Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Mystery of the Vanishing Screwball -

The Mystery of the Vanishing Screwball -

'via Blog this'

This very long feature from the New York Times brings up an interesting question, though it doesn't really get the right answer. The feature rambles along, filling up the bloated summer Sunday magazine with mostly watery analysis.

Here's the deal. In this conformist world we are trapped in, there are precious few people in any walk of life that can stand to step outside of the mainstream. There have been many successful knuckleball pitchers in the past, but these days, almost none. What else can explain it?

Baseball is firmly into its Sabremetric era, where many tried and true ways of playing and evaluating the game have been turned on their ear. Clutch hitting, sacrifice bunts, and hitting the other way are derided as foolish or non-existent. It is in this sphere that knuckleballs have no place.

The best knuckleballers were smart and crafty pitchers that learned how to throw the knuckler later in their careers to compensate for losing speed on their fastballs.The skill was passed along, pitcher to pitcher. By and large, this wasn't something coached or taught in the minor leagues.

The knuckleball is an unpredictable pitch that works by playing havoc with the batter's timing (as well as the catcher's). Combined with the knowledge gathered over a career, the veteran pitcher would thrive for years longer in the major leagues. You'd think there would be many more practitioners of it.

But it doesn't fit the corporate Sabermetric conformist mold. These days, a starter can only throw one hundred pitches, batters make out hitting into the teeth of exaggerated shifts, relief pitchers only pitch a specific inning, and who cares about umpires because instant replay has intruded clumsily into every close play.

A new helmet for pitchers was created this year, to protect pitchers from hit balls cracking open their unprotected skulls. So far, no one has worn it during a game, because it looks "funny". Funnier that a broken brain apparently. Hitters are no better. A larger protective batting helmet has been shunned because it looks like the "Great Gazoo". A very good reason, clearly.

Stupidity like this isn't limited to MLB. The NBA is full of wonderful and talented athletes that are able to amaze with their schoolyard acrobatics on the court. What many can't do is sink a simple free throw. You would think it would matter enough to teams interested in winning games to improve the free throw percentages of their teams.

A great idea would be to shoot them using the most high percentage method. That would be underhanded. In days gone by, the best free throw shooters would employ the underhand method, but that would look too fey for the macho tattooed players of today, so scratch that. No can do.

Soon the knuckleball will join the underhanded free throw in sports extinction. Evolution is supposed to advance us, but this doesn't feel like a case of improvement. It seems more like a leveling off into a high level of uninteresting mediocrity.

1 comment:

  1. I have no fear the the screwball will go obsolete. We're still here, aren't we?!?!