A Brief Look At Dodger Knuckleball Pitchers

The knuckleball is just a fascinating pitch.  When it works, the pitch can be devastating, reducing the best hitters in the game to foolish-looking swings, leaving them muttering to themselves as the walk back to the dugout.  When the knuckler doesn't work, batters treat the ball like Tom Cable treats assistant coaches, and it travels very, very far.  Charlie Haeger experienced both extremes last night in his Dodger debut, and although he was tagged with the loss, he pitched a very good game.

Here is a look at some past Dodger knuckleball pitchers and their debuts:

Charlie Hough

Drafted by the Dodgers in 1966, Hough made his major league debut with the Dodgers as a 22-year old in 1970.  Hough entered a game on August 12, in which the Dodgers were up 11-4 with two outs in the ninth inning.  Gene Alley was on second base, and Roberto Clemente on first for the Pirates.  Hough walked Al Oliver to load the bases, then struck out Willie Stargell to end the game.  Not a bad first out.

Hough was with the Dodgers for a decade, and was the fireman reliever for in 1976 and 1977.  Used primarily as a reliever with the Dodgers, Hough was sold to the Texas Rangers in 1980 and went on to start for them for over a decade, and is still the Rangers' franchise leader in wins.  Hough is currently the pitching coach for the Dodgers' Advanced Class A affiliate in San Bernardino.

Age at Dodger debut:  22

Final Line:  0.1 innings, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Dodger career:  401 games, 16 starts, 47-46, 60 saves, 799.2 IP, 102 ERA+

Hoyt Wilhelm

Wilhelm already built his resume as perhaps the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history by the time he came to the Dodgers in 1971.  The 49-year old made his Dodger debut on August 16, 1971 against the Mets.  Tom Seaver was on his way to shutting out the Dodgers, and Wilhelm entered the game with the Dodgers trailing 6-0 in the top of the eightth inning.  He got the final four outs of the game, allowing only a single to Cleon Jones in the ninth.

Wilhelm pitched for the Dodgers in 1972 as well, but was released on July 21, just five days shy of his 50th birthday.  Contrary to popular belief, Wilhelm did not face Julio Franco.  The Dodgers were the final team of his Hall of Fame career.

Age at Dodger debut:  49

Final Line:  1.1 innings, 1 hit, 1 strikeout

Dodger career:  25 games (all in relief), 0-2, 4 saves, 43.0 IP, 105 ERA+

Tom Candiotti

Candiotti was an established major league starter when he signed with the Dodgers in November 1991, putting up an 84-78 record and a 117 ERA+ over nine seasons, mostly with Cleveland.  Canditotti's Dodger debut came in San Diego on April 9, 1992.  Candiotti pitched into the eighth inning, allowing only three runs, and was supported on offense by home runs by Eric Karros, Mike Scioscia, and Brett Butler in a 6-3 Dodger win.

Candiotti would be a fixture in the Dodger rotation for five and a half years, also pitching some out of the bullpen in 1997.  However, even though the Dodgers made the playoffs in both 1995 and 1996, Candiotti only appeared in one playoff game as a Dodger, in relief in the 1996 NLDS.  He would pitch two more seasons after leaving the Dodgers, with Oakland and Cleveland.  Candiotti protrayed fellow knuckleballer Wilhelm in the movie 61*.

Age at Dodger debut:  34

Final Line:  7.1 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, win

Dodger career:  187 games, 159 starts, 52-64, 1048.0 IP, 106 ERA+

Dennis Springer

Springer, a journeyman who made his MLB debut at 30, joined the Dodgers in the middle of the 2001 season.  His Dodger debut was a start on July 19, 2001 against the Brewers.  Springer lasted just four innings, allowing four runs, including a home run to Richie Sexson.

Springer would later that year give up the 73rd home run of the season to Barry Bonds, on the final day of the season.  He pitched one more game in 2002 with the Dodgers before retiring.

Age at Dodger debut:  36

Final Line:  4.0 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs, 2 strikeouts

Dodger career:  5 games, 3 starts, 1-2, 20.1 IP, 112 ERA+

All four previous knuckleballers ended up with an above average ERA+ as a Dodger.  What will Charlie Haeger's Dodger future hold?  Much like the knuckleball, trying to predict where Haeger's career will end up is a fruitless endeavor.

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