Judge David Johnson has zero mustard on his balls.
To gain power you mist first give up control.
That's a fairly hyperbolic tagline for what is essentially a small little charmer of a baseball documentary, but that's about all the snark I can muster for Knuckleball.
Directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg have trained their cameras on a pair of the most well-known contemporary knuckleball hurlers—Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey—tracking their 2011 seasons, while also backfilling the mystique of the knuckleball.
First, Wakefield. In 2011, the Red Sox icon was preparing for retirement. A one-time rotation pitcher, Wakefield was demoted to relief duty, and only given the ball in the first inning when the injuries and/or indigestion from fried chick plagued the regular starters. It wasn't a great time, made even more awkward by his pursuit of his 200th win. I remember that chase. The local sports radio hacks were having regular field days piling on him, especially as the Red Sox began their descent into baseball immortality as legendary choke artists. But this film offers a quite humanizing look at what it meant for Wakefield to deal with the demotion as well as chase—and ultimately achieve—the final win. This stuff is easily the most emotionally resonant of the film.
Parallel is the story of R.A. Dickey, which is a straight-up underdog tale. Dickey bounced around minor league ball forever, languishing in middle-of-nowhere clubs and barely making enough money to support his family. And when he did crack The Show, it was usually in the role of warm body. But perseverance and a devastating knuckler brought him into legitimacy and fast forward a couple of years and the guy is making bank for the Blue Jays. Not as impactful as Wakefield's saga, but heartfelt nonetheless.
What I like the most, however, was the larger context of the world of the knuckleball pitcher. The filmmakers do a great job of painting these guys are part of an exclusive club. There aren't a lot of knuckleballers, so they have to stick together. This camaraderie makes for some interesting scenes, particularly when Dickey and Wakefield hang out with retired knuckleball pitchers Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti and Phil Niekro.
Enjoyable through and through, and you don't have to be a baseball fan to have a good time. If by chance you do consider yourself a hardball aficionado, I think it's safe to say you'll Knuckleball even more.
The film gets a solid 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, a 2.0 stereo mix and two hours plus of extra footage, including in-depth details about the physics of the knuckleball. Sabermetric nerd heaven!
One quick note: this would be a perfect family film, save for a completely uncalled-for F-bomb. Weird.
Not guilty. Knuckle down.
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