I completely agree with Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93%, which is extremely high to be sure. IMDB only gave it a 7/10, but obviously if you’re a big baseball fan, you’ll love this film. It actually taught me a few things about both pitchers that I hadn’t known before, which is always good for a baseball film. It was well-directed and well-produced. I’ve always been a huge fan of the knuckle-ball and it’s great how the film-makers decided to focus on just how unpredictable the pitch really is and how many knuckle-ballers never get the chances they probably deserve.
While I obviously knew that Wakefield had that magical 1992 rookie season with the Pirates, the film really put it into perspective how he actually became the ace of that Pirates staff (one that wasn’t bad to begin with, mind you!) In 1993, he was the Opening Day starter (something I’d never realized.) He won the game, but walked 9 in doing so. After that, however, not much went right for him. Then again, the Pirates weren’t very good in 1993. In any case, he lost all confidence in his ability and was sent down to the minors in 1994.
In 1995, the Pirates released him, but the Red Sox snapped him up. He then worked with legendary knuckle-ballers Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough (Niekro is in the Hall of Fame) who got him back on track. Of course, the Red Sox would go on to have him for 12 seasons, making at least one start in every season.
In 2010, the Mets took a chance on him, but was one of the first cuts of spring training. However, after pitching a 1-hit shutout at Triple-A, the Mets called him up and Dickey became the ace of their pitching staff that season. In 2011, things started off rough, though. Nagging injuries began to get to him, but Dickey by that point was playing on a guarantee two-year contract, so he was safe from being sent down. Late in the season, he visited Charlie Hough in LA who taught him about changing speeds with his knuckle-ball. After that, he was practically un-hittable. In 2012, he would go on to win the National League Cy Young Award and a contract extension. (Of course, that bit happened after the documentary was made.)
The film actually ends with Tim Wakefield’s February 2012 retirement. It’s a shame that it wasn’t made a bit later, because it would’ve chronicled Dickey’s Cy Young season, as well. But made when it was, it’s a fantastic documentary. The timing really was meant to coincide with Wakefield’s retirement and how Dickey has to “carry the torch” so to speak for awhile. Stephen Wright is still on the Boston Red Sox 40-man roster and Wakefield has actually been working with him. The Orioles have a couple knuckle-ballers in their minor league system. The pitch may finally be gaining appreciation now as it never has, and I think this film had something to do with it. It does a great job of balancing the two pitchers’ stories while also showing the fraternity that knuckle-ballers have. It’s a unique thing in sports, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. The knuckle-ball may be baseball’s most devastating pitch when it’s on. You just have to trust in it.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons