“I got the crap kicked out of me in two games,’’ said Wood, laughing at the memory. “The first game didn’t go well. And then I said [to manager Chuck Tanner], ‘Hey, I’ll take the ball for the second game.’ And that one didn’t go well either.’’
Nowadays, Wood doesn’t make it to Fenway but still follows the game on TV, usually from the comfort of his porch. And though his glimpses of the National League are few, he likes what he’s seen of Dickey on TV. They are kindred spirits in a sense, given that both hurlers toiled unsuccessfully for years and then turned to the knuckler as a last resort.
“Pretty simple why I did it,’’ mused Wood, tutored by Wilhelm on the pitch upon arriving in Chicago. “My fastball was about 3 feet too short.’’
It’s a common story line among knuckleballers, including Wakefield. When they sense their careers are stalled or dead-ended, they place thumb, index, and middle fingers across the ball, dial down slightly on their arm strength, then send the ball toward home plate with as little rotation as possible.
The quieter the ball, the bigger its dance across the 60 feet to the batter. For that stretch in the 1970s, every park in the American League was Wood’s ballroom.
“Hey, I’d like to see more of ’em come up,’’ said Wood, noting that there remain some major league teams that refuse to encourage or include knuckleballers on their staffs. “But you know, if it wasn’t for Dickey, who else is throwing it?’’
It’s 2012, and R.A. Dickey has given baseball a lesson, one that Wilbur Wood taught a long time ago. No one paid enough attention back then. In these high-tech times, maybe now someone will give the ol’ knuckler a closer look.