The MLB Network is getting into the reality TV game with a solid concept called "The Next Knuckler." Former major leaguer Tim Wakefield will attempt to teach the knuckleball to five former NCAA quarterbacks — most notably 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, who is 50 years old — and the winner will get to pitch in a spring training game with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Former major league third baseman Josh Booty of LSU, along with his brother John David Booty of USC, are among the the other contestants. David Greene, who played for Georgia, and Ryan Perrilloux, who played for LSU, also will give it a twirl.
Because of his age, Flutie would seem to be the longest shot of the group and the most gimmicky. He's been overlooked and counted out before, which is part of his appeal. But what if he makes it — even for a spring game? But the winner probably is going to come from among the others:
My money is on Booty — Josh Booty, that is. Did you know he was born Joshua Gibson Booty — Josh Gibson! — so maybe he is destined for greatness in baseball after all? None of the other contestants even have college baseball experience. Booty's time with the Marlins, while considered a failure by some because it lasted only 30 plate appearances, could help him here. And he's not too old — 37 — to learn the pitch in earnest.
Other than Flutie, the most intriguing contestant is going to be Greene, 32. He's left-handed! (And an insurance broker.) There have been left-handed knuckleballers, but you have to go back to Wilbur Wood in the '70s with the White Sox for the most recent. Nobody among the newer breed of knuckleballers is a lefty.
And Perrilloux would be the first black knuckleball pitcher in the majors — ever?
This is what else you can expect from Wakefield and co-host Kevin Millar, starting Wednesday, Feb. 13:
The Next Knuckler will feature special guests, including 2012 NL Cy Young Award Winner and knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, former All-Star knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough and 15-year old knuckleball phenom Chelsea Baker, who threw two perfect games for her Plant City Little League team in 2010.
“We look forward to being featured on The Next Knuckler and giving an opportunity to one of these top-flight athletes to come to Spring Training with the D-backs,” said D-backs President and CEO Derrick Hall. “With a knuckleball, you never know what kind of success a pitcher will have and that’s part of the intrigue for our franchise to take part in this reality show.”
I like how he teases it, as if there's a chance this contest winner sticks with the D-backs beyond one Cactus League game. He's teasing, right?
Big BLS H/N: Chad Finn of the Boston Globe