A Missing Ligament and The Knuckleball: The Story Of R.A. Dickey

Kevin BerthaCorrespondent IApril 11, 2010

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Pitcher R.A. Dickey #36 of the New York Mets poses during photo day at Tradition Field on February 27, 2010 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Most people would think that a pitcher who is missing a crucial ligament in his throwing arm is now working at Lowe's or McDonald's.

Most people are wrong.

The Ulnar Collateral Ligament in the inner part of your elbow is necessary for daily functions. The UCL is necessary to turn a doorknob. The UCL is necessary to throw something. Many pitchers have torn their UCL and have never been the same type of thrower.

Well, one pitcher was born without a UCL. Yet that pitcher, R.A. Dickey, is still going strong today at the age of 35.

In 1996, Dickey was living the dream. He was part of the 1996 US Olympic Baseball team that won bronze in the Games. About a month before the Opening Ceremonies, Dickey was selected by the Texas Rangers with the 18th pick overall. Dickey was going to have a huge signing bonus.

Until the Baseball America cover, Dickey, a hard-throwing right-hander from the University of Tennessee, was on Baseball America's 1996 Olympic preview cover along with fellow USA starting pitchers Kris Benson, Billy Koch, Seth Greisinger, and Braden Looper.

Dickey was looking to accept the Rangers' $810,000 bonus offered until an odd twist of fate occurred.

A team doctor picked up that issue of Baseball America and noticed that Dickey's right arm was hanging rather awkwardly at his side. The physician recommended the Rangers examine Dickey further, leading to an incredibly bizarre discovery.

It was found out that R.A. Dickey, a man who had never felt pain in his arm before, was missing the Ulnar Collateral Ligament, the primary tissue in the elbow that stabilizes the elbow.

So the Rangers then pulled their offer of $810,000 and replaced it with a far cheaper deal of $75,000.

Dickey has said that it feels like, "Winning the lottery and then losing the ticket." Dickey signed the measly $75,000 because he did not feel another team would take a shot at him and his missing UCL.

Dickey was not bitter. Dickey was not a 'Why me?' type of person. Dickey persisted and kept pitching.

Dickey was never able to be his old fire-balling self in the minors for fear of hurting his arm and not being able to pitch at all. He developed a strange fork-ball that was known as "the thing". He did not admit it was a knuckler.

By 2005, Dickey realized that the knuckle-ball was his only shot at staying in baseball. He fiddled around with his fork-ball grip, and the rest is history. Dickey got the hang of it, but bounced around with a few other teams until this year, being used mostly as a long reliever and a spot starter. 

Dickey and his 77mph knuckle-ball (very fast for a knuckler) are now in the Mets' organization. He was a non-roster invitee this spring and was reassigned to minor league camp. Dickey has not pitched in the regular season this year despite having a very remote shot as being the Mets' fifth starter in the spring.

So there you have it, bad luck, a missing ligament, and a wild attempt to salvage a career. Sounds a lot like the story of R.A. Dickey.