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Ferguson: Another knuckleballer may be force to reckoned with

Scott Ferguson
3/10/2014 12:14:57 PM
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Over the winter, we wrote about the Blue Jays coming to terms with a pair of pitchers who were trying to become knuckleballers. They were Josh Banks and Tomo Ohka.

Banks had been a Blue Jays draft pick who had a brief stint with the club in 2007 before moving on to San Diego and then Houston, compiling a career record of 4-8. The other was Ohka, a journeyman from Japan who spent time with six organizations, including the Blue Jays in 2007, where he went 2-5. Ohka, who turns 38 next week, was already sent to the minor league camp last week.

Now there is a third. He's 30-year-old Frank Viola III. If the name is familiar, it should be. He's the son of former big league star lefty, Frank Viola Jr.

Frank Jr. had a very good career, predominantly with the Twins and the Mets. He was the MVP of the 1987 World Series - the Twins' first win ever - and won the Cy Young Award in the American League the following season - his final full season with the Twins with a 24-7 season. Frank "Sweet Music" Viola, as he was affectionately known, is a member of the Twins Hall of Fame.

Viola actually finished off his major league career in a short stop over with the Blue Jays in 1996. He went 1-3 for the Jays and ended his career on May 28 of that year. His son chased that major league dream as well and pitched in the White Sox organization thtough  2007 before injuries appeared to cut his career short. He dabbled in the media doing Florida State League games and even had his own fishing show, but Viola III never gave up his dream of pitching in the majors.

The next step was trying to master the knuckleball. He worked with the likes of  R,A Dickey, Tim Wakefield and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro and finally impressed the Blue Jays enough that they signed him last week. This doesn't necessarily mean the 30-year-old will make it to the big club.  The Jays' game plan is to have a knuckleballer or two in the minors to work with their catching prospects. That way, if they get called up to the Jays they'll be ready to work with Dickey without any major adjustment. Still, it would be great to see one of these knuckleballers eventually make it to the majors.

Frank Viola Jr. incidentally is entering his second season as the pitching coach with the Mets' Triple A farm club, the Las Vegas 51s.

After writing about the passing of Dr. Frank Jobe, the man who pioneered Tommy John surgery last week, I discovered another interesting twist to the Tommy John story.

Back in 1968, in a game at old Tiger Stadium, John was pitching against Detroit. In the first inning he hit Dick McAuliffe with a pitch. He later scored on an RBI single by Al Kaline. When McAuliffe came up again in the third, threw one pitch high and tight and then a 3-2 pitch behind McAuliffe's head that sent him sprawling in the dirt. When he got up he dusted himself off and started to head to first glancing out towards John. McAuliffe claims that John taunted him by saying "What the F are you looking at?"  That was the final straw for McAuliffe and he charged the mound. John got into a defensive position and the knee of the charging McAuliffe dug into John's left shoulder. He suffered a separated shoulder and torn shoulder ligaments and missed the rest of the season.

McAuliffe was suspended for five games and was fined $250.00. The interesting thing about John is that he resisted the advice to have surgery and let the shoulder heal with rest and rehab. The plan worked, though it took a while for John to get back to peak efficiency.

1974 was different. When Tommy John blew out his elbow, he said his arm simply felt dead. This time he agreed to surgery, which not only changed his career but revolutionized baseball in terms of treating this type of elbow injury.

The Detroit Tigers have made history over the last three years, winning five of the six major awards handed out. They have won three straight MVP awards - the last two by Miguel Cabrerra and three straight Cy Young awards.

The Tigers have made the postseason in each of the last three years. The only other time the organization did that was in the hay day of Ty Cobb in 1907, 1908 and 1909 when they dropped three straight  World Series - two to the Cubs and one to the Pirates. This season under rookie manager Brad Ausmus, they will be trying to make the playoffs for the fourth straight time and for the first time in franchise history.

Over the weekend, Tigers GM Dave Dumbrowski denied rumours he was listening to offers for starting pitcher Rick Porcello. In fact, he denied trying to trade any of his starters. But considering the Tigers have question marks at 3rd base and left field, you have to wonder a bit.

It's still a bit too early to get too excited or too worried about this but Baltimore is 8-2 so far this spring and is scoring nearly eight runs-again, even without a rehabbing Manny Machado (knee) at full strength.



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