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Niekro raves about Dickey's impressive season

Niekro raves about Dickey's impressive season

Niekro raves about Dickey's impressive season
NEW YORK -- Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's documentary "Knuckleball!" was released in select theaters on Tuesday. Filmed in 2011, it highlights the seasons of the game's then-only two knuckleball pitchers, the Red Sox's Tim Wakefield and the Mets' R.A. Dickey.

Wakefield was on his way out -- 2011 would prove to be his final season in the Majors -- but Dickey was just getting started.

Very few could have predicted the 2012 campaign the 37-year-old has compiled. Even after a loss to the Phillies on Monday night, Dickey's 18-6 record, 2.67 ERA and 205 strikeouts make him a leading candidate for the National League Cy Young Award.

And numbers like that don't go unnoticed.

Wakefield and knuckleball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro were at Citi Field on Wednesday night to promote the film alongside Dickey. Though not the main focus of the film, Niekro, Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Jim Bouton and Tom Candiotti -- all former knuckleballers -- have a role.

Niekro finished with 314 wins, 3,342 strikeouts and a knuckleball that allowed him to pitch late into his 40's -- he won a Major League-record 121 games after his 40th birthday. But he said Dickey's success with the pitch this season might be the best he's seen.

"He's got it going," Niekro said. "I don't think any knuckleballer ever started a season like he did; he's making us all proud. If I don't get to see him on TV or listen on the radio, I always check the papers to see how he did the night before."

Knuckleballers are oft grouped together as unconventional pitchers, but Niekro never quite understood the stigma attached to the pitch. For him, it was nothing more than "a pitch I could get guys out with."

"I never thought it was a trick pitch," Niekro said. "People say crazy pitch, funky pitch, trick pitch, but all I know is that what I could throw and get them out in the big leagues.

"Knuckleball pitchers, we don't think we're freaky, we just have something a little different than most guys do and we're going to throw it. That's the name of the game."

If Dickey's success holds any weight, it certainly has helped legitimatize the knuckleball. He throws an unconventional pitch in an unconventional fashion, consistently throwing it in the low 80s. He's brought it new life, and Niekro joked that if there are any young arms willing to start up as knuckleballers, he's available to help teach it, even at 73 years old.

"You want to call it freaky, go ahead," Niekro said. "Because I call it a ticket to the big leagues."

--Adam Rosenbloom

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