Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Missing the knuckle curvePosted by Mat Kovach
The knuckle curve* just doesn’t get the love it should. Often called the dry spitter, this seldom-learned pitch could be described, depending on how it is thrown, as a fast knuckeball or a slow spinning curveball. In both cases, the grip usually involved two fingers bent so the knuckles were actually on the ball and a normal follow-through with the arm and wrist. The main objective was to throw a pitch with limited or greatly reduced spin. This caused the various forces associated with a spinning pitch to have less effect, increasing drop and break, with late movement.
* Not the Mike Mussina, Cliff Lee knuckle curve when one of the fingers is bent to get a better grip on the ball.
Granted the knuckle curve can be a difficult pitch to master*, but it has been used successfully. What seems almost unique about it is that very few pitchers taught it to others. Fred Fitzsimmons taught it to Larry French, but that is the only case of “passing it down” I have discovered.
* Just slightly more difficult than your standard spitball. The dry spitter requires the feel of the knuckleball and skill of the spitball "popping the watermelon seed’’ release. But you don’t have to worry about loading up your finger and the ball and it isn’t illegal.
The last player I have seen throw a knuckle curve was Jason Isringhausen, who used the slow spinning curveball variation of the Knuckle-Curve.
As I weep for another season with a dry spitter (and no wet ones, of course. Right. Yep. Sure.) here is my list of some knuckle-curvers from the past (actually a rather impressive list of pitchers, not sure why more people don’t learn it).
Gene Bearden*, Toad Ramsey**, Ed Summers, Jesse Haines***, Fred Fitzsimmons, Larry French, Jason Isringhausen, Burt Hooton, Dave Stenhouse, Dave Goltz, and Pete Falcone.
* Inspiration for my research, also threw a wet spitter.
** Another example of early baseball over-usage and over-consumption
*** Hall of Famer
Indians fan, member of the Duane Kuiper Fan Club, Spitball Researcher, Contact me on twitter, @siddfinch, via email or avian carrier