Growing up as a Red Sox fan I felt the daily struggles of watching Tim Wakefield pitch, as any given moment he could be unhittable or give up a huge home run to a poor Knuckleball, but either way it is one of the most fascinating pitches in baseball and physics!
A group of friends and I taught ourselves how to throw a knuckleball one summer, and it is amazing to watch it dart around! I recommend you pay for true MLB baseballs to do this ($14 per ball) as the raised seams are needed to make it happen.
This author does an amazing job sharing the history of the best Knuckleball pitchers and why we don't see more of them today, enjoy the video!
Video Credit: https://www.youtube.com/ @HummBabyBaseball
Brief Physics Lesson
Unlike other baseball pitches that rely on spin to create movement, the knuckleball is thrown with little to no spin. The lack of spin creates a turbulent wake behind the ball, which causes the ball to move erratically through the air.
To throw a knuckleball, a pitcher holds the ball with the fingertips and not the traditional grip with the seams. The pitcher then releases the ball with a pushing motion, rather than a throwing motion, which minimizes the spin on the ball.
Without spin, the ball is subject to the Magnus effect, which is the phenomenon that causes spinning objects to curve through the air. In the case of a knuckleball, the turbulent wake behind the ball causes it to move in unpredictable directions, making it difficult for batters to hit.
The effect is further amplified by the seams on the ball. The seams can catch air and create a slight amount of spin, which can make the ball move even more unpredictably.
It is worth noting that the knuckleball pitch requires a high level of skill and control to throw consistently. The pitch can be affected by factors such as wind, humidity, and air pressure, which can alter the movement of the ball in flight. As a result, knuckleball pitchers often spend years perfecting their craft, and even then, the pitch remains unpredictable and difficult to master.
Video Credit: https://www.youtube.com/ @madethecut
Phil Niekro - Phil Niekro is widely regarded as the greatest knuckleball pitcher of all time. He pitched for 24 seasons in the majors, primarily for the Atlanta Braves, and finished his career with 318 wins, 3,342 strikeouts, and a 3.35 ERA. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Tim Wakefield - Wakefield pitched for 19 seasons in the majors, primarily for the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates. He threw a knuckleball for much of his career and finished with 200 wins, 2,156 strikeouts, and a 4.41 ERA.
Hoyt Wilhelm - Wilhelm pitched for 21 seasons in the majors, primarily for the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox. He was one of the first successful knuckleball pitchers in baseball history and finished his career with 143 wins, 2,141 strikeouts, and a 2.52 ERA. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985.
R.A. Dickey - Dickey pitched for 15 seasons in the majors, primarily for the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays. He relied heavily on his knuckleball and won the National League Cy Young Award in 2012. He finished his career with 120 wins, 1,387 strikeouts, and a 4.04 ERA.
Eddie Cicotte - Cicotte pitched for 14 seasons in the majors, primarily for the Chicago White Sox. He was a successful knuckleball pitcher in the early 20th century and finished his career with 209 wins, 1,058 strikeouts, and a 2.38 ERA.
Charlie Hough - Hough pitched for 25 seasons in the majors, primarily for the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers. He relied heavily on his knuckleball and finished his career with 216 wins, 2,362 strikeouts, and a 3.75 ERA.
Wilbur Wood - Wood pitched for 17 seasons in the majors, primarily for the Chicago White Sox. He was a successful knuckleball pitcher in the 1970s and finished his career with 164 wins, 1,595 strikeouts, and a 3.24 ERA.
Joe Niekro - Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro's younger brother, pitched for 22 seasons in the majors for several teams. He relied heavily on his knuckleball and finished his career with 221 wins, 1,809 strikeouts, and a 3.59 ERA.
Tom Candiotti - Candiotti pitched for 16 seasons in the majors, primarily for the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers. He relied heavily on his knuckleball and finished his career with 151 wins, 1,735 strikeouts, and a 3.73 ERA.
Dutch Leonard - Leonard pitched for 20 seasons in the majors, primarily for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators. He was one of the first successful knuckleball pitchers in baseball history and finished his career with 191 wins, 1,240 strikeouts, and a 2.76 ERA.
These are just a few of the most successful knuckleball pitchers in MLB history, each with their own unique approach to the pitch and their craft.