Name me five long-lasting, successful knuckleball pitchers. I’ll even spot you three: Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield and Hoyt Wilhelm. It’s hard, right? So then how do you think a guy like Wilhelm felt to have the Topps photographers ask for him to make the knuckleball pose almost every year? Isn’t that like giving away a trade secret? And what if this had fallen into the wrong hands? What if an obsessed hitter spent the off-season dissecting his grip and then showed up in April and blasted the hell out of the ball whenever they faced? I would say that Wilhelm’s considerable talent would’ve been severely compromised.
And it’s not like he’s unwilling to showcase the nifty pitch—he’s smiling or at least looking into the distance optimistically in the examples shown. Wilhelm lasted a hell of a long time in the majors, so if anyone ever figured him out, he probably outlasted them. In the card to the right (1965 Topps #276) he’s 43, right in his prime as the Sox’ ace reliever. So here’s to you Hoyt. Today I breathe a sigh of relief for you.