New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, a name that is synonymous with a knuckleball, was cemented into baseball history on Nov 14. Dickey became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in the sport’s long history. He also became the third oldest player to win the award at the age of 37. Dickey posted a career best 20 wins, with a 2.73 era and a stellar 230 strikeouts. He led the league in strikeouts, while coming close to being first in wins and era. Winning 20 games on a losing team is a phenomenal feat within itself. Dickey pitched five complete games, with three shutouts, which included back-to-back one-hitters and a stretch of 44 one-third consecutive scoreless innings, coming close to Orel Hershiser’s span of 59 consecutive scoreless innings. This is particularly interesting because Orel Hershiser and Buck Showalter were the people who reinvented R.A. Dickey, as they turned him from a less than mediocre sinkerball pitcher, into a reinvigorated knuckleball pitcher. However, the knuckleball wasn’t always the dominant weapon it is today. In fact, in Dickey’s first major league appearance with the knuckleball, he let up a whopping six homeruns to the Tigers. This put Dickey’s major league career in serious jeopardy, leaving many to question if he belonged in the majors. However, Dickey remained resilient, sticking with the pitch, working on it day in and day out in the off season.
Dickey was a journeyman, which in baseball refers to a player who remains in the minors for an extended period of time, traveling from different levels, where it is seldom a player in this circumstance makes it to the top echelon in the majors.
However, he was resilient, never giving up, and he gives credit to his wife for allowing him to continue his dream. Dickey started out as a top prospect coming out of the University of Tennessee, where he earned the reputation of a flame thrower, topping out at 95mph. He was later drafted in the first round, with the 18th overall pick, which is a supreme honor. He had an initial $810,000 signing bonus offer, which was later nullified when a picture of him playing for team U.S.A on the cover of Baseball America revealed an awkward positioning of his arm. The Rangers made him take a trip to the doctor, where it was discovered he was missing an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The Rangers subsequently revoked the offer, but later made a new offer of $75,000. After signing with the Rangers, Dickey was up and down AA, AAA, and the Majors. His arsenal of pitches was just average compared to the rest of the major leaguers; he wasn’t good enough at the time to make a substantial impact and be guaranteed a spot in the majors. His repertoire of pitches consisted of a high 80’s fastball, a sinkerball (his main pitch at the time), a curveball and a forkball. Later, Dickey would find out that his forkball was actually a hard knuckleball, which prompted Buck Showalter and Orel Hershiser to have Dickey reform his style of pitching. They suggested that he throw at least 80 percent of his pitches as knuckleballs, which was a challenge for Dickey because he was not used to this. The Rangers organization sent Dickey down to work on the pitch in Triple A ball, where he grew familiar with the pitch, eventually getting a better feel for it. With guidance provided by prestigious knuckleball pitchers Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield, he was able to get various perspectives on the knuckleball. He was then cut by the Rangers in 2006, and subsequently signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, not making it up to the majors in 2007. However, he had such a good year in Triple A in 2007 that he was offered a chance to play for the Seattle Mariners. He was cut by them at the end of the year, which opened the door for him to sign with the Minnesota Twins. After a short stint with the Twins, he was once again cut, which led the Mets to finding their diamond in the rough. The Mets signed him in 2010, as he put up two solid years for them in 2010 and 2011, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he found his groove.
Dickey was able to constantly throw strikes with one of the hardest pitches to control, resulting in an excessive amount of strikeouts. Dickey’s pitch is unique because he throws the knuckleball harder than anyone has thrown before. His knuckleball sits at around 85 mph, while he can mix in an average fastball that will throw hitters off.
Dickey’s amazing journey through hard work and perseverance, combined with his remarkable year, has earned him the ultimate pitcher’s honor, the Cy Young Award.
Evan Smith is a third year student majoring in political science with a minor in communication studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.