In what has become a disaster of a Mets season after so much promise in June, R.A. Dickey remains a highlight and perhaps the most inspirational story to come from on-field performances in this baseball season.
Dickey’s story has been well-told: born without (or perhaps it atrophied as a youngster) an ulnar collateral ligament — the primary tissue that stabilizes the elbow — in his pitching arm, he shouldn’t be able to turn a doorknob without pain, let alone pitch.
He was drafted out of college by the Texas Rangers, but a team doctor discovered the oddity in his arm, and the team downgraded a promised $800K offer to $75 grand.
After wandering through the majors and minors and through several organizations for more than a decade — the very definition of a journeyman — Dickey has found success in his first season with the Mets this year by mastering the unpredictable knuckleball, a pitch so rarely used that only two Major League hurlers use is as a primary weapon (Dickey and Boston’s Tim Wakefield). Dickey is doing this at 35, an age when most professional ballplayers are in their decline stage (though some top-level pitchers do throw into their 40s, as do many knuckleballers).
Oh, and by the way, in the world of monosyllabic jock quotes, Dickey was an English major in college, is an avid reader, and is a thoughtful quote.
But what continues to strike me, and what gives me inspiration as a 38-year-old former English major with what feels like a stalled career and little understanding of what to do about it, is R.A. Dickey’s attitude about his own career, which saw such promise (and promise of riches) turn to a kind of professional wandering in the desert, and then to an eventual career reboot that is well on the way to redemption.
As he told the New York Times in 2008 (while still working on, but not yet perfecting, that knuckleball):
“‘Imagine winning the lottery and then losing the ticket,’ said Dickey, who signed with the Rangers because he assumed no team would give him a chance again. He reported to the minor leagues knowing that precious little was keeping his elbow together, that each day pitching could be his last.
“‘Every day I had to decide whether I was going to be bitter, if I was going to be that guy — woe is me, you know?’ Dickey said. ‘I had to choose every day to be the other guy.’”
Or, as Keith Hernandez said in the Mets’ SNY broadcast earlier tonight (in a bit of coincidental and unfortunate timing, just before Dickey gave up a game-tying home run), Dickey’s career was “in the depths of Mordor,” and now he is a candidate for comeback player of the year.
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