Phil Niekro showing his grip at the Baseball Hall of Fame
As I discussed earlier, there are a few different ways to grip the knuckleball. And if you can throw a ball without any spin at 65-plus miles-per-hour, than you’ve got a great knuckleball grip. But there are overwhelming similarities between the grips of the great knuckleball pitchers; guys like Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, Tim Wakefield, RA Dickey and the like.
The grips of these guys are similar because they understand the basic rule for throwing a great knuckleball — reduce as many variables as possible to put yourself into a position to give yourself a chance of killing the spin entirely.
That’s a long phrase, but it is an important one to learn…
Put Yourself into a Position to Give Yourself a Chance
A solid knuckleball grip with no fatal flaws
When you start off learning the knuckleball, it can be frustrating. Heck, the pitch comes and goes when it feels like it and, get this, you never really master it. You just have a relationship with it. And it’s the most unstable friend that you’ll ever have.
But because the pitch is so difficult to throw, even on a good day, you want to reduce as many variables as possible. Anything that you do that has a chance of putting even a tiny amount of spin on the ball must be eliminated, even if it feels comfortable. And today’s two tips are all about reducing those variables.
Your pointer and middle fingertips throw the knuckleball. And I always get questions about this, “Why can’t I use three fingers? It feels comfortable to me.” Well, three fingers gives you a much better chance of spinning the ball, and here’s why:
To eliminate the spin you need to apply even pressure from two fingertips. This is a difficult task. If one of the fingers puts more pressure on the ball than the other, the ball spins. By adding a third finger, you make the process a lot more difficult. Now you have to apply even pressure using three fingers. All three fingers. A little more pressure from any of the fingertips and the ball spins. You’ve made you development 50% more difficult. Don’t do it. Put yourself into a position to give yourself a chance and use two fingertips.
This is one of the most common misconceptions about the knuckleball. Many people, including pros, think that the pitch is thrown with fingertips dug into the seams. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Your grip should avoid seams altogether. The fingers that stabilize the ball shouldn’t be on any seams. And take a look at your grip. If a seam is liable to catch a finger at any point as you release the ball, change your grip. Avoid the seams.
Seams are raised. Seams have texture. Seams catch on skin and send the ball spinning. Seams are you worst enemy. Stay away from them at all costs.And stay tuned for the next part of this never-ending series about knuckleball grips… There’s just so much to talk about.