(Long Island, N.Y.) When it comes to refusing to throw in the towel, there aren’t too many better candidates than R.A. Dickey. The 37-year-old has become the talk of the baseball season and not only for the New York Mets, but throughout the entire league. The 11-1 record, 2.00 ERA and two consecutive one-hitters aside, the right-hander has been to the brink and back. Just to have a job as a Major League pitcher would have been impressive enough, but he has taken it to a whole different level in his 10th season.
To say that the Mets found Dickey on the scrap heap is putting it kindly; this guy’s career was more than derailed and perhaps the team looking for inexpensive arms to eat up innings in 2010 was just what he – and they – needed.
When the Texas Rangers selected Dickey in the first round at number 18 in the 1996 draft, they believed that they were bringing in a possible long-term starter that would move up through their minor league system and be counted on every four days. But before he was even signed, team doctors discovered that Dickey was missing his right UCL, a major eyebrow raiser for an athlete who gets paid to throw a baseball fast and accurate.
They rescinded their offer for one approximately one tenth that and Dickey pitched with mixed reactions in the minor leagues. He eventually made it up in 2001 and his ‘arsenal’ of pitches was nothing out of the ordinary. Dickey was very hittable and hovered around the .500 mark in the Rangers’ rotation and bullpen for a few seasons. The knuckleball that would one day make him famous was just starting to be discovered and unwrapped and there were some growing pains to follow.
In 2006, Dickey saw six of his knucklers hit over the fence in his first start of the season and found himself on the next flight to AAA. A low point of his career, yes, but he would have to endure more bad times before things would turn around for him.
He found himself on the unemployment line for the first time when the Rangers let his contract expire without making him an offer and Dickey inked a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Subsequent short stops in Seattle and Minnesota resulted in more subpar records and Dickey had nothing to lose by giving the Mets a shot at a reclamation project with a minor league deal.
Perhaps a sign of things to come, Dickey threw a one-hitter while pitching for Buffalo that first season in the Mets system. He was eventually recalled and had a very impressive year for a weak team (11-9, 2.84 ERA). In 2011, Dickey was once again one of the Mets’ starters and wound up with lower numbers, (8-13, 3.28), but was effective, nonetheless.
So when the current season kicked off, everyone expected more of the same out of the journeyman veteran. A win here, a loss there…nothing that would make the top story on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Dickey was already having a very effective campaign before these two near no-hitters and this just puts him in elite category.
Throughout baseball history, pitchers who have been able to perfect the knuckleball have enjoyed great success with it. The way that Dickey has embraced it has salvaged his career and made him a household name in the past few weeks, something not lost on his manager.
“The guy is just amazing with that pitch,” Terry Collins said to reporters after Dickey’s latest win versus the Baltimore Orioles. “Pitch selection is pretty easy. It’s about command, and the way he commands it is unbelievable.”
No one could have blamed Dickey if he retired a few years ago and went into the private industry somewhere. The guy had a built-in excuse; being born without a major ligament needed to be a pitcher. But that would be too easy. And this guy has never done anything the easy way.