VOD review: ‘Knuckleball!’ a fluttery homage to a mysterious pitch
In baseball lore, it’s known as the pitch that requires the nerves of a cat burglar and the serene patience of a Zen Buddhist. It’s the mysterious knuckleball, and in all of baseball history only a small fraternity of pitchers – most of them considered colorful eccentrics – have mastered its quirky demands.
In “Knuckleball!” a breezy if studiously insider documentary by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”), the up and down careers of two contemporary knuckleballers – the Boston Red Sox’s Tim Wakefield and the New York Mets’ R.A. Dickey – provide human dimension to the esoteric art of throwing this fluttery, physics-finagling pitch.
Focusing on the 2011 season, when Wakefield was hanging on into his mid-40s trying to win his 200th game and the aging journeyman Dickey was just carving out a new niche with the Mets (a prelude to his splendid 20-win season in 2012), the movie serves as an entertaining primer to this pitch that, when served up by a master, can present a wavery trajectory that’s hard to predict, hard to catch and ever harder to hit.
The documentary examines the spotty history of the pitch (managers traditionally distrusted its unpredictable nature), looks at its unorthodox reputation (pitchers often resorted to it when their careers were on the downside), trots out a few of its idiosyncratic practitioners (Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro, with passing nods to brother Joe Niekro and Jim Bouton) and briefly explains its quirky mechanics (thrown from the fingertips at slow speeds, its lack of spin makes it subject to the whims of wind, air pressure and other physical foibles).
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