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Monday, September 17, 2012

‘Knuckleball!’ film about life more than sport

Despite their lack of familiarity with the subject, the two women, best known for their Emmy-nominated documentary films “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” and “The Devil Came On Horseback” (about the genocide in Darfur) jumped at the chance to bring the story of the controversial, oft-misunderstood pitch that has baffled batters and catchers for decades to the big screen.

“We’re really attracted to the characters—the individuals and people who have obstacles and something to overcome in pursuit of their dreams,” Stern said. “For us, that just makes strong storytelling. The essence of what the symbolic meaning of the knuckleball embodies. These guys are outliers in baseball who struggle against all odds to stay in the game to pursue their dreams. They kind of clawed their way, as they say, with their fingertips—just like one holds the ball with one’s fingertips—back into the major leagues.”

“These guys” refers primarily to Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, the two knuckleball pitchers in the majors during the 2011 season. It also includes retired knuckleballers, Charlie Hough, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti, Wilbur Wood and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who are a handful of the approximately 80 men who have been members of the knuckleball fraternity.

“You need the fingertips of a safecracker and the mind of a Zen Buddhist,” longtime major leaguer Bouton said in the film when describing the talents required to master the unpredictable pitch….

“What I like most about the movie is as a baseball movie, it’s really a non-baseball movie,” Wakefield said. “Even though it’s a documentary on the pitch, it’s a documentary on the lives of two guys who are searching for a way to live out our dreams. It’s a story of how I got to where I’m at and obviously R.A.‘s story of making it on a pitch that he had no idea he could throw. It’s a pretty cool life story—and [Ricki and Annie] did such a fantastic job adding a poetic twist to it. Coming from two women who didn’t know a whole lot about baseball, but knew enough to make the film great.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 02:15 PM | 37 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: knuckleballers, movies, r.a. dickey, tim wakefield

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 05:10 PM (#4238344)
I want to see this about x1000 more than I want to see Trouble With The Curve.
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 05:36 PM (#4238380)
Meant to post this in the lead, but here is the trailer.
   3. McCoy Posted: September 17, 2012 at 05:43 PM (#4238390)
Just downloaded Jiro Dreams of Sushi and can't wait to watch it.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: September 17, 2012 at 05:49 PM (#4238400)
I liked Jiro. Made me want to jump onto a plane in Japan. Can't believe he won 3 Michelin stars for a tiny restaurant that doesn't even have its own bathroom.
   5. The John Wetland Memorial Death (CoB) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 06:07 PM (#4238413)
“The Devil Came On Horseback” (about the genocide in Darfur)


That film contains some of the worst things I have ever seen captured on film.

If I had truly witnessed them (and gone through the experience of the ex-Marine who was acting as an observer for the African Union and who saw them first hand), frankly, I don't know how I would ever sleep again.
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 06:09 PM (#4238416)
It also includes retired knuckleballers, Charlie Hough, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti, Wilbur Wood and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro

I never knew Bouton was a knuckleballer.
   7. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: September 17, 2012 at 06:14 PM (#4238418)
He didn't start out as a knuckleballer, but by the time he got to the Pilots he switched over. I don't think anyone ever started as a knuckleballer with the exception of Phil Niekro.
   8. The District Attorney Posted: September 17, 2012 at 06:39 PM (#4238434)
Wakefield started as a 3B, but I believe that as a pitcher, he was always a knuckleballer.

I dunno about the mooks like Steve Sparks (who I think had a decent year at one point), Jared Fernandez, Charlie Haeger, Charlie Zink, etc.
   9. Steve Treder Posted: September 17, 2012 at 06:45 PM (#4238438)
It's a terrific movie. They gave a showing of it at this year's SABR convention in Minneapolis. Thumb way up!
   10. Steve Treder Posted: September 17, 2012 at 06:46 PM (#4238439)
He didn't start out as a knuckleballer, but by the time he got to the Pilots he switched over.

If only he'd written a book about that experience ...
   11. dr. scott Posted: September 17, 2012 at 06:46 PM (#4238440)
Snapper, if that means you have not read Ball Four, I and probably everyone else who has read it will suggest that you do. Foul Ball is also quite good, but its a bit more politically charged.
   12. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 07:03 PM (#4238453)
Snapper, if that means you have not read Ball Four, I and probably everyone else who has read it will suggest that you do.

I really should some day. I actually don't read many baseball books.
   13. Depressoteric Posted: September 17, 2012 at 07:16 PM (#4238461)
Laugh if you want, but "Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work" was a ridiculously entertaining -- and completely unexpected at that. Turns out Joan Rivers can still kill it with stand-up, who knew?

That, to me, is a pretty good omen for this film.
   14. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: September 17, 2012 at 07:30 PM (#4238475)
I really should some day. I actually don't read many baseball books.

How'd you wind up here?
   15. Perry Posted: September 17, 2012 at 07:42 PM (#4238492)
I really should some day. I actually don't read many baseball books.


Not some day. Now. Every baseball book I read, and I read a lot, reinforces for me how great it is. I've read both of Hayhurst's and just finished Dickey's, and while I enjoyed them all, Ball Four leaves them in the dust. And in addition to being a great memoir, the 40 years since its publication have made it a great time capsule as well.
   16. SoSH U at work Posted: September 17, 2012 at 07:46 PM (#4238498)
the controversial, oft-misunderstood pitch


What's controversial about the knuckleball?

I really should some day. I actually don't read many baseball books.


Me neither (not just baseball, but sports books in general). Of course, I devoured baseball books up through high school.
   17. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: September 17, 2012 at 07:49 PM (#4238502)
I actually prefer Bill Lee's The Wrong Stuff, but it wouldn't have happened without Ball Four or Jim Brosnan's The Long Season.
   18. PreservedFish Posted: September 17, 2012 at 07:51 PM (#4238505)
Not some day. Now. Every baseball book I read, and I read a lot, reinforces for me how great it is.


Hmmm. I don't read many baseball books. But Ball Four is exceptional.
   19. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 08:11 PM (#4238521)
Not some day. Now.


I concur. I don't read a ton of baseball books, but this one was excellent. Even rated against other memoirs it's an excellent book about a bad ballclub, and a guy trying to stay in baseball by any means necessary. Of course, I don't read a ton of memoirs either.
   20. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: September 17, 2012 at 08:23 PM (#4238528)
I thought that I was the piker. I'm not as well read on baseball as Treder and some others are, but I have a couple of bookcases worth of books.
   21. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 09:02 PM (#4238548)
but I have a couple of bookcases worth of books.


On baseball? Wow.
   22. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: September 17, 2012 at 09:29 PM (#4238562)
Yeah, I've compiled them over the years. A lot of Bill James and Rob Neyer. About 10 BPro Annuals. Encyclopedias, bios, and SABR pubs. Histories; esp 19th Century stuff. For about ten years baseball was the main topic I'd read about.

   23. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 11:02 PM (#4238671)

How'd you wind up here?


I like statistics.
   24. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: September 17, 2012 at 11:36 PM (#4238715)

I am supposed to see the movie later this week followed by a Q&A session with Dickey (and I believe Wakefield) after the movie. Super psyched.
   25. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: September 18, 2012 at 01:07 AM (#4238775)
I am looking forward to this movie.
Has anybody here seen Ballplayer: Pelotero? Amazing GF just flung a review at me, asked if I wanted to check it out on PPV.... it's weird; I don't tend to enjoy the behind-the-scenes stuff nearly as much as the on-field action. But on the other hand, I enjoyed both Moneyball and Sugar. Any BBTF reviews, one way or the other?
   26. SandyRiver Posted: September 18, 2012 at 09:24 AM (#4238869)
I actually prefer Bill Lee's The Wrong Stuff, but it wouldn't have happened without Ball Four or Jim Brosnan's The Long Season.

Have not read "The Wrong Stuff", but anything else I've read by Mr. Lee tells be I should. It's been a long time since I read "Ball Four" and my copy is long lost in one of our moves, but my dog-eared "Long Season" gets opened every few years. To me, Bouton has the more appealing backstory, former fireballer makes it back to the bigs by his fingertips. Broz does a better job of describing the baseball scene, teams, games (not just those in which he pitches), and doesn't keep the focus on himself quite as much. I liken "Long Season" to "Instant Replay" in that regard, though I think the former is the better effort, only in part because Brosnan pecked it out himself while Jerry Kramer handed tapes to the collaborating writer.
   27. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: September 18, 2012 at 09:29 AM (#4238872)
one of the funniest baseball books is 'the dixie league'
   28. Der-K thinks the Essex Green were a good band. Posted: September 18, 2012 at 10:16 AM (#4238933)
I'm going to see Pelotero eventually, but haven't yet. Way behind on movies of all kinds.

I've a few bookcases worth of books on baseball (and basketball) myself - a lot of the same stuff GGC mentioned - but am contemplating a big purge. Books are meant to be read, not just sit there.

IIRC, Haeger was a conventional pitcher throwing in the high 80s for a season in rookie ball, took a year or so off (maybe his choice, maybe not?), and came back as a knuckleballer. Zink took up the knuckler while in the Red Sox system.
   29. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 18, 2012 at 10:58 AM (#4238975)
I still haven't seen Moneyball. Its sitting on my TV right now in its Netflix package.
   30. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: September 18, 2012 at 11:14 AM (#4238994)
Related question: I watched the "Knuckleball" trailer and, besides the busy-busy style which I hope doesn't continue into the movie, I noticed in the pitcher montage - no black guys. You can't walk on your knuckles off the island? I keep thinking there must've been a Negro Leagues knuckleballer, but I can't think of one.... Chet Brewer, maybe?
   31. AROM Posted: September 18, 2012 at 11:21 AM (#4239003)
I'm pretty sure Satchel Paige threw an occasional knuckleball, though probably not until near the end, so he might have picked it up in his mid 50's. Satchel threw, at one point or another, pretty much every pitch ever invented and some that have never been thrown since.
   32. AROM Posted: September 18, 2012 at 11:23 AM (#4239006)
Roger Clemens should try the knuckleball, if he can handle it he might have another 15-20 years in him. He throws his fastball harder at 50 than Wakefield ever did in his life.
   33. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 18, 2012 at 11:31 AM (#4239015)
From the internets:

A partial list of guys who threw the knuckler in the negro leagues.

Cool Papa (James) Bell 1922-50
Ray Brown 1930-48
Bill Byrd 1932-50
James "Fireball" Cohen 1946-52
Sam Crawford
Eddie "Peanuts" Davis
Wilmer "Red" Fields 1939-53
Lennie Hooker 1940-51
Jimmy Newberry
Hubert "Bert" Simmons 1941-52
   34. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: September 18, 2012 at 03:13 PM (#4239288)
Harvey, was that the Dixie Association? I read that as a teen and got a kick out of it. But it was a little political.
   35. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: September 18, 2012 at 04:20 PM (#4239384)
From the internets:

A partial list of guys who threw the knuckler in the negro leagues.

Cool Papa (James) Bell 1922-50
Ray Brown 1930-48
Bill Byrd 1932-50
James "Fireball" Cohen 1946-52
Sam Crawford
Eddie "Peanuts" Davis
Wilmer "Red" Fields 1939-53
Lennie Hooker 1940-51
Jimmy Newberry
Hubert "Bert" Simmons 1941-52


I guess it's Ray Brown I was thinking of, not Chet Brewer. Most of these guys, I never heard of them. I know knuckleballers are already a tiny subset of pitchers, but it's still weird to me that none of the black "everything but the kitchen sink" guys (Marichal? Tiant? Pedro?) threw one. You'd think there'd be SOMEbody.

Anyway, so Cool Papa Bell was both the fastest man in the NeL, and a knuckleball pitcher? There's hope for Ichiro! yet.

EDIT: and thanks for the link! I didn't know such a list existed anywhere.
   36. Steve Treder Posted: September 18, 2012 at 04:31 PM (#4239393)
one of the funniest baseball books is 'the dixie league'

Do you mean The Dixie Association, by Robert Hays? Love that book. It's probably about time for a re-read.
   37. Foster Posted: September 23, 2012 at 08:14 PM (#4243845)
So is this movie worth going to the theater for? Rental?

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