You're not going to learn anything new from Knuckleball!. If you've been following along on the R.A. Dickey coverage on this site, you'll probably recognize most of the moments from games you've watched, interviews you've read, or details in the knuckleballer's own book. The documentary won't teach the avid fan a ton, even if it has great crossover appeal and will make a great stocking stuffer for the more casual fan.
But this movie isn't really about uncovering some new fact, or functioning as a tutorial about the rarest regular pitch in baseball. True to form as a movie rather than a documentary, Knuckleball! is instead about emotions, and about the ups and downs of the men that feature the knuckleball. And when judged against that backdrop, it is a resounding success. And one that can be enjoyed by fans of any depth.
Due to be released via video-on-demand on September 18, and through the IFC Theater beginning September 20, the movie creates a sense of the fellowship between knuckleball pitchers -- usually by putting them in the same room with each other and just letting them talk. The focus on the history of the pitch successfully creates a plot string that flows through the Niekros, Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield and through to present day's R.A. Dickey.
Those last two knuckleballers, and their more recent trials, tribulations and successes, provide the movie's marrow. Linking the 'erratic' nature of the pitch to the slings and arrows that both Wakefield and Dickey endured in their careers wasn't ever done in an obvious way, but the theme was ubiquitous throughout. These aren't men that have had success handed to them, and this isn't a pitch that makes for an easy baseball career. "You walked ten men and won? You're my hero," said Dickey to Wakefield at one point. Call them the underdogs with a sense of humor.
Set a story about Wakefield and Dickey to the right sound track, with the right visuals, the right game highlight clips, and pepper in comments from the appropriate beat writers and teammates -- maybe you can understand why it would be enjoyable to hear a story you already know, when told in this manner. From watching the players interact with the interviewer and with the people in their worlds, you get a sense of their personal struggle, and of their lives. Just seeing Wakefield as a rookie, and Dickey in college, is worth it.
Directors Ricky Stern and Anne Sundberg, who were nominated for a Critic's Choice Award for their work on a Joan Rivers bio last year, did an excellent job treating these warriors with respect and humor. As a result, you'll feel for the human beings behind the pitch that links them together with a beautiful, if erratic, path to the plate.