Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: Knuckleball! the Movie (2012)

I had the good fortune to catch Knuckleball! (the movie) last weekend at Boston's Independent Film Festival. It's a documentary treatment of baseball's least-predictable pitch and several men who made throwing it their profession.

Filmmakers and knuckleballers show their grip

The movie focuses most of its energy on New York's R.A. Dickey and Boston's Tim Wakefield as baseball's latest knuckle practitioners, with several asides on retired specialists Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, Wilbur Wood, and Jim Bouton. A few others from the past appear in photos and conversation, including Phil's brother Joe and HOFer Hoyt Wilhelm. (I didn't plan ahead by writing his 1967 Coke crown profile last week, but there he was on the big screen. Serendipity!)

Top 5 Favorite Things About Knuckleball!
  1. I particularly enjoyed the movie's visual design, with meditative shots of slow-motion pitching and no-spin knucklers. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg said they contracted its time-changing effects to a separate design team, to great effect. (They took special advantage of R.A. Dickey's "bear face," which is a meme in its own right.)
  2. The directors expressed well how knuckleballers in their 30s and 40s run counter to baseball's notion of time and tide, as the opposite of 100MPH heaters and the power of youth.
  3. You might expect a Moneyball-era baseball movie to go overboard breaking down why the knuckler "works" and how much teams should expect to pay for guys who throw it. To their credit, it focuses instead on the community between pitchers, sharing advice in their small fraternity of specialists.
  4. Jim Bouton's segments use a different format and color style, mirroring his general ostracism from players and teams after the publication of Ball Four. (I assume the style choice was intentional.)
  5. The golf scene with a Wakefield/Dickey/Niekro/Hough foursome is wonderful.

Knuckleball! is doing film festivals and select screenings right now, with a DVD release on the horizon. I consider it worth the time for any pitching fan, whether or not you like the Red Sox or Mets. Too many baseball movies focus on teams and championships instead of the men who play and families they're part of, both nuclear and extended. Find video clips and screening schedules at

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