Wilbur Wood was a knuckleball throwing pitching machine who’d regularly lead the league in games started and innings pitched, back in an era when a lot of hard-throwing starters like Nolan Ryan and the like would throw 200 pitches in a game. This was MAN baseball, back in the days before this current era of push-button managing, of “7th inning specialist” relievers and pitch count limits of 100-110, even for workhorse ironmen like CC Sabathia.
We are in an age of WIMPS, PEOPLE!!!!
Wood’s knuckleball gave him the endurance, for certain. Nowadays when a 20 game winning pitcher is more and more of a rarity, Wood managed to win AND lose 20 games in the same season, the last AL pitcher to do so, and after fellow knuckler Phil Niekro went 21-20 in ’79 for the Braves, it’s never happened and will never happen again, most likely.
He’d regularly start more than 40 games a season – 49 in ’73, the year he went 24-20. He pitched 379 innings that year.
Last year, Justin Verlander topped the majors with 251.
Even modern day knucklers like RA Dickey or the recently retired Tim Wakefield fall short of Wood’s sheer production. Wood once started both games of a double header, something I also doubt we’ll ever see again. In a way, he was the last remnant of the way baseball had been played decades earlier, even back to the “smallball” era of the early 1900s. He had a seventeen year career in the majors which is actually short by knuckleballer standards. If his knee hadn’t been shattered by a Ron LeFlore line drive, he may have lasted longer like other knucklers.
Well, at least Ron LeFlore was portrayed by Geordi LaForge once.
Knucklers are unpredictable and usually erratic – when they get into a groove, they are unhittable (the way Dickey has pretty much been all season, although he’s using the knuckler differently than others – he’s mixing speeds with it, managing location, and as one opposing coach put it “he’s PITCHING with the damn thing!” If others learn to do this, we may see an aspect of the game transformed). A lot of knucklers can go through cold spells, however, and wind up throwing easily hit meatballs. Hence, the 24-20 record. They’re fun to watch.
I also think that if any major league team ever tries to break the gender barrier & have a woman player out there in an attempt to sell tickets, that woman will be an American league knuckleball pitcher. She won’t have to bat & upper body strength won’t be a factor. Maybe it’ll be this kid someday.
Or maybe, the way things are going with fewer and fewer innings, lower pitch counts and inning by inning specialist nonsense, we’ll eventually have entire baseball teams made up of Bea Arthur doing musicals as Darth Maude.
I need a beer. Bah.