Sunday, November 4, 2012

On Demand: Knuckleball! (2012)

I rarely order pay-per-views. Armed with a coupon that was due to expire today from Time Warner Cable, I decided to indulge myself.

"Knuckleball!" is a documentary that enjoyed an all-too-brief run in theatres back in September, near the end of baseball's regular season. Counting Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me") among its executive producers, "Knuckleball!" focuses on the last two men to utilize the toughest pitch in the game, Tim Wakefield, who retired after the 2011 season, and R. A. Dickey, a candidate for the 2012 Cy Young Award as a pitcher for the New York Mets.

The story has oft been told in the press of Dickey engaging in a knuckleballers' summit with Wakefield and some of their forebears, including Wilbur Wood (Chicago White Sox), Charlie Hough (Rangers, Dodgers, Marlins), & Phil Niekro (Braves, Yankees). Another hurler, Tom Candiotti (Dodgers, Indians, Blue Jays), is among those interviewed as well. We get sound bytes from various Red Sox & Mets games from the 2010 & 2011 seasons and interviews with two of Dickey's former teammates, Carlos Beltran (now with St. Louis) & Gary Sheffield (retired), and current Met Josh Thole, plus current Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and former catchers Doug Mirabelli & Jason Varitek (now an executive with the BoSox after retiring this spring).

The format of the documentary recalls Barry Blaustein's "Beyond the Mat" wrestling doc which was released in 1999 to a mixed reaction. The critics in New York, of course, fell in love with "Knuckleball!", largely because the dream season Dickey enjoyed this year felt like a sequel in the making, with Dickey winning 20 games this year. The film's coda is essentially Wakefield winning his 200th career game with Boston last year, then retiring earlier this year, for all intents & purposes passing the torch to Dickey, who will return to the Mets in 2013.

Both men have had long, checkered careers. Wakefield was a rookie sensation with Pittsburgh in the early 90's, and led them to the NLCS, only to fall to Atlanta, and sending the Pirates to their present run of misfortune. Dickey started with Texas, and has also been with Seattle before landing with the Mets 2 years ago. Up until now, the knuckleball wasn't getting much respect, despite the long careers enjoyed by the men who threw it. Wakefield, for example, played virtually for 2 full decades. Hough played 25 seasons, Niekro 24.

TrailersplaygroundHD uploaded the trailer:

If you haven't seen it yet, and you're a true baseball fan, you really should.

Rating: A+.

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