There have been plenty of baseball movies showcasing the various characters of our national pastime, from relief pitchers to home run hitters to minor-league catchers. Shoot, even general managers have had their time on the big screen. Now, one storied baseball archetype is finally getting a closeup -- the knuckleballer.
Directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg went to Florida for spring training in 2011 to follow R.A. Dickey of the Mets and now-retired Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield. For 90 minutes, the documentary “Knuckleball!”, opening Sept. 18, focuses on the befuddling pitch and the men who throw it.
Of course, Dickey has had a breakthrough season. He made the All-Star team, led baseball in wins through the Mets’ first 96 games and is a legitimate NL Cy Young contender. Not many people saw this coming, but judging from Stern's track record, maybe the director knew it all along.
“People ask me, ‘Do you have a magic eight ball?’” says Stern, whose 2010 documentary about Joan Rivers, "A Piece of Work," seemed to spur the comedian's career revival. “It’s remarkable to see what’s happened [to Dickey’s] career this year. But everyone who knows him, knows this could not have happened to a nicer guy.”
Dickey saw the film for the first time in April when it was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. “I thought it was a very accurate portrayal of not only the pitch, but the lives of the men who throw the pitch,” Dickey says. “They nailed it.”
Along with Wakefield and Dickey, the film features Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, Jim Bouton and Wilbur Wood -- all retired major leaguers who harnessed the knuckleball throughout their careers.
“[Watching the film] I learned so much from the other knuckleballers,” Dickey says. “Seeing the vintage footage and listening to those guys talk about it, and the people who faced it -- that's very enlightening."
While Dickey admits it took awhile to get used to cameras following him home on off days, reality TV-style, during the making of the documentary, he thinks the film will keep the cult of the knuckleballer alive.
"Hopefully the momentum will continue and it will kind of form this perfect storm that brings a lot of light to what myself and all the other knuckleballers have done and are doing," Dickey says. "We all as knuckleballers want it to live on. So if this is something that helps it live on, we're all for it."
See the "Knuckleball" trailer below: