I remember the details. I’ve always been able to remember details. I will never be a Hall of Famer and will never lead the league in strikeouts, and am in no imminent danger of joining the 300 Victory Club.
-“Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity, And The Perfect Knuckleball” by R.A. Dickey
Robert Allen Dickey became the first knuckleball pitcher to capture a Cy Young award in the history of Major League Baseball tonight at 38 years old. Let that settle in for a minute.
On January 5th, 2010, R.A Dickey signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets with an invitation to spring training. Omar Minaya, having been a longtime fan of the knuckler, signed Dickey with the intent of providing pitching depth in Buffalo while also looking to acquire a mentor of sorts to current pitching prospects. Upon his arrival in Port St. Lucie to begin spring training, his knuckler failed to impress and he became the first cut from major league camp. At 35 years old, there was little reason to believe that Dickey would be anything other than a footnote in the history of the organization. His fastball didn’t touch 90, his secondaries weren’t all that sharp, and his go-to pitch wasn’t effective.
Many veteran players would often call it a day if they were dealt the same hand Dickey had been subjected to. The Mets were now his 5th organization, and having been in professional baseball since 1996, the stars weren’t exactly aligning. Never one to quit, Dickey used the cut as motivation toward perfecting an imperfect pitch. It wasn’t long until Dickey took the mound in front of a sparse crowd in Buffalo on April 29th, 2010, and pitched the game of his career until that point: After allowing a leadoff single, Dickey retired 27 batters in a row en route to a 1-hit shutout. On May 19th, less than one month later, Dickey would depart Buffalo never to return. Making his Mets debut, Dickey earned the admiration of fans as a pitcher who could be the butt of a joke, but a solid placeholder until John Maine or Oliver Perez returned to some kind of form. His debut performance was exemplary of everything that Dickey would become: The 35-year old battled against the Washington Nationals to pitch 6 innings of 2-run ball, ultimately earning a no decision. Dickey made a spectacular defensive play, diving toward home plate to catch a ball in an effort that has become typical of Dickey.
Dickey wouldn’t return to the minor leagues in 2010, experiencing a career renaissance. He would proceed to make 26 starts the rest of the season, earning 11 wins and pitching to an astonishing 2.84 ERA. All the more impressive was his walk rate: He managed to control the knuckler better than he ever had, allowing 2.2 BB/9, compared to his previous career best 2.8 before he had begun to exclusively use the knuckler.
In 2011, Dickey performed exceptionally once more when faced with tremendous odds: Early in the season, Dickey had hurt his foot in Chicago. While he was largely unable to run, Dickey refused to be put on the disabled list, looking to give the Mets the best value for their dollar. He showed the type of loyalty to the organization that Mets fans admire the most. Dickey was becoming a true member of the blue and orange nation, but perhaps nothing could have prepared the baseball world for what was to come in 2012.
The question with Dickey has been one that has surrounded knuckleballers for decades: With a pitch that’s so difficult to control and largely dependent on what happens once it leaves the pitcher’s hand, is it possible to have a sustainably successful career? Dickey wiped any doubt away from the skeptics, not only showing masterful command of his go-to pitch, but dominating the league in a fashion that most traditional pitchers never are ever able to. Dickey set the Mets record for consecutive scoreless innings without allowing an earned run, pitched consecutive one-hitters, and did what he said he couldn’t do: Led the league in strikeouts. By one. Defeating the reigning Cy Young award winning Clayton Kershaw to cap a magical season.
The doubts of Dickey’s health coming off of his ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro blasted away, Dickey defied all odds. The now 38-year old knuckler pitched a historic season that was capped off tonight when the BBWAA awarded him with the Cy Young Award.
The award means much more to Mets fans: Dickey has by and large been as big a part of the fan base since he arrived here as any player in Mets history. When Dickey notched his 20th victory of the season, his appreciation for Mets fans poured out as the chants of “R.A Dickey” showered him. He represents everything that New Yorkers look to get behind: An underdog who came from the brink of death to conquer all odds and become a master of his domain. A humanitarian who has truly admirable intentions, a husband, and a father of two. Just don’t say he’s perfect, because he’ll be the first to tell you he’s not.
Although R.A Dickey’s future with the organization hangs in the balance this offseason, the story of his ascent to becoming the best pitcher in the National League is a story that has Hollywood salivating. Even more than that, his significance to the Mets can’t be understated: He’s the type of player that Mets fans love, the type of attitude that’s easy to get behind, and a bright light hanging in a dark tunnel. Throughout all of the rough times Mets fans have encountered over the past several years, Dickey is among the reasons why there’s always a reason to believe.