Yesterday, I noticed that Michael Pineda turns 22 in two weeks. A little while later, I noticed that Felix Hernandez only turns 25 in April. Being 25 myself, I found this to be more than a little depressing, as I came away feeling like crap without even getting to eat a Cuban sandwich.
This isn't the thought, because this isn't a new thought. People have been joking about how young athletes make them feel like crap for ages. "Alex Ovechkin's only 25? Guess that means I won't have a hockey career! Ha ha!" say the white people who make these jokes.
Sometimes, the joke will go along the lines of how a star young athlete makes one feel unaccomplished. Other times, the joke will go along the lines of how a star young athlete makes one realize he doesn't have a future in the given sport. But very often, no matter the joke, this will lead to consideration - out loud or otherwise - of how one might still be able to make it, despite his relatively advanced age and lack of training.
In baseball, it's thought that there's really only one way. You can't realistically teach yourself to hit like a professional. Batting takes a lifetime of practice and development, and a certain amount of congenital ability. You can't very well teach yourself to field like a professional, because that also requires unthinkable hours of practice along with natural instincts, and besides, even if you do learn to field pretty well, you still need to hit. You can't realistically teach yourself to become a power starter or reliever, because arms need to be developed over time, and I don't think a 25 or 30 or 40 year old can declare "I'm going to learn to throw 90 miles per hour, with accuracy" and pull it off.
There is, I think, one consensus path for the overaged individual to take to the Major Leagues: develop and hone a knuckleball. This is considered the easiest route, and as the Tim Wakefield example shows us, a knuckleball doesn't have to be thrown fast or with maximum effort in order to be effective. It's simple. In the mind of the average American, the easiest way to make it to the bigs is by learning to throw a good knuckler.
And yet, what do we see? Not many knuckleballers. Here are the four pitchers to throw knuckleballs in the Major Leagues last season:
The first three used the knuckler as their primary weapon, while for Bonine it was a secondary pitch. And it's not like there are a ton of knuckleballers hanging around in the minors, either. There are a few of them, and a few more who tinker with the pitch from time to time, but if anything, the knuckleballer is a dying breed. They are in very short supply.
In conclusion, one or more of the following must hold true:
(1) The knuckleball is very difficult to learn and impossibly difficult to master
(2) Very few people, once beyond their teenage years, feel the desire to pursue a life as a professional baseball player
(3) Those who do feel the desire to pursue a life as a professional baseball player simply lack the motivation and drive to put in the hours necessary to get a lot better
I suspect that the biggie is #1. Obviously, the knuckleball isn't an easy pitch to learn to throw, much less learn to locate. Which makes one wonder whether learning the knuckler really is the easiest path to the Major Leagues in the first place. But #2 and #3 are probably factors as well, and given that it's clearly possible for one to learn to throw a passable knuckler, this gives me hope that one day, when robots learn to do most of our menial tasks and the job market craters, there will be enough people out there with hope in their hearts and nothing else to do that knucklers may eventually out-number non-knucklers in the professional ranks.
Doug Mirabelli's gonna want to get hisself cryogenically frozen. A fortune lies ahead.