On Tim Wakefield, Charlie Haeger and the knuckleball

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On Tim Wakefield, Charlie Haeger and the knuckleball

If you haven't read Joe Posnanski's fantastic piece on the knuckleball, do so immediately.

The knuckleball is a beautiful pitch. As Posnanski writes, "It is the only thing in sports I know of that is a constant surprise not only to the opponent or the fans, but also to the person who is actually initiating it." Every athlete, at least those who throw or shoot objects, knows what will happen if he or she executes their motion perfectly. A knuckleballer hopes.

Nobody goes out for a casual catch with their father or friend and says "let's throw a few split-finger fastballs." You toss a ball around all while messing with a knuckleball grip in the hopes of miraculously discovering the right way to throw it. Usually, the ball has just enough cruel rotation on it so that it doesn't work.

But when you get a knuckleball right, it's like you just won the lottery. Only instead of getting money, the little white orb you just threw doesn't have any spin. It dances, it dives, it does seemingly whatever it wants.

With Tim Wakefield announcing his retirement, though, there doesn't appear to be a true knuckleballer coming through the ranks. There doesn't appear to be the next Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield or Niekro ready to break through. Sure, R.A. Dickey throws one, but he only began to use a knuckleball when his regular stuff -- which was good enough for him to make the majors -- failed him.

Six years ago, Charlie Haeger was a young knuckleballer who had worked his way to the top level of the White Sox farm system. He was drafted in the 25th round by the Sox out of high school in 2001, back when his 90 mph fastball was good enough to get him picked. He left baseball for a year in 2003 to play golf, but before he did, he started messing around with a knuckleball.

In 2004, he was back in the White Sox organization as a knuckleballer. By 2005, he had reached Double-A Birmingham, where he threw two shutouts. In 2006, he posted a 3.07 ERA with Triple-A Charlotte and made his big-league debut. In the majors, Haeger posted a 3.44 ERA in 18 13 innings.

But Haeger, who spent plenty of time working on his knuckleball with Hough, never was able to find the touch with his knuckeball in the majors. After allowing 11 runs (nine earned) in 11 13 innings with the 2007 White Sox, Haeger landed in San Diego, where he allowed 10 runs (eight earned) in 4 23 innings.

Haeger had some stabs of success with the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010, but never was a serious threat to stay in the majors. His first two games with Los Angeles in 2009 went great, as Haeger allowed three runs in 14 innings with nine strikeouts and four walks. But he was lit up by the Reds in his next start and was booted from the starting rotation.

He began 2010 by striking out 12 Marlins in six innings, but was shuffled between the bullpen and rotation after that before being sent down to the minors for good in late June. Haeger was released and spent 2011 with Seattle's Triple-A and Boston's Double-A affiliates, marking the first time since 2005 he didn't throw a pitch in the major leagues.

Haeger's future is uncertain -- I can't find out if he's still with Boston, some other team or is a minor league free agent.

But hopefully he keeps on fighting the good fight, armed with a 70 mile-per-hour pitch and a prayer as to where it's going. Because, to steal a line from Theo Epstein, baseball is better with the knuckleball.

How Tim Anderson's new glasses could benefit him at the plate

How Tim Anderson's new glasses could benefit him at the plate

Though he only has worn them for one game, Tim Anderson had been preparing to break in his new glasses for several weeks.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday evening that Anderson recently purchased new corrective lenses after he asked for additional testing beyond what teams normally offer. Though he’d recently worn the glasses around the clubhouse and in batting practice, Anderson didn’t break them in until Monday night. The second-year shortstop homered for the first time in nearly a month Monday and finished 2-for-5 with three RBIs in the club’s loss to the New York Yankees.

If the glasses help Anderson’s vision at the plate, the White Sox are all for it. Anderson entered Tuesday’s game hitting .253/.278/.377 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 285 plate appearances.

“The ball can travel anywhere from Shields' 69 miles per hour curveball to Chapman's 100 miles per hour fastball,” Renteria said. “It's very important to be able to see the baseball. It's obviously a split-second decision. It's very dangerous to be in there and not be able to see the ball. If that helps him, if that's a part of continuing to move forward, I hope that's part of what helps clear him up.”

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Anderson said after Monday’s game he plans to wear the lenses the rest of the season, though he didn’t think the glasses make a huge difference. Still, the fact he homered after going 96 plate appearances in between round-trippers didn’t escape third baseman Todd Frazier, who made a joke suggesting Anderson downplayed the significance. Anderson said he’s spent several days recently adjusting to the glasses in preparation for the game and wears them at bat and in the field.

“I’ve been using them in BP,” Anderson said. “Trying to get used to them.”

Renteria said players get their vision checked every spring. Anderson’s request for additional screening isn’t out of the ordinary, Renteria said.

“Timmy just told us he wanted to get his eyes checked, so he did,” Renteria said. “Obviously, he's wearing the glasses that he wears now. He's trying to get comfortable with them. He'd had them for at least 2 1/2 weeks, 3 weeks. But he's kind of been hesitant to put them on. I know (Todd Steverson) spoke to him. He's going to use them, feel comfortable with them, start using them in the workouts and BP.”

Last-place White Sox ready to trade, but only if the right offer arises

Last-place White Sox ready to trade, but only if the right offer arises

That the White Sox lost their fourth consecutive game doesn’t change the big picture plans of the franchise, which probably — but not definitely — will involve making at least one trade before the end of July.

Before the White Sox lost, 6-5, to the New York Yankees Monday at Guaranteed Rate Field, general manager Rick Hahn met with the media and delivered the same message he’s had since trading away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in December. The White Sox are open for business, and would like to make a number of moves to further bolster their farm system, but won’t make a trade if they don’t receive what they view to be a fair return.

“Would I be surprised (if we didn’t make a trade)? No, because I try not to be surprised by the dynamics of this market,” Hahn said. “Would I be mildly disappointed? Sure. We are here to try to improve this club.

“We feel we have certain first and desirable players that would help other clubs and may fit better on their competitive windows then they do on ours right now. And we intend to be active each day in trying to further accomplish what we set out to do a year ago at this time.

“But do we have to do it? No. That would be using an artificial spot on the calendar to force decision-making. That would be the last thing we need to do. We need to take a long term view of what we are trying to accomplish.”

Hahn didn’t name names, but Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson could be short-term fixes for contending clubs. Jose Quintana, who will start Tuesday against the Yankees, remains the team’s most valuable trade chip despite a 4.69 ERA that sits over run higher than his career average.

Frazier homered Monday and entered the game hitting .262/.351/.524 since Memorial Day. Cabrera similarly has found success after a slow start, slashing a healthy .324/.375/.482 in his previous 34 games before picking up two hits in four at-bats Monday. And Robertson, who’s been linked to the relief-starved Washington Nationals for months, has 41 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings with 11 saves.

“We want to be able to do as much as we can in our power to get this team to where it needs to be,” Hahn said. “Yes, there’s an element of competitiveness involved in that. There’s an element of patience involved in that. But at the end of the day, we have to — we get paid to be prudent in our decision making. We have to make the right decision.”

In the meantime, the White Sox looked the part of a rebuilding team with the worst record in the American League on Monday. Starter David Holmberg struggled, allowing six runs on five hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings — but only two of those runs were earned thanks to errors by Holmberg, Frazier and Matt Davidson.

As the Yankees took advantage of those miscues with three runs in both the fourth and sixth innings, Jordan Montgomery retired nine consecutive White Sox batters and went on to cruise with eight strikeouts over seven innings. The White Sox – as they’ve done quite a bit this year – still showed fight late, battling back in the ninth inning.

Tim Anderson ripped a three-run home run in the ninth inning off Yankees left-hander Chasen Shreve to bring the White Sox within two. Joe Girardi quickly turned to Aroldis Chapman, who allowed a run when Jose Abreu doubled home Melky Cabrera. But the tying run was stranded on second when Avisail Garcia grounded out and Frazier flew out to end the game.