Knuckleball Grip Tension

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One of the finer nuances of the knuckle ball is the grip tension. In my time working with the greats, I have heard a few different things about grip tension. But the grip tension experts can really be broken up into two different camps — The Charlie Hough side and the Phil Niekro side.

Charlie Hough enjoyed a 24-year Major League career. The man was drafted out of Honolulu as a third baseman and just couldn’t hack it. So, like most knuckleballers, he was taught the butterfly as a last-ditch effort. He caught on immediately.

Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox knuckle ball grip

He started playing in double- and triple-A for the legendary Tommy Lasorda as a reliever; a closer, in fact. His success inspired the Dodgers to sign an aged Hoyt Wilhelm; making him a minor leaguer at 49 years young. Hoyt Wilhelm, in case you don’t know, is a hall of famer and the best knuckleballer that has ever lived. He maintained a WHIP below 1.00 AFTER the age of 40! Well, Hoyt taught everything he knew to Charlie. And at the end of the year, the Dodgers made a run for the pennant. They called up Hoyt, even though Charlie had better numbers. That’s how legend Hoyt was at the time.

So, when Charlie taught me and RA Dickey, he preached what Hoyt preached — a loose grip, like an egg. Hoyt and Charlie held it so light that you could easily grab the ball out of their hands.

Phil Niekro, the second-best knuckleballer ever to live (just a shade behind Hoyt WIlhelm), featured a very tight grip. He wrapped his entire hand around the ball. And one thing thatI notices about Phil when I worked with him is that he has huge hands. The kind of hands that swallow another hand in a handshake. Well, he used those mitts to clamp down on the ball pretty tight. “Just hold it nice and tight, then fire it!” he would say.

Knuckle ball grip tension is completely up to you. You just need to hold on to it just tight enough so that it doesn’t fly out of your hand on the way to the plate. I explain it in Knuckleball Nation the Instructional Video like this — think of it as a scale of one to 10, with one being the lightest. Throw a few at one and then get a shade tighter. Do this until you are gripping it hard, at a 10. Somewhere along the line, you’ll find your knuckleball grip tension.