It may not ever come to anything but happened to notice when the Mets today moved to claim lefthanded pitcher Jay Marshall off waivers from the Athletics. Marshall, a true submariner in the Chad Bradford style, continues a trend among Omar Minaya’s Mets teams to include or at least invite a few trick pitchers to camp each year. Marshall this spring will join the lefty-righty siderarm tandem of Pedro Feliciano and Sean Green (and another candidate with an unusual offering, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey). There was Joe Smith and Bradford before that, and guys like Steve Schmoll and Shingo Takatsu were given a shot.
Is this a good thing? I’m not entirely sure. While Feliciano has become one of the Mets’ best weapons vs. rival lefty sluggers and Green and Smith often got grounders when they needed them I’d prefer sometimes they could achieve these successes without also tempting the Mets to try and solve all their problems with matchups and specialists. It can grind games to a halt, for one thing, and all seems so delicate: One specialist springs a leak, and suddenly the whole ship is sinking. We’ve seen it before.
On the other hand, sidearmers are fun to watch when they’re going well and the Mets’ desire to bring these creatures in house indicates some evidence they have a plan, and I like that kind of reassurance.
At any rate, surely we’re in a Golden Age for Met sideslingers. I barely remember a one from my childhood when guys like Kent Tekulve, Elias Sosa and Dan Quisenberry were someone else’s property. David Cone was known to get sideways occasionally, and Jeff Innis was a durable middle-inning submariner for a long stretch, — and there was Jesse –but I’m going blank after that, although I’m sure I’m overlooking a few. Little help?
Only a few knuckleballers come around per generation, so I was pleased to learn the Mets were on the verge of signing one Tuesday. R.A. (Remarkable Athlete) Dickey has kicked around several organizations since first surfacing with Texas in 2001 and like many knuckleballers, developed the pitch only after his other stuff (including elbow ligaments) abandoned him.
The Mets’ have employed but two pure knuckleballers in their history. The first was righthanded reliever Bob Moorhead, who developed the delivery while on the road back to New York following a string of injuries (including, ironically, breaking two knuckles by punching a Sportsmans Park dugout door in frustration after a 1962 outing). Moorhead’s other distiction was having been the first relief pitcher ever called on in a Mets game. Moorhead wore 22 as a knuckleball dabbler in 1962 and 21 as a specialist in ’65. The Mets’ last pure knuckler, Dennis Springer, was released shortly after taking a pounding from the Reds on a frigid, wet, windy April evening at Shea in 2000. He wore No. 34.
Other Mets have included a knuckler as part of their repetoire, including relievers Jeff Innis (who threw his sidearm); Dave Roberts; Tom Sturdivant; Frank Lary; Warren Spahn; Bob McClure and Todd Zeile, whose whole pitching career was something of a stunt. Dave Mlicki threw a knuckle curve.
The Mets for a time were developing potential knuckleball throwers in the minors. One, Zac Clements, was a converted catcher who appears to have topped out at AA Binghamton in 2006.Charlie Hough, a longtime knucleball hurler, was the Mets pitching coach in 2001 and 2002.
Dickey in the meantime only signed a minor league contract, and has had only sporadic success in the majors to recommend him, but I’l be rooting for him just the same. Knucklers of recent vintage including Tim Wakefield and Tom Candiotti wear No. 49 so as to honor Hoyt Wilhelm, one of the giants of the craft. The Mets’ current tenant of 49 is lefty Jon Niese.