Yep, I know that headline is a lot to wrap your head around. Wakefield? Quarterbacks? Say what? If we wanted to watch quarterbacks throwing knuckleballs, wouldn’t we just become Jets fans?
I know, too easy. But back to the concept here, which I think makes for a pretty cool concept one once you’ve got the details. Here they are:
The MLB Network will debut a new reality program titled “The Next Knuckler” on Feb. 13 at 9 p.m. Produced by MLB Productions, it features Wakefield, the respected knuckleballer who won 186 games in 17 seasons with the Red Sox, attempting to teach the mysterious pitch to five former quarterbacks, including Doug Flutie.
Contestants will face challenges to test the effectiveness of his knuckleball, and each episode, one will be eliminated from the competition based on performance and input from Wakefield and co-host and former teammate Kevin Millar.
The stakes are legit — the winner will earn an invitation to Arizona Diamondbacks spring training camp and a chance to pitch in a spring game.
“I’ve dedicated my entire baseball life to the challenging art of throwing the knuckleball,” says Wakefield in the premiere. “Now, I’ve embarked on this mission to continue the knuckleball legacy. These guys were great athletes on the gridiron so I wanted to try this experiment out. You don’t have to grip the baseball the way I threw it, but if you want to win, you have to lose the spin.”
Flutie, who I refuse to believe is actually 50 years old, is the biggest name among the contestants, and he’s the presumed favorite here to win the thing. If he can drop-kick a football through the uprights, among his various other athletic talents, I figure he can probably figure out how to throw a decent knuckleball. Given his legendary competitiveness, I suspect he probably mastered it before the show began taping. But there are some other interesting names in the mix.
Former Marlins first-round pick Josh Booty — who was selected fifth overall as a third baseman in the 1994 MLB Draft, seven spots ahead of Nomar Garciaparra — had 30 plate appearances in the majors from 1996-98 before quitting to play quarterback at Louisiana State. He spent three seasons in the NFL, never playing a regular-season game.
I saw Booty play numerous games when he was at Double A Portland in 1997 and ’98, and he might have had the best third base arm I’ve ever seen in person. How that translates to tossing a knuckleball, well, I have no idea. But the raw talent is there.
His brother, John David Booty, the former Southern Cal quarterback and Vikings draft pick, is also a contestant, as is Ryan Perrilloux, who stuck briefly with the Giants after a controversial career at LSU and Jacksonville State, and ex-Seahawks draft pick and 2007 Patriots practice squad member David Greene, a lefty.
Though Wakefield will have been retired almost a year to the day that the program premieres, there has been something of a knuckleball renaissance recently, with R.A. Dickey (who will be a guest on the program) winning the National League Cy Young Award last season and the film “Knuckleball” becoming a critical success. The Red Sox even have a promising knuckleballer in their farm system, righthander Steven Wright, who could get to Fenway this season.
It should be fun to see if any of these guys with strong arms and no known experience with the pitch take to it at all.
I mean, besides Flutie. Knowing him, he’ll probably be in the Red Sox rotation by June. Fifty isn’t that old for a knuckleballer.