Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hold the Good Ideas and Pass the Machismo

Recently I got to watch an 18 year old Japanese knuckleballer pitch in a minor league game in the independent Golden Baseball League. This pitcher was a few years younger than any other player on the field that night and not only that, she was a girl. A lot of people came out to watch the spectacle of her pitching. She had a strong first inning getting our local team out in order (3 up, 3 out), but after that she struggled to throw strikes and ended up giving up a bunch of runs on only one hit (a grand slam) and was pulled in the third inning.

There are very few knuckle ball pitchers in the major leagues, but there have been some successful ones over the years. My favourite being Charlie Hough who is 82nd on the all-time win list for pitchers, despite spending the first seven years of his career as a relief pitcher (they don't get credit for many wins).
I once saw him pitch an 11 inning, 2-1 win against Seattle. I was sitting behind the Seattle dugout and was amazed at the frustration expressed by the Seattle batters as they returned to the dugout. It was then that I grew to love the knuckleball. I have since taught it fairly effectively to two of my youth baseball players over the years.

Now comes my point. In the articles about the female knuckleballer, "The Knuckle Princess", and even on the recent segment on one of our Canadian national newscasts, it is always mentioned how difficult it is to throw the knuckleball effectively. While I will grant that it is more difficult to throw than a fastball, I don't think it is so much more difficult than any other pitch (curve, slider, forkball, etc.). I think the knuckleball is the victim of too much machismo!

Sports is an arena that is full of machismo and there are certain things that get written off by the macho culture of sports. The knuckleball is one of them. It's slow and therefore wimpy. Another is the underhand free throw in basketball. Rick Barry was one of the top players of the 1970's in professional basketball and is one of the top scorers in history. His career free throw percentage was 90 and at the time of his retirement was the best in history. He shot his free throws underhanded, which was the style in an earlier era.

The underhand shot was known in my neighbourhood as "granny" style. Machismo killed the underhand free throw and nobody shoots it anymore. Rick Barry was a fierce competitor and he wanted to win more than he wanted to look macho. You're telling me that everyone else shoots overhand because it's a better technique? Nope, it's all about machismo!

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