Breaking News Bar
posted: 6/23/2012 2:22 PM

There's never been anyone quite like R.A. Dickey

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • At age 37, New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is enjoying a remarkable year, and his tell-all book about the challenges he has faced is even more amazing.

      At age 37, New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is enjoying a remarkable year, and his tell-all book about the challenges he has faced is even more amazing.
    Associated Press

  • New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters. With both a fastball and a knuckleball in the 80s, hitter don't know which to expect from him.

      New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters. With both a fastball and a knuckleball in the 80s, hitter don't know which to expect from him.
    Associated Press

  • Video: R.A. Dickey's story

 
 

When I fall in love with a baseball story, it could be for any number of reasons.

Maybe it's a young phenom such as Mike Trout in Los Angeles, playing with inspiring abandon for the Angels. Maybe it's an outlier such as the Dodgers' A.J. Ellis or the Cubs' Bryan LaHair, players whose age and past say they shouldn't be as good as they are. Maybe there's a biographical angle, as I learn a detail that imbues someone's accomplishment with redemption.

Every once in a while a story comes along that offers four or five or six avenues in for me.

Right now, I can't get enough of Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey's improbable excellence.

Start with the pure baseball of it. There's never been a knuckleballer like him. This is not your Charlie Hough or Tom Candiotti type of lollipop soft-tosser, praying he and the gods combine to keep that thing near the plate.

Dickey throws his version of that mercurial non-spinning pitch hard, usually near 80 mph, and controls it better than anyone ever has.

His knuckler is only a few mph slower than his fastball. Imagine waiting for one and getting the other. But even if you know that knuckler is coming, it dips and darts late in its path, while somehow staying in the strike zone.

The man hasn't thrown a single wild pitch this season.

His outstanding K/9 and K/BB numbers, respectively, stood at 9.4 and 4.90 headed into the weekend. For a knuckleballer, these outrageous first few months are completely unprecedented.

Hoyt Wilhelm had a couple seasons to remember in those categories. Tim Wakefield might have had one worth mentioning. That's it. Not Phil or Joe Niekro, not Wilbur Wood. Not even Eddie Cicotte came close.

Dickey's run of starting pitcher dominance is rivaled, all-time, only by the truly elite.

Through his first 14 starts, Dickey is the fifth pitcher ever to post 11 wins, have an ERA under 2.50, and at least 1 strikeout per inning. The others are Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and pre-arm surgery Francisco Liriano in 2006.

Those were all fireballers, and in their prime. This is a 37-year-old survivalist.

And oh, the survival.

Dickey was drafted 18th overall by the Rangers in 1996, but a discovery was made during his post-draft physical that would change his life. He was born with no ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. That's the ligament that often busts on a pitcher, leading to Tommy John Surgery. Dickey is an athletic freak who doesn't even have one.

The Rangers didn't even want to sign him, but they did, for incredibly low money. Thus began a long odyssey in which he searched for a way to stick around the big leagues, taking him to five teams in 14 seasons before he found success with the Mets in 2010.

I love players, and people, that evolve. The man is a walking underdog story, overcoming physical frailty and professional mediocrity to eventually become great.

Dickey the person has evolved, too.

The author of baseball's most intriguing season is also the author of baseball's most intriguing book of the year. In his autobiography, "Wherever I Wind Up: The Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball," Dickey opens up bravely. He reveals a troubled youth of sexual abuse, a young adulthood fighting suicidal feelings, and a maturation highlighted by finding God and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

How do you not root for a guy like this? It's like a Bill Stern sports tale on your father's radio in the 1940s.

R.A. Dickey's story is the best of the year, even if it all comes crashing down tomorrow.

But I bet, and hope, it won't.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM, and The Score's "Hit and Run" at 9 a.m. Sundays with his Daily Herald colleague, Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670. Matt thinks a runner trying to score from first on a double into the gap is the most exciting play in baseball.

Share this page
Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.
    help here