KNUCKLEBALLS, By Dave Clark - Knuckleball HQ
In Search Of The Abominable Gyroball
The gyroball... creature of fantasy, or is it real and alive? This report brings you the truth about this mysterious creature of the ballfield.
The gyroball is a Japanese discovery. The fact that Japan is the home of Godzilla has nothing to do with this odd, yet inocuous pitch.
It was born in a lab, midwifed by a researcher who noticed that a baseball with a hard football-like spin would curve hard in the direction it rotates toward. You could call it a form of screwball, or a reverse flat slider, but this is the first pitch that went from wind tunnel to mound, a 180 of any other pitch, which is undoubtedly the reason for most of its appeal to techno-geek fans.
The pitch, however, is less than it appears; while real, it's not weapons-grade. It's more dodo bird than thunderbird.
A few pitchers have gotten a few off deliberately. I'm sure that many pitchers fooling around with a high-velocity screwball have gotten off a few, and some have launched a few accidentally. For a backyard discovery to get a name, however, the practitioner needs to see that it can be easily duplicated, at least by him, and that it may make a pitching style more effective. So I'm sure that, while likely seen many times as far back as balls have been pitched, it wasn't recognized as anything special.
There are two things about the gyroball that make it less than the legend it is.
It rotates around an axis going straight forward and backward. For a righty, it rotates hard left, and it moves straight away from a right-handed hitter. To get it to perform this way, the pitcher needs to develop a lot of velocity and have his fastball mechanics down as elegantly as possible, then release the ball with an inward rotation exactly the right way, which is not an easy thing to do once, never mind on a consistent basis.
The second problem has to do with batting approach. A batter need only answer two questions on each pitch: where will the ball be, and when will it get there?
Notice that a bat swings generally level through the strike zone.
Also notice that the gyroball cuts straight to the outside for a right-handed batter.
Do you really want to throw a pitch that is aimed for the fat part of the bat?
If the combination is not same-side, then you may have something. However, as you can tell, velocity and delivery is critical. Less-than-perfect, and this pitch may be eminently hittable. At least as a curiosity, it's generated some buzz on the KnuckleballHQ message board, at least because it's not understood and, so far, not very accessible.
In short, it's another conventional locatable pitch that offers no surprises once the batter is not surprised to see it and can adjust.
For a pitcher who needs another pitch in their bag of tricks, a pitch they can break out once in awhile if the situation calls for it, it could be an effective pitch in the proper mix. Against a batter facing the opposite way, it may be a killer back-door pitch. Other than that, it's no more and no less than any other spottable pitch.
You want to win? The best way to do that is with surprise sink. More or less sink than the batter expects, and additionally in a location he doesn't expect, and you have a far easier winning program. Phil Niekro made the HOF with a knuckleball, which takes care of change of location and velocity all by itself. Bruce Sutter just made the HOF with a splitter that disappeared below the bat without warning.
So the gyroball may be a helpful pitch for some, but there are easier tools for success.
AUTOGRAPH HOUND, By Marc Schoder - Autograph Dog
Many baseball fans growing up in the 1980’s considered Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy a true hero. For two fans in particular, the way Murphy carried himself both on and off the field made him a true boyhood hero.
"I have been a baseball fan since I was 4 or 5 years old", said Trent Shemwell of Atlanta, Georgia. I had grown up in Alabama and the Braves were, of course, my favorite team. Shemwell said that, since he was a fan of the Braves, he developed an attachment to the Atlanta outfielder.
Matthew Crowder of Albuquerque, New Mexico, agrees with Shemwell’s thoughts but in a different way. "Like many baseball fans in the 1980’s, I became a fan of the Atlanta Braves because of frequent carriage of their games on cable TV outlet WTBS", said Crowder. "The one shining star on their mediocre teams of that time period was Dale Murphy". Crowder said that his choice of idols was further simplified when he discovered what a principled and generous man the Braves outfielder was off-the-field. Crowder and Shemwell, both collectors of Dale Murphy memorabilia, discovered the young Braves outfielder before he hit his prime.
"In the early 1980’s, I noticed a classified ad in a sports collectibles publication offering a custom die cut wood painting of the athlete of your choice", Crowder said. When the 31-year-old Crowder saw the ad he said he took a shot and ordered one of his boyhood idol. When the painting arrived Crowder recalled looking at the painting and seeing what looked to be a 70-year-old "Speed Racer" cartoon character in a Braves uniform rather than his idol Murphy. "It remains one of the most interesting conversation pieces in my collection", said Crowder, whose Murphy collection consists of nearly 800 cards and collectibles, several game used bats, balls and a signed framed jersey of Murphy in one room of his home.
Crowder said another favorite oddball item in his collection is a Christmas card featuring Murphy from his rookie year of 1977. "The card shows him posing as a catcher, his position at the time, in front of Santa Claus who is umpiring", said Crowder. Shemwell added that one of his prized collectibles is a seatback signed by Murphy from Fulton-County stadium. "I had him autograph the seatback with the inscription of 'NL MVP', total home runs in his career", said Shemwell. The collector said that he has anywhere between 40 and 50 autographed pieces in his collection with photos, magazines, and a jersey from 1983.
"I really felt that Murphy was a classy individual and he actually just became my hero", Shemwell said. The 36-year-old grew up playing baseball through high school wearing Murphy’s uniform number three. "I just loved the way that he carried himself both on and off the field", he said. "He was a true professional in everything that he did and everything I read about him."
Shemwell said that he has met the former Braves outfielder on several different occasions. "The Braves have their Hall of Fame induction luncheon every year here in Atlanta", Shemwell said. Murphy comes to the event every year and this is where I met him. The lifelong Murphy fan said he had been to several of the luncheons but one was extra special for Shemwell. "The one that I remember in particular, I was able to speak with Murphy and ask questions that I wanted to know about him as well as get an autograph of my favorite player", he said. "He acted like he knew who I was and cared about what I was saying." The collector of an estimated 700 Murphy oddball items said that, in his experience with the longtime Braves outfielder, Murphy doesn’t leave a fan unattended. "He always takes time out for the fans by signing autographs and making sure all of his fans leave happy", said Shemwell.
Shemwell said that since Murphy’s retirement, collecting the insert cards with him on it has become impossible. "It is a yes and no answer; up until this year it was quite difficult", said Shemwell. "Until this year you had so many different card companies making cards. However, now with the new agreements with Major League Baseball, you are down to three companies making cards."
He said that it is hard to get every card of Murphy. "However, the internet auction site eBay.com has made getting his cards a lot easier by showing what insert cards people have for sale that you may need for your collection", he said. He noted that you can also purchase many autographed items of Murphy on the auction site as well. However, he prefers to get his autographs of his boyhood idol in person. "I purchase unautographed items of Murphy and wait until I see him in person to get them signed", said Shemwell.
Shemwell said that card companies should stop making cards of a player when their career is officially over. "Personally, I would say 'yes', [stop producing cards when] his career is over. However, as a collector, you always want more", said Shemwell. "You’re happy to see other companies producing cards, which shows that there is more to buy." Shemwell said that before this was the case, when Murphy retired most collectors had everything they needed. However, nowadays "card companies keep making his cards and that’s what makes it so difficult."
Shemwell added that he hoped, since he may not get voted in to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writer’s Association, that the Veteran’s Committee will enshrine Murphy. "I think too much time is spent comparing athletes from prior eras to those playing currently", he said. "So much has changed since then, as far as the technology and workout regimens that players use." Shemwell said that, during his playing days, Murphy put up some of the best offensive statistics during the 1980’s with back-to-back MVP awards, five Gold Gloves, four Silver Slugger awards and a seven All-Star Game appearances. "The one downfall for Murphy is his lifetime batting average of .265 along with his career homerun total of 398", said Shemwell. He said, since he played for the Braves of the 1980’s, Murphy didn’t have much protection in the lineup. "For that reason, his stats suffered and pitchers were able to pitch around him." Shemwell added that he believed that Murphy respected the game. "He always hustled, never complained and was a true gentleman in every sense of the word."
Marc Schoder is a freelance writer and computer consultant in New Mexico. He can be contacted at autographdog.com or usavirtualassistant.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The contents of the respective articles represent the opinions of the individual writers and not necessarily those of the editor/owner of The Oddball Mall Sports Cards.
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