My 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth has started to write poetry. I don’t really have other 10-year-old poets to compare, but her poems seem to me to be pretty good. They are very much from the heart. She wrote what I thought was a really good one about a lonely tree and … oh, wait, you don’t care about this. And this is not the point.
No, the point is that at some point last week she mentioned that one of her friends also writes poetry. And she said, “Hey, maybe we can go into the poetry business together.”
This, as you no doubt guessed, got me thinking about Tim Wakefield.
When I was a kid—which doesn’t seem quite so long ago—becoming a knuckleball pitcher was a viable dream. I don’t really have any memory at all of Hoyt Wilhelm, but I do vaguely remember Wilbur Wood’s good years, and very well remember both of the Niekros, Phil and Joe. Charlie Hough was very much on my mind as a child, in large part because you couldn’t open a pack of a baseball cards in those days and NOT get a Charlie Hough card (along with a Sixto Lezcano). Tom Candiotti came along not too long after… You would have to say my childhood was more or less that Golden Age of knuckles…
You want to feel bad for a catcher … how about poor Geno Petralli in 1987? He had 35 passed balls. THIRTY FIVE! That is the most for any catcher since 1890s. And he set that mark in only 63 games as a catcher.
How did this happen? Well, it’s actually a fascinating tale. See, Geno Petralli had the misfortune of become Charlie Hough’s personal catcher for two months when Hough might have thrown the most uncatchable pitch in the history of baseball.
It went like so: Hough had his usual knuckleball, which was always difficult to catch as well as hit. But then on May 29, 1987, that pitch suddenly became a buzzard… From May 29 through the end of the season, Charlie Hough’s catchers had 58 passed balls. FIFTY-EIGHT in four months. That’s more than Randy Johnson had IN HIS CAREER (50). It’s more than Roger Clemens on Tom Seaver had in their career s(35). It’s more Greg Maddux (28) and Tom Glavine (15) COMBINED for their careers.
Here’s one: Dan Quisenberry’s catchers, in his 1,000-plus inning career, had ZERO passed balls.
... Like poetry, I can’t help but feel like the knuckleball is on the verge of disappearing. Of course, neither one is really disappearing. It just feels that way. That’s why it struck me so funny and touching when Elizabeth talked about going into the poetry business. I know there IS a poetry business out there, I know there ARE brilliant poets out there, but I honestly don’t come across them much in my life… I’m sad that [Tim] Wakefield is retiring because he was just so much fun to watch. But I believe that there will be another great knuckleball pitcher. Why? Well, I think of the last line of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” a line I often use when talking to my daughter. You’ve got to have a little faith in people.