Talk of the Town: Baseball’s “Cinderella” Man

By
Updated: June 20, 2012
Dickey

He’s been the surprise of the baseball season so far, and a pleasant one for the New York Mets.  Before this year, only hardcore baseball followers had really heard of the journeyman pitcher R. A. Dickey.  But this season a change has occurred and now in mid-June, its easy to say he’s been the best pitcher in baseball this season.

Dickey’s season started out very good as following a win against Pittsburgh on May 22nd, he was 6-1 with a 1.17 WHIP and 3.45 ERA.  But it was the performances that would follow that would turn Dickey’s year from very good, to sensational, making him the talk of the town in New York and around all of baseball.

On May 29th, Dickey threw 7.1 scoreless innings, including 10 strikeouts. Despite the fact that this performance came against the offensively-challenged San Diego Padres, it was the first sign of the change.  Four more wins, 42 strikeouts and 34.1 additional innings without an earned run later, and it seems like baseball has a new ace in the form of R. A. Dickey.  The last run Dickey allowed was when Jose Tabata scored on a sacrifice fly by Andrew McCutchen way back in the 6th inning of that May 22nd game.  For a healthy starting pitcher, making all his regular appearances, to go a full month without giving up never mind just an Earned Run, but a Run at all is remarkable.

37-year old R.A Dickey of the New York Mets faced difficulties that many pitchers encounter when breaking into to the major leagues. Originally drafted in 1996 by the Texas Rangers, Dickey had good stuff, not overpowering though as his fastball topped out in the high 80s, and he only possessed a small repertoire of common pitches.

A missing ligament in his elbow also contributed to his rocky road into the majors, as many felt that due to this impairment, his career would be short-lived and lacklustre. Nonetheless, Dickey debuted in 2001 with the Rangers and bounced up and down between the minors and the big show for the next few years. In 2005, Dickey decided to shake things up knowing that the road he was on would lead to mediocrity at best. He made the choice to alter his forkball and turn it into one of the greatest phenomena in sports – a knuckleball.

Pitchers like Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield had made long and impressive careers out of using the enigmatic pitch, however by the mid to late 2000s, most batters figured out a strategy on how to hit it, making the pitch less effective. Dickey figured that this was likely his last shot at making an impact on the game.

In 2006, the Rangers added Dickey to their starting rotation, putting faith in his knuckleball. On April 6, Dickey tied a major league record in his first start. Unfortunately it was the most home runs surrendered in a game with 6. Another trip to the minors followed, and though Dickey was able to have success there, subsequent stints with Milwaukee, Seattle and Minnesota demonstrated that his trend of migrating from AAA to the majors would likely continue until he decided to call it a career.

In addition to his professional struggles, Dickey was also riddled with personal issues that made his baseball troubles seem minor.  Dickey as a child, tragically like so many other children, was sexually abused. At the age of 8 after his parents had divorced, Dickey was molested by his 13-year old babysitter, an atrocity that would continue over the next three months. Dickey was also victimized by a teenage boy that same year. In a recent interview, Dickey described feelings of fear and worthlessness stemming from the abuse which he repressed and tried to ignore by focusing on sports.

He carried this pain with him into his thirties and into his patchy professional career until marital issues caused him to admit, for the first time, his battle with the past and seek psychological treatment. After releasing the weight he had carried for so long and with the help of a near-death experience attempting to swim across the Missouri River, Dickey was revitalized and ready to take on baseball once again full force.

In May of 2010, at the age of 35, Dickey received another “final chance” with the Mets. After another impressive run in AAA, the Mets purchased Dickey’s contract from their AAA affiliate Buffalo Bisons and handed him the ball for a start against the Washington Nationals. Dickey would throw a quality start and continue to improve throughout the year, not only remaining in the big leagues but finishing with 11 wins and an MLB top-ten ERA of 2.84.

In 2011, Dickey’s numbers were not as impressive as the previous year, but still good enough to earn him a two-year contract worth $7.5 million.

So far, the 2012 season has been incredible for Dickey.  13 of his 14 starts this year have been quality ones, he is tied for the major league lead in ERA at an even 2.00 and strikeouts with 103, and he leads the majors in wins with 11 and WHIP at 0.89. He’s thrown two complete game shutouts (both one-hitters) and is currently riding a streak of 43 consecutive innings without surrendering an earned run. Though it is still early, Dickey is on pace for a Cy Young season and his streak is the talk of baseball.

R.A. Dickey has conquered a great deal of adversity and his current success is a testament to his hard work and strong spirit. Though the memories of his childhood will remain with him forever, he was able to confront them and not let them take over his life. I sincerely hope that he continues his great run and his knuckleball continues to baffle major league hitters, I couldn’t be happier to have him on my team.

…and that is the Last Word.

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