The knuckleball is baseball’s white whale, a pitch so unpredictable that even umpires have trouble calling balls and strikes when it is thrown.

Because the knuckleball relies on movement more than speed, pitchers who have it in their repertoire often have longer careers and faster recoveries. It’s not easy to throw, but Hall of Fame hurler Phil “Knucksie” Niekro walked us through the pitch that helped him rack up 318 wins — 121 of them coming after he turned 40. First off, though, Knucksie says, the goal of the pitch is to minimize rotation on the ball, which will lead to the ball “doing its own thing.” With that in mind, grab a ball.



Step 1: Hold the ball with your whole hand so that your fingers wrap around ¾ of the surface.

Step 2: Bend the knuckles of your pointer and middle fingers, laying the knuckles on the ball.

Step 3: Raise those two fingers slightly and press your fingernails into the ball’s seams. Your knuckles should be pointing up, and the rest of your fingers should be stabilizing your grip.

Step 4: The release is where many people make mistakes. Don’t push the ball out of your hand — wind up and release it as you would a fastball. Although the knuckleball is thrown at top speeds of only 80 mph in the majors, just pushing it won’t give the ball enough oomph to get it over the plate.

Step 5: Feel the breeze of the bat coming across the plate in a clean strike.