventional mitts used at the time, to catch knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm during a game in May 1960. Umpire Al Smith credited the use of the glove with preventing three or four passed balls in that one game. The lower velocity of the knuckleball is credited with giving some who use it the ability to pitch more often and to sustain pitching careers far longer than those who rely on their fastball to get outs. Tim Wakefield pitched on consecutive days, when most starting pitchers in the 21st century throw after four days of rest. Hoyt Wilhelm pitched until he was almost 50 and Phil Niekro used the pitch until he was 48. Wakefield retired at 45.
The prevalence of the knuckleballer has varied over time. The 1945 Washington Senators finished 1½ games out of first place with a starting pitching staff that almost exclusively used the pitch, with four knuckleballers in the rotation. That season, the team's three catchers — regular catcher Rick Ferrell and backups Al Evans and Mike Guerra — combined for 40 passed balls, more than double that of any other team in the league.
Baseball funnyman Bob Uecker, who was Phil Niekro's personal catcher with the Braves in 1967, has been quoted as saying "The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling, then go pick it up."
Wilbur Wood, Joe Niekro, and R.A. Dickey have won The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award. In 2012, Dickey became the only knuckleballer to have won the Cy Young Award. Phil Niekro is the only knuckleball pitcher to win 300 games.
The following lists knuckleball pitchers who are primarily known for throwing the knuckleball or those who established professional careers based on throwing the knuckleball. Individuals who threw the pitch occasionally or those who did not play professional baseball primarily as a pitcher are excluded. Major League Baseball career statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com.
|ERA||Career earned run average|
||Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame|
|•||Cy Young Award winner|
|Bearden, GeneGene Bearden||1947||1953||193||45||38||1||3.96||||Left||Left|
|Boone, DannyDanny Boone||1981||1990||16||2||1||4||3.36||||Left||Left|
|Bouton, JimJim Bouton||1962||1978||304||62||63||6||3.57||||Right||Right|
|Burnette, WallyWally Burnette||1956||1958||68||14||21||1||3.56||||Right||Right|
|Candiotti, TomTom Candiotti||1983||1999||451||151||164||0||3.73||||Right||Right|
|Cicotte, EddieEddie Cicotte||1905||1920||502||208||149||25||2.38||||Switch||Right|
|Dickey, R.A.R.A. Dickey •||2001||present||338||100||93||2||3.98||||Right||Right|
|Fernández, JaredJared Fernández||2001||2006||37||4||7||0||5.05||||Right||Right|
|Fisher, EddieEddie Fisher||1959||1973||690||80||70||81||3.41||||Right||Right|
|Haefner, MickeyMickey Haefner||1943||1950||261||78||91||13||3.50||||Left||Left|
|Haeger, CharlieCharlie Haeger||2006||2010||19||2||7||1||6.35||||Right||Right|
|Haines, JesseJesse Haines||1918||1937||555||210||158||10||3.64||||Right||Right|
|Hough, CharlieCharlie Hough||1970||1994||858||216||216||61||3.75||||Right||Right|
|Leonard, DutchDutch Leonard||1933||1953||640||191||181||44||3.25||||Right||Right|
|Lyons, TedTed Lyons||1923||1946||594||260||230||23||3.67||||Switch||Right|
|Moren, LewLew Moren||1903||1910||141||48||57||3||2.95||||Right||Right|
|Niekro, JoeJoe Niekro||1967||1988||702||221||204||16||3.59||||Right||Right|
|Niekro, PhilPhil Niekro||1964||1987||864||318||274||29||3.35||||Right||Right|
|Niggeling, JohnnyJohnny Niggeling||1938||1945||184||64||69||0||3.22||||Right||Right|
|Papai, AlAl Papai||1948||1955||88||9||14||4||5.37||||Right||Right|
|Purkey, BobBob Purkey||1954||1966||386||129||115||9||3.79||||Right||Right|
|Sparks, SteveSteve Sparks||1995||2004||270||59||76||3||4.88||||Right||Right|
|Springer, DennisDennis Springer||1995||2002||130||24||48||1||5.18||||Right||Right|
|Wakefield, TimTim Wakefield||1992||2011||547||200||178||22||4.30||||Right||Right|
|Wilhelm, HoytHoyt Wilhelm||1952||1972||1070||143||122||227||2.52||||Right||Right|
|Wolff, RogerRoger Wolff||1941||1947||182||52||69||13||3.41||||Right||Right|
|Wood, WilburWilbur Wood||1961||1978||651||164||156||57||3.24||||Right||Left|
|Wright, StevenSteven Wright||2013||present||48||20||10||0||3.41||||Right||Right|
|Zink, CharlieCharlie Zink||2008||2008||1||0||0||0||16.62||||Right||Right|
- Major League Baseball leaders in career wins
- List of Major League Baseball annual strikeout leaders
- List of Major League Baseball annual ERA leaders
- Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award
- Cy Young Award
- The (Mostly) Complete List of Knuckleball Pitchers lists approximately 85 individuals on a list of Knuckleball Pitchers, based on Rob Neyer's definition, which includes any pitcher "who would not have been in the majors without his knuckleball, or whose knuckleball was considered his best pitch, at least for a time." An additional 85 or so individuals are listed as having "Used the Knuckleball as a Regular Pitch", which includes those who didn't make the first list, but "regularly tossed up a knuckler as part of their standard repertoire." Both lists include a handful of non-pitchers who used the knuckleball in some extremely limited circumstances.
- McGrath, Ben. "Project Knuckleball", The New Yorker, May 17, 2004. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- James, Bill; and Neyer, Rob. "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers", via Google Books, p. 40. Simon & Schuster, 2004. ISBN 0-7432-6158-5. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Effrat, Louis. "Wilhelm Scores Over Ditmar, 3–2 - Breeding and Woodling Bat In Oriole Runs in 5th to Conquer Yankees", New York Times, May 28, 1960. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Bolster, John. "The Dying Art of the Knuckleball", Sports Illustrated, June 27, 2008. Accessed April 14, 2009.
- Sullivan, Paul. "Will knuckleballers become extinct? Unlikely anytime soon", Chicago Tribune, August 26, 2015. Accessed October 15, 2017. "While he was glad to discuss the subject, McCarver doesn't think the lack of knuckleballers today means anything. 'There were never a lot of them,' he said. 'There are a couple in the Hall of Fame. It's a hard pitch to control, a hard pitch to catch, a hard pitch to hit. But as (former catcher) Bob Uecker used to say, "The best way to catch a knuckleball is wait until it stops rolling and pick it up."'"
- Barra, Allen (May 26, 2003). "Baseball; 300-Victory Club Becomes Tougher to Join". New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
- "Tigers purchase Gene Bearden". Eugene Register-Guard. April 27, 1951. p. 6.
- Gene Bearden, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed September 13, 2012.
- Boswell, Thomas. "Daniel Boone's kin pitching for Orioles", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 31, 1990. Accessed April 14, 2009.
- Danny Boone, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Staff. "Twelve Books of 1970", New York Times, December 6, 1970. Accessed April 14, 2009.
- Jim Bouton, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Effrat, Louis. "Bomber's 14-Hit Assault Helps Sturdivant Rout Athletics, 10–1; Mantle Poles 19th Homer of Year for Yanks in 8th - Bauer Extends Streak Single Scores Berra First-Inning Dispute", New York Times, June 15, 1957. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Wally Burnette, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Staff. "Dodgers Sign Candiotti, Hershiser; Moves Come as Morgan Departs for Cubs, $12.5 Million Deal", Washington Post, December 4, 1991. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Tom Candiotti, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Eddie Cicotte, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Staff. "Notebook | R.A. Dickey knuckles way into rotation", Seattle Times, June 13, 2008. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- R.A. Dickey, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Staff. "Glavine, Smoltz Stop Giants, 1–0", Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2002. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Jared Fernandez, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Tramel, Berry (August 16, 2008). "Foes Knuckled Under to Eddie Fisher". The Oklahoman. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
- via Associated Press. "Haefner Awaits Waivers; Still on Senators' Suspended List as White Sox Seek Him", New York Times, July 16, 1949. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Mickey Haefner, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Van Dyck, Dave. "Strained groin could keep Thome on bench", Chicago Tribune, June 3, 2006. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Charlie Haeger, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Jesse Haines, Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum . Accessed April 13, 2009.
- McGowen, Deane. "Jesse Haines, Pitcher, Dies at 85; Hall of Famer Won 210 Games; Known for Knuckleball", New York Times, August 7, 1978. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Jesse Haines, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 4, 2009.
- Kurkjian, Tim. "Florida's Aflutter: Old knuckleballer Charlie Hough showed the new Marlins and their boisterous fans how to win on the first Opening Day in the Sunshine State", Sports Illustrated, April 12, 1993. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Charlie Hough, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 5, 2009.
- Staff. "Streetcar Series", Time, October 9, 1944. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Dutch Leonard, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 5, 2009.
- Amore, Dom. "Two Minors In History; Astros, White Sox: Forgettable Pasts", Hartford Courant, October 21, 2005. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Ted Lyons, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 5, 2009.
- Lew Moren, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 5, 2009.
- Goldstein, Richard. "Joe Niekro, a Master of the Knuckleball, Is Dead at 61", New York Times, October 29, 2006. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Joe Niekro, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Phil Niekro, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Phil Niekro, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Fullteron, Hugh Jr. via Associated Press. "Sports Roundup", Prescott Evening Courier, January 16, 1948. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Johnny Niggeling, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Bettendorf, Elizabeth. "Pitcher Papai Made Batters Knuckle Under", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 28, 1993. Page F2. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Al Papai, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Staff. "Knuckleballer Bob Purkey Dead at 78", United Press International, March 10, 2008. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Bob Purkey, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 6, 2009.
- Borzi, Pat. "Clemens Not Enough For Sox - Milwaukee's Knuckleballer Steve Sparks Stymies The Stumbling Red Sox, 9–1.", Maine Sunday Telegram, June 18, 1995. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Steve Sparks, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 11, 2009.
- "Dennis Springer Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
- via Associated Press "Oh So Close For Wakefield: Knuckleballer's No-hit Effort Stopped In 9th", Dallas Morning News, June 20, 2001. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Tim Wakefield, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed May 11, 2009.
- Hoyt Wilhelm, Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Accessed October 9, 2011.
- via Baseball-Reference.com. Hoyt Wilhelm. Accessed October 9, 2011.
- via Associated Press. "Truman To Toss First Ball Today - President Sets Record as Only White House Southpaw for Senators-Red Sox Opening", New York Times, April 16, 1946. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Roger Wolff, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed July 2, 2010.
- Smith, Tim Alan. "Wilbur Wood, Knuckleballer", Sports Illustrated, December 24, 2001. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Wilbur Wood, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed July 2, 2010.
- "Steven Wright Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
- Robinson, Joshua. "A Knuckleballer Is Waiting to Rise", New York Times, June 17, 2008. Accessed April 13, 2009.
- Charlie Zink, Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed July 2, 2010.