Since its creation in the the early 1900s, the knuckleball has been the runt of baseball's litter of pitches.
Regarded as more of a novelty or a gimmick than a legitimate strategy for retiring a batter, the knuckleball has had to endure its fair share of teasing.
The esteemed careers of baseball veterans like Tim Wakefield have helped prove that the knuckler does have a place, albeit an odd one, in the game. But never before has the pitch really earned the respect it deserves.
Until now, that is.
R.A. Dickey's historic season (20-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 230 K) earned him the 2012 NL Cy Young on Wednesday, making him the first knuckleballer to ever take home the award. Think about that: Of the 103 Cy Young awards that have been given out in the past 57 years, this is the first one that's landed in the firm claw of a knuckler.
So what does it mean?
Well, I dare not speculate too boldly or too far ahead, but it could mean grand things for the future of the pitch. Kids aren't exactly hanging up R.A. Dickey posters the way they do with Kobe or LeBron, but anybody who wants to pitch in the majors has surely taken notice. And they aren't the only ones.
Seriously: If you were an MLB GM, and you had to choose between two equal pitching prospects––one traditional, one knuckleballer––wouldn't you now be more inclined to pick the latter? Hasn't Dickey's success raised the ceiling of potential on any and all knucklers coming through the farm?
Let's not forget Dickey's age, either. The man is 38 years old, and didn't start perfecting the knuckleball until 2005 (he previously threw a forkball that, unbeknownst to him, was kind of a knuckler, but needed tweaking). Don't you think every minor league pitching hack who fizzles out will now try to teach himself the knuckleball and try to mount a comeback?
Why not? That's sure as hell what I would do.
The knuckleball is undergoing a transition in the purview of the baseball playing masses. It's no longer a punchline or a bar trick. Now it's a feat of magic!
It's the Sorcerer's Stone from Harry Potter, capable of reviving minor league castoffs from the dead.
It's the magic golden flower from Tangled, capable of preventing aging, and allowing pitchers to throw well into their 40s.
It's a pitch that is capable of fooling major league hitters, even when used as the primary weapon in a hurler's arsenal.
Things are going great for the knuckleball nowadays. And for that, it has R.A. Dickey––and R.A. Dickey alone––to thank.