“Hall of Famer Tom Candiotti,” is an interesting way to introduce the longtime knuckleballer. He was a very good pitcher, putting up nearly 40 wins above replacement in 16 season career. However, you will not find a Tom Candiotti plaque in Cooperstown despite this being more than the total WAR compiled by either Catfish Hunter or Lefty Gomez.
Instead, the likeness of the pitcher known as “The Candy Man” resides in a different Hall of Fame. He was honored in 2007 as the second inductee into the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame’s celebrity wing. While the celebrity side of the Hall doesn’t carry quite the cachet of the professional side, Candiotti’s co-honoree is a Pro Bowler (of the NFL variety). Jerome Bettis was inducted into the Bowling Hall years ahead of his 2015 induction into the NFL’s museum in Canton.
Strikes are good for bowlers and for pitchers. Candiotti scores well on both accounts, reportedly averaging better than 200 in his local bowling league and racking up over 1,700 K’s against opposing batters. His befuddlement of opponents came from extensive use of the knuckleball, a slow-moving, erratic pitch thrown with a unique grip. The pitch has been around for over a century but has always been something of a novelty. Candiotti actually played the role of knuckleball legend Hoyt Wilhelm in the movie 61*.
Despite its effectiveness, many pitchers dismiss the knuckler as being beneath them or too difficult to control. As a result, the presence of a knuckleballer commands attention. A crowd will gather to watch the moundsman whiff a batter, give up a homer, or send a ball to the backstop screen. Once Candiotti’s reputation for throwing the pitch was successfully established photographers began requesting demonstrations of his grip. Candiotti obliged and we are left with dozens of baseball cards showing how to prepare to throw the pitch.