Knuckleball Movie Perfect Pre-World Series Warmup

Better late than never.

I kept putting off the DVD viewing of Knuckleball. I was like the kid determined to make my Halloween candy stash last until Christmas goodies were available.

Sure enough, this baseball feast waited for me, helping to stave off the hunger I felt as the regular season ended.

First of all, I’m calling this a movie. Nope, it’s not fiction. Doesn’t matter. “Documentary” makes some viewers squirm. As in, “that sounds good for me, like a platter of turnips. Can’t we watch a movie.”

That’s code for “movie = fun.”

Knuckleball is fun. We see the characteristics of the pitchers brave enough to throw a maligned pitch. Hall of Famer Phil Niekro is a Hall of Fame storyteller, a skill never showcased before this movie.

Credit directors Annie Sundberg (no relation to Jim) and Ricki Stern with coaxing great answers from R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough, too. I was amazed at the golf-weekend conversations captured as the four knuckleballers interviewed each other.

There’s more than an hour of bonus materials. Sundberg and Stern did their homework with these extended interviews.

My favorite moment in the movie? Dickey asks Hough to review one of his past games by video. They watch, only to giggle delightedly when a struck-out Pirates batsman goes nuts in the dugout, smashing his lumber.

“Sure. Blame the bat,” Hough chides.

I’ve written before about asking good questions. Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli speaks at length about “Wakey.” It’s easy to imagine the pitch, harder to appreciate the men who’ve depended on the alternative. Such moments stress how to get at the “how does it feel?” aspect of baseball.

The World Series doesn’t last forever. If you fret about being able to survive until spring training, here’s the solution. This Knuckleball is the perfect pitch for this off-season.

Charlie Hough: Free signer, no more!

Sorry, Charlie…

For more than 20 years, hitters couldn’t figure out Charlie Hough’s baffling knuckleball.

Now, Hough himself is the bafflement.

According to Harvey Meiselman, Hough, Mickey Hatcher, Tim Wallach and Rick Honeycutt have signed with the same fan mail handler. Each now cost $15 apiece per baseball card autograph.

I checked the stats on www.sportscollectors.net.

Hough has signed for 767 collectors, a staggering 95 percent of all requests logged at the website. More impressive was how Hough would decline any offer to keep extra cards. If someone sent him 12 cards, but asked him to keep half, he’d return every card autographed.

I understand the temptation faced by the others. Honeycutt had signed for 120, Wallace 76 and Hatcher 35. Successes with the trio ranged from 41 to 63 percent.

Hough was different. What caused him to abandon ship?

R.A. Dickey Book: Surprising As Any Knuckleball

“Butterflies aren’t bullets. You can’t aim ‘em. You just let ‘em go.”

— Charlie Hough

The knuckleballer-turned-tutor may have done more than tutor R.A. Dickey’s pitching. Hough may have given a nugget of wisdom employed in the writing of Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.

In writing his life story, Dickey uses the same approach. This is anything but a conventional baseball tale. Dickey lets it all go, telling about the abuse he suffered as a boy, his sometimes-shaky marriage and other challenges to what many might assume has been a storybook career.

Definitely, this book is a LIFE story, not just a baseball retrospective. Dickey writes chronologically (and in present tense, giving his writing freshness and urgency). Page 91 begins his pro career with the Rangers. He relives the heartbreak of losing the $810,000 signing bonus, when a Baseball America cover photo reveals that Dickey may have elbow problems.

Dickey’s evolution as a knuckleballer gets center stage in the book. He tells of seeking out Hough, Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield for advice. Funniest moment in the book comes when Dickey breaks a nail. In full Mets uniform, he’s sneaked out to a manicure salon for some emergency grooming.

The press release from publisher Blue Rider Press included a revealing comment from Dickey, seen nowhere in the book. Here it is:

“Q: How did your interest in literature shape Wherever I Wind Up?

A: Well, I can tell you this: I did not have much interest in writing a straightforward sports book. This is my first book. It might be my only book. I didn’t want to just stuff it with a bunch of statistics and writes about ERAs and holding runners on and bore people with page after page of baseball platitudes. I wanted to write a narrative that was meaningful to me, that was completely honest and that would hopefully stand up as a quality piece of writing.”

This thoughtful book might lead fans to guess that Dickey has the insight to become a coach or broadcaster. Read closely, and you’ll discover that Dickey harbors the hope that he could be a high school English teacher someday.

Ultimately, readers will find the life and career of New York’s elder statesman evolving like his knuckleball. While his butterfly pitch deceives, Dickey delivers his whole life story with right-down-the-middle candor and truth.

Coming Friday: Memories of Jewish baseball players.

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