I wasn’t a big fan of Lance Niekro: First Baseman, but this is something I can get behind:

Twenty years have passed since a Niekro threw a knuckleball in a major-league game. Lance Niekro, the longtime Giants infield prospect, now hopes to become the next to keep the family craft alive.

Niekro, who as recently as 2006 was vying to become the Giants’ everyday first baseman, is exiting a brief retirement from baseball and will attempt a comeback at age 30 as a right-handed knuckleball pitcher for the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves have signed Niekro to a minor-league contract and will bring him to spring training to see if he can extend the legacy of his late father Joe and Uncle Phil and make his living floating baseballs to major-league hitters.

Longtime readers are well aware of my knuckleball fetish, so a knuckling Niekro playing for my favorite team is about as good as it gets.

Except for the fact that this will not end well. One of these knuckleball conversion projects come along every other year or so, and it never works. Remember Mark Lemke? There have been several others.

The thing is, knuckleballers are not gimmick pitchers or mere tricksters. They’re real pitchers who have to master mechanics and technique and a pitcher’s mental approach to the game just like a guy with a plus fastball and a sharp slider. Heck, it’s probably even harder for a knuckleballer given the dearth of coaches and mentors out there. Sure, Niekro may have uncle Phil hanging around, but given his name and pedigree, if Lance had any promise as a pitcher to begin with, someone would have forced him in that direction 10 or 15 years ago. It never happened. Heck, Niekro himself admits in the article that he “has to develop some secondary pitches.” Good luck with that.

If turning failed first basemen into viable major league pitchers was simply a matter of an offseason’s worth of training, Rico Brogna and Travis Lee would still have jobs. It’s not that easy, however, and no matter how good it would be to see the son of Joe Niekro tossing the flutterball in the bigs, the likelihood of that actually happening is something close to zero.

(link via Neate Sager and Pete Toms, both of whom sent me the article within about five minutes of each other. You gotta watch those wily Canadians. They hunt in packs and always walk in single file to hide their numbers).

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  1. MooseinOhio said...

    Is the fetish with the knuckleball connected in any way to the fantasy that maybe you didn’t peak athletically one league prior to Babe Ruth?

  2. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Not directly, in that I never thought I could or should try to throw one or anything, but there is certainly something appealing to me about any dynamic in which wily deception bests power and skill.  Maybe that’s some sort of sublimated fantasy fulfillment based on my lack of athletic prowess, but I felt the same way even back when I was bigger than the other kids in little league and Jr. High School football and thus something of a moderate athletic success.  Probably goes back to watching Bugs Bunny fan the Gashouse Gorillas with his slow ball.

  3. Ron said...

    Hey, the German coach is giving tryouts in Indianapolis.

    Dust off the knuckler and see if you can bring the “flutter”. Rememember, just like Charlie Hough, knuckleball pitchers age well.

  4. MooseinOhio said...

    I do agree with the whole deception angle as it is great to watch Jamie Moyer frustrate hitter with what is a borderline softball pitch.  It certainly is a testament to the skill he has to be able to move a ball the way he does and locate it is the small window that he has hit.

    Is there a any chance Bill Lee could resurrect his career?

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