How to Grip the Baseball to Throw a Knuckleball

The knuckleball is a batter's nightmare. The slow-moving, unpredictable pitch encourages batters to swing early or not at all as they watch the ball sails over the plate. Despite the effectiveness of the knuckleball, it is a difficult pitch that few players master. The knuckleball grip takes more practice than other pitches, but perfecting the pitch helps neutralize power hitters.

What Is a Knuckleball Pitch?

Unlike other pitches, the knuckleball has no spin on it. Spin keeps the ball moving in a smooth, predictable arc. Without spin, the ball can suddenly move in any direction. To throw a knuckleball pitch, a pitcher does not hold the baseball in his entire hand. Instead, he grips the baseball with his thumb and two or three fingernails dug into the ball. Batters have difficulty hitting the knuckleball because it is slow and unpredictable. Major League Baseball pitches frequently top 90 miles an hour, but a knuckleball usually travels no faster than 75 miles an hour.

Why Is the Pitch Called a 'Knuckleball?'

One of the earliest knuckleball pitchers was Eddie Cicotte, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox in the early 1900s. He perfected the pitch by holding the ball with his knuckles flat against it. A different grip involving the fingertips evolved as other pitchers adopted the unique pitch. Young players often place their knuckles directly on the ball because their hands are small and this grip is easier. Most older players use the modern fingertip grip for the knuckleball.

How Do You Throw a Knuckleball?

Hold the baseball so that your thumb sits just inside the U-shape of the seam. Bend the top two knuckles of your index, middle, and ring fingers so that your hand is in a claw-like position. Dig the nails of your first three fingers into the leather. Neither your fingers nor your thumb touches the seams. Keep your wrist stiff and push the ball off your hand with your fingertips. This should create a ball with no or very little spin.

How Common Is the Knuckleball in Major League Baseball?

Very few major league pitchers throw a knuckleball. One major reason is the specialization required. Pitchers who throw the knuckleball report that switching to the pitch lessens their ability to throw other pitches. The unpredictability of knuckleballs also makes them difficult to catch. This makes pitchers reluctant to use the knuckleball because a wild pitch or passed ball can result in base runners moving up. Pitchers who choose to become knuckleballers usually do so when they are in the last years of their career because the slower pitch puts less stress on their aging arms.

When Should You Throw a Knuckleball?

Amateur players should use the knuckleball sparingly. It is a difficult pitch to master and it can easily go wrong. Do not use the pitch if you are down in the count. Throw a few fastballs before using the knuckleball. This makes batters expect speed, and then they are thrown off when they see this slow pitch.

The knuckleball has the potential for great success or great failure. This unpredictability is part of the reason why many major league pitchers avoid adding a knuckleball to their repertoire. The pitch is an effective choice for pitchers who struggle with the fastball. The knuckleball grip also is a good choice for young players who do not have significant arm strength.

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