"PUTTING SOMETHING ON THE BALL"          PAGE 4

Tom Candiotti
  Tom Candiotti  
     



The most mysterious pitch in baseball is the knuckleball. It's a hard pitch to master, and its behavior is unpredictable. Tom Candiotti, celebrated knuckleball pitcher, describes it this way: "It's a strange pitch. You throw the pitch so there's little or no spin at all to it. And I guess when you do that . . . when you throw a ball that has little or no rotation on it . . . the ball . . . I don't know if it's wind or something . . . but it makes it move certain ways -- up, down, around. Sometimes you throw it in circles."

The ideal knuckleball rotates about a quarter of a revolution on its way to the plate. Without the stabilizing gyroscopic effect of spinning, the ball becomes aerodynamically unstable, and the raised seams create an uneven flow of air over the surface of the ball, pushing it one way or another.

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Famed hitting instructor Charley Lau claims, "There are only two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works." But it is a tough pitch to throw, and because the ball moves so slowly, if it doesn't "knuckle," it's more than likely to end up in the bleachers.

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The knuckleball effect can be achieved with a simpler and more reliable, though illegal, pitch: the spitball. If the pitcher adds a little dab of spit, vaseline, soap, slippery elm juice, or whatever to his fingertips, the pitched ball will squirt out of his hand like a watermelon seed, with a minimum of spin but a maximum of effect: upon reaching the plate, the ball can suddenly drop up to two feet.


	t ain't cheating if you don't get caught.

Once widespread and successful, spitters were outlawed in 1920 due to their unsanitary nature, and in that year Babe Ruth hit almost twice as many home runs as he had the year before. Some pitchers pride themselves on getting away with this illegal pitch, daring umpires to find where they are hiding the gunk that they somehow manage to transfer to the ball just before they throw it.

Consider, also, the plight of the batter. In essence, he's given a round bat, pitched a round ball, and is somehow expected make a square hit. Pitcher Jim Poole sums it up this way: "Part of the key to our game is to keep giving the hitters different appearances of the ball. Some go straight down, some fade away, some go in."

Activity
  For more info and photos of how to pitch like a pro, see our online activity, "Thrown for a Curve"!

Faced with such uncertainties, batters, like pitchers, may also use physics to alter their tools and better their odds, sometimes illegally. Batters, for instance, may put cork, superballs, or tubes of mercury in hollowed-out bats to surreptitiously alter their center of compression or center of mass. The pitcher, on the other hand, may have scuffed the ball on a belt buckle or ring to change its aerodynamics. At one time, teams put balls in refrigerators before games to make them less elastic when the big hitters came to town.

In the final analysis, it still comes down to the pitcher, the batter, and their individual abilities. As Bob Veale, who played for the Boston Red Sox, once observed, "Good pitching will beat good hitting anytime...and vice-versa."

 

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