When news of the R.A. Dickey trade broke, I was not too sure how I felt about it. Flashes of Dickey being a one-year wonder and the parting of Travis D’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard clouded my judgment.
I needed to know more about Dickey. Where he came from, who he was and what makes him the pitcher he is today. What unfolded before my eyes made one thing abundantly clear: he is unlike any player I have ever watched play the game.
What he brings to the table, both on and off the field, begs the question: has there ever been anyone like him in Major League Baseball?
To start, there is the clear oddity that surrounds the pitch he throws, as he is currently the only pitcher in the MLB to throw the knuckleball. There have been knuckleball pitchers before him, and there will be after him, but what Dickey does is different.
There is no comparison for what he does because unlike any other knuckleball pitcher he has two different knuckleballs. There is his mid-70 mile per hour knuckleball that makes up the majority of his pitch count and then there is his power knuckle that creeps into the 80 mile per hour range.
Just like you would be hesitant to compare Billy Koch to Randy Johnson solely on the fact that they have both pitched a baseball faster than 100 MPH, you should be hesitant to compare Dickey to past knuckleballers such as Tim Wakefield, Phil Niekro or Tom Candiotti.
Dickey’s road to Major League success was not a linear progression from top prospect to MLB All-Star. In fact, the adversity he faced and the subsequent perseverance he showed in the face of failure is one of the more inspirational stories around.
Dickey studied English Literature at the University of Tennessee where he became a standout prospect. He earned himself a place on the US Olympic team that won a bronze medal in Atlanta and entered into the 1996 amateur draft.
After being drafted by the Texas Rangers in the first round, Dickey’s offer was rescinded after a routine physical revealed that he had no ulnar collateral ligament. The UCL connects the humerus to the ulna and is a major factor in providing stability for the elbow joint.
Dickey continued to persevere and made the switch to a pure knuckleball pitcher while with the Texas Rangers in 2005 in an attempt to prolong his career. The knuckleball has a reputation as a pitch that puts very little strain on the throwing arm, seemingly a perfect fit for an elbow without a crucial ligament.
His hard work was not immediately rewarded as his MLB knuckleball debut led to 3.1 innings pitched and an ERA of 18.90. Once again, Dickey was relegated to the minors but he continued to work. His hard work culminated in 2012 when he won 20 games for the New York Mets, en route to a Cy Young Award.
The story of how he became a successful Major league pitcher is an inspiring story, but the person he is off the field truly epitomizes why he is such a unique individual.
In 2012, Dickey published a memoir titled Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball. He also has a deal with a publisher to write three children’s books including a children’s version of his memoir.
In his book, Dickey bravely opens up about his parent’s tumultuous relationship, battling suicidal thoughts and the sexual abuse he experienced as a child. While concealing the sexual abuse for 23 years, Dickey found solace in baseball.
Whereas high profile athletes in other sports have approached the topic of sexual abuse, Dickey is forging a relatively new path in the baseball world.
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Dickey scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. The ascent to Uhuru Peak, just under 20,000 feet above sea level, raised $100,000 to battle human trafficking in India.
Dickey also has some creative names for the bats he used while playing in the National League. Both bats are named after mythical swords found in literature. Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver is a reference to The Hobbit and Hrunting comes from Beowulf. These fantasy namesakes are complimented by his walk-up choice of walk up music, the Game of Thrones theme song. He also calls his family’s minivan the Millennium Falcon.
Dickey has also spent time helping a fellow knuckleballer at the University of Maryland hone his craft. 18-year-old Stephen Orso was another traditional pitcher that converted to the knuckleball when his career hit a wall. He sought out Dickey as a mentor and Dickey has relished the opportunity.
When the Blue Jays traded for R.A. Dickey this offseason, it was clear that they acquired more than just a remarkable pitcher. They got themselves a fascinating person.
Ligament-less athlete. Knuckleball pitcher. All-star. Cy Young winner. Olympic medalist. Mountain climber. Humanitarian. English literature enthusiast. Author. Star Wars fanatic. Mentor. And according to his twitter biography, a ninja in training.
Is there anything this guy can’t do?