I first heard tell of this back in December, but Saturday’s New York Times updated Lance Niekro’s attempt to come back as a knukleballer just like his old man and his uncle Phil:
The Elias Sports Bureau studied 190 father-son combinations in major league history and found that in 143 cases — three out of four — sons do just what their fathers did. That is, if the father was a position player, so was the son. And if the father was a pitcher, so was the son.
After parts of four seasons with the Giants, and a brief retirement after his release from a Houston Astros farm team last May, Niekro is doing what comes naturally. He has embraced his inner knuckler at age 30, making a comeback as a pitcher at the Atlanta Braves’ minor league camp.
“I’m not going to say that I have an excellent knuckleball right now,” Niekro said last week in an interview at a restaurant here, his hometown. “But I think I have the makings of it, and I’m working hard at it.”
As most of you know, I have a pretty strong knuckleballer fetish, so I’d really like this to work. I also have a pretty strong comic book fetish, so I can totally feature this as one of those stories in which a seemingly ordinary man discovers his true superhero destiny. Like Kal-el speaking to Clark Kent from the great beyond in the Fortress of Solitude or the bat crashing through the window of Bruce Wayne’s study. I mean really, how cool would it be for Lance Niekro, after years of walking his own path, to don his late father’s armor and bring justice to the baseball world via inherited guile, filed nails, and the flutter of his knuckler?
But, as I noted back in December, the likelihood of such a thing coming to pass is low. 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. Indeed, it’s probably harder for a knuckler, partially because few organizations seem to have the patience it requires to bring one along, and partially because the margin of error for a knuckler is so thin to begin with. And that goes for guys who have been pitching for years, which Niekro certainly has not.
Niekro is either going to click quick or he’s going to get utterly shelled. And though I hope it’s not the case, the odds favor the latter.
(thanks to Blaze, followed quickly by tHeMARksMiTh, for the heads up)