Ever pitch has a beginning somewhere. Someone had to be the first pitcher to throw a curve, a slider or a change. Even pitches that have been relegated to the periphery were, at some point, innovative and occasionally, widely used. Just take the knuckleball.
For the most part, the first knuckleball pitchers were considered to be one of the trio of Eddie Cicotte, who is typically considered the inventor of the knuckler, Lew Moran or Nap Rucker. Yet, the first knuckleball pitcher may not have been any of those three. If photographic evidence is correct, then the first knuckleball pitcher may have been a virtually forgotten Pittsburgh Pirate named Chick Brandom.
How is it that the unknown Brandom has entered this conversation? Well, a 6×8 news photograph dating from 1908 was uncovered recently, featuring an in-action shot of the young pitcher. While this normally would not be interesting from more than an academic standpoint, or for someone who collected turn of the century baseball photographs, there is something unique about this picture. In it, Brandom has a knuckleball grip, making Brandom the first documented knuckleball pitcher.
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So, who was Chick Brandom? Actually, he was a pretty solid pitcher in those rare occasions when he was able to get on the field for the Pirates. Spending part of the 1908 season, and the entirety of 1909 with the Pirates, Brandom posted a 2-0 record with three saves, a 0.94 ERA and a 1.040 WHiP in 57.2 innings. However, because of the strength of Pirates staff, he only appeared in 16 games.
Even with his success with the Pirates, Brandom was not destined for a long career. He was back in the minors after the 1909 season, making it back to the majors with the Newark Pepper of the Federal League in 1915. After a decent season where he posted a 3.20 ERA in 50.1 innings, Brandom was out of baseball, only reappearing as the manager of the Corpus Christi Seahawks in the Gulf Coast League in 1926.
Before the discovery of this picture, Chick Brandom may have just been remembered as a possibly solid young pitcher who never received much of a chance due to the Pirates not having room for him. However, 100 years after his career ended, and 57 years after his death, Brandom has once again become of interest because this picture was discovered.
The Pittsburgh Pirates Chick Brandom may have been the first pitcher to throw a knuckleball. Who would have imagined the pitch would have such an obscure beginning?