The Knuckleballer

Baseball may be the great American pastime (enjoyable activity), but it is so boring! That’s what some people say. They say the game moves too slowly – there are short periods (times) of action, but they’re separated by longer periods of boredom (the feeling you have when you’re bored).

I beg to differ (politely disagree).

Baseball is a team game. But much of a team’s success depends on the results of an ongoing (continuous) battle between two men, one from each team. One is the pitcher (who throws the baseball). The other is the batter (who tries to hit the ball). Each team has only one pitcher. But all the team members take turns being batters, trying to hit the ball. This battle, IMO (in my opinion), is what makes baseball fun and, often, exciting.

The pitcher tries to throw the ball so fast or make it move so much that the batter can’t hit it. The names we use for pitches (the act of throwing) tell us something about them. Fastballs are fast – often around 100 miles per hour (160 kph). Curveballs curve (turn) – left, right, or down. Sinkers sink (drop). A changeup looks fast but isn’t.

A good pitcher uses a variety of pitches to try to confuse the batter and make it even more difficult for him to hit the ball. The hitter must anticipate (to expect something and be prepared for it) what kind of pitch the pitcher will throw and try to hit it.

Speed, control (ability to make the ball do what you want), strategy (a planned series of actions for achieving something) – these are the pitcher’s tools. And this year, one of the best pitchers in American baseball had none of them. That’s right. One of the best pitchers in baseball, the pitcher who won the battle between pitcher and batter more times than any other pitcher, did it without the tools a pitcher usually uses.

So, what was his secret?

Let’s begin with a little science. When a ball flies through the air, it spins (turns round and round very quickly) – usually. The spinning action determines whether the ball will fly straight, curve, or sink. A baseball pitcher learns how to spin the ball so it will do what he wants. That is, every pitcher except R. A. Dickey.

When R. A. Dickey throws the baseball, it doesn’t spin. When a baseball doesn’t spin, it becomes unpredictable (don’t know what it is going to do). It may curve left. It may curve right. It may sink. And sometimes it seems to do all of those and more! We call this pitch a knuckleball. The pitcher can’t control it. And the batter can’t predict (say what will happen before it happens) what it will do. The result – the batter can’t hit the ball, and the pitcher wins the battle.

Dickey always wanted to be a professional baseball pitcher. He tried, but failed. He couldn’t throw the baseball well enough to make it (have success) as a professional pitcher. Doctors discovered that a ligament (material that holds bones together) was missing from his arm. And without that ligament, he couldn’t throw the ball the way pitchers usually do.

Dickey decided to learn how to throw the knuckleball, something very few pitchers have ever done. It’s easy on the arm (doesn’t hurt the arm), but difficult to do well. It took six years for him to perfect (make something as good as possible) the knuckleball, but he did. And this year he was one of the best pitchers in professional baseball.

If you’d like to read R. A. Dickey’s story, you can do it here. And if you’d like to learn more about baseball, read Jeff’s blog post Pinch-Hit Grand Slam or listen to English Cafe #50.

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo of R. A. Dickey courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.




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8 Responses to The Knuckleballer

  1. Vito says:

    Well done, thank you for posting it, it is a really cognitive and exciting article.

    Honestly I don’t like baseball at all, pray forgive me. I just consider that this sports game is convoluted and intricate for me, not to mention – it’s a monotonous performance after all.
    I have never developed any affection towards physical sports games just due to my chronic illness that knocks me out of any contention and almost gives me no chance to be involved in this sort of sport.
    Nevertheless I enjoy watching soccer from time to time and rarely – boxing.
    But most of all I’m addicted to English. Pretty strange, right? 😀

    Never give up posting articles and uploading podcast.
    I’m crazy about it.

    Have a pleasant weekend, my adorable friends.

  2. Peter says:

    Dear warren , thanks for the post-peppered expressions. As usuall you’v outdone yourself. 
    I beg to differ my good man. Baseball is dead boring!!!
    Man , I was there once watching the game. Two hours through the game, you wanna kill yourself to end the misery :))

    Seriously , I once was in the basebal venue with my friends watching the game.
    As I recall,  It took 4 or 5 hours.  Man ,it was brutal. 
    It was 4 hours of my life that I never get back.
    I agree with you that the throwing-ball technics  they use are both interesting and  amusing 
    But , from where you sit , u need a pair of binocular to follow the panache.
    The whole game is played in a diamond shaped area  which  is at least one football field  away from the spectators.
    Man , the closest  seat still far enough to be  a nose-bleed section.
    Besides , it takes forever for a pitcher to throw the ball.
    I believe ,  it is the only spectator sport  in which the players themselves are spectators  for a large portion of the game 🙂 (clever,huh)



  3. alan says:

    I appreciated that very much man, thanks

  4. Peter says:

    Dear warren ,
    Do u agree that most people go out in the baseball venue just to get a foul ball.
    Trust me all they talk about before the game starts is : if they are lucky, some of the batters in the field makes a home run ,and that they might grasp a foul ball.
    But ,what are the odds?
    The odds are stacked against them. It is not like that you see the batters score a home run point every time they go out in the field.
    It Barely happens that they hit the ball that far.
    I myself ,i like to go to the game if there is a at least 80 percent guaranty that I grab a foul ball.
    That will make it a fun time.
    Seriously , do u agree?

  5. Dan says:

    Hello guys.

    Today was a beautiful Fall/Autumn day here in northern Italy.

    I fed the crows this morning with biscuits I had myself that they seem to appreciate with loud CROW CROW

    And this evening I am going to lay down some apple, persimmon and dried food for cats for the hedghog that is still coming out during the night.
    I do not know if he does that on purpose, but he leaves his excrement nearby the front door as to say I am here! leave some food please.
    Have you ever seen Hedgehog’ poop? it is so tiny compared with the one of my cats! poor thing he lives with so nothing. I am trying to help him out
    before he goes sleeping for the long winter.

    I have never seen a baseball game. It was funny reading Peter’s experience at a game.
    I am totally ignorant about beseball, so.. I am anable to express my thoughts about it.
    That’s why I am a ESLPodcast follower! To pick up this kind of things I do not know about.

    Many Thanks!

    The trees look half naked with orange and yellow leaves. Nice colors!

  6. sanaz says:

    Nothing can block our ways toward success!
    This is the result of this post.
    Thanksss so much!

  7. Betty says:

    Dear Warren

    First of all, I would like to thank you for your kindness in introducing this famous sport to us. Your article explained about Baseball skills so clearly.

    I know Jeff always wants to talk about Baseball as well. If he has not planned his balanced lessons in advance, he will be talking about baseball in every lesson.

    On the other hand, if you and Jeff do not throw baseball lessons at us from time to time, we will never know this famous sport.

    Following the links you gave us, I have looked at the Dickey’s story and discovered that he was an English Literature major at the University of Tennessee. Was there a special connection between baseball and English literature?

    I hope I have learned a lesson from Dickey’s story. I hope to develop a relentless quest for self-awareness and authenticity.

    Life is not going to stay with me forever, I might as well make the most of it when I am still in control of it.

    Thanks again, Warren, I might have understood about 30% of the Dickey interview, but it is enough to inspire me to work harder.

    Betty 🙂

  8. Peter says:

    Guys ,don’t get me Wong
    By home run score I meant the batter must hit the ball so hard that it goes far enough that the batter can run the whole dimond area ( home run) before the player on the opposit team bring the ball back in by a serious of throwing and catching along the way.

    So, if the batter hit the ball so hard that they ball fly across the field to the audience stands that ball is called a foul ball. Whoever grasp the flying ball can keep the ball.

    That part is very exciting , as the ball is coming towards spectator , they go on top of eachother to get the ball . For a second or two you get the adrenalin rush you expect to get in such ball games.


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