Sunday, January 20, 2013

R. A. Dickey

Sometimes this is a baseball blog. I'm a Bay Area fan and root for the SF Giants, but being months into the offseason I'm longing for some baseball. So my baseball-crazy children's editor sister, Lucia Monfried, suggested we honor the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner, who pitches on that "other" coast.
R. A. Dickey celebrating a victory

Lucia, recently featured in The New Yorker as R. A. Dickey's editor, Dickey Pitches a Book, wrote this guest post which starts below. It is brought to you from New York City, where there is much celebration at the announcement of this year's winner, R. A. Dickey.

      Dickey is heading to Toronto for the coming season, but he won the award as  a New York Met. George Veesey, a New York Times sportswriter, called him "the coolest athlete I know." And I agree—R.A. you rock! Or should I say, you wobble.

     The pitch that Dickey throws is the maddening knuckleball, a notoriously difficult pitch to hit, and just as hard for a pitcher to master. He is the only major leaguer today whose primary pitch is the knuckleball. And unlike any other knuckleball pitcher, he has two different pitches. There is his mid-70 mph knuckleball that he pitches most of the time, and then there is his power knuckler that creeps into the 80's. This is the first time that the Cy Young has bean bestowed upon a knuckleballer.

     Even though he had the most outstanding numbers at mid season (12-1 with just 32 earned runs allowed), Dickey was not NL manager Tony LaRussa's starter in the All Star game. As hard as this pitch is to hit, it's just as hard to catch. Maybe LaRussa wanted to spare his catcher the embarrassment of trying to corral the elusive floater.

Dickey demonstrates his knuckleball grip
     So this is what you need to know about the knuckleball: it's not the fastball; it's not the high heat, the gas, the hummer, the speed, the heater that whizzes in at 100 mph; it's not Roger Clemens' splitter that breaks at the knees and ends up in the dirt, not the big curve of Barry Zito, not Mariano Rivera's cutter. A knuckleball has no spin—it flutters, wobbles and ties hitters in knots. It makes them look ridiculous. And many hitters looked ridiculous this year when Dickey pitched.

     Despite the overwhelming numbers, I still had my doubts that R.A. could win. America loves the fire-thrower, not the dinker, the soft-thrower. But besides the stats, Dickey also has a great story. A true original, he reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher. And it wasn't easy. At age 38, he is old for a ball player, old to be at the top of his game. But I love him because in addition to being a true original, he is literate and thoughtful. He uses words like "acumen," "metamorphosis," and "cogitate." He keeps a journal; he had a library on the top shelf of his locker and distributed books around the Mets' clubhouse. He names his bats after swords in fantasy books and is an admitted Star Wars nerd.
Dickey pointing at Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance
     He climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise awareness of sex trafficking in India. His climb raised over $100,000 for the Bombay Team Challenge.

     He rides his bike to the spring training field in Florida. He believes in reading to children and works to promote literacy.
R.A. reading to one of his four children in his Nashville home
  Dickey is humble—in his comments after the announcement, he said he shared the award with knuckleballers who had gone before him. Speaking of the voters, he said: "They didn't see the knuckleball as a trick pitch. They didn't see it as some kind of illegitimate weapon that you can use that isn't worthy. They saw it as a legitimate weapon. It has one purpose, and that's to get big-league hitters out brings a real degree of legitimacy to the knuckleball fraternity. I'm glad to represent them, and I'm certainly grateful for all of those guys."
R.A. generously signing autographs for kids after a game

   To learn more about the knuckleball, I recommend a new documentary, just out, called Knuckleball. It features R.A., recently retired Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. Also, check out his recently published memoir titled Wherever I Wind Up: My quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball. He also has a deal with Dial Press, a division of Penguin Books, to write three children's books including an adaptation of his memoir for young-adults.

   To honor him for receiving the prestigious Cy Young award on January 19th, let's raise a glass of bubbly to R.A. Dickey and his wobbly, bobbly pitch!


  1. I like your sister Lucia's writing. She seems like a die-hard Mets fan. Does she ever root for the Yankees? Does Green Bin like junk balls?
    Just wondering...

    1. I sense some sarcasm here! Just for the record, Lucia is a fanatical fan of the YANKEEs. And my Green Bin calls them Knuckleballs and would love to catch one thrown by R A.