Dickey's entrance is warmly embraced

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2012 - 11:34 AM

Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has traveled a bumpy road on the way to becoming an All-Star.

KANSAS CITY, MO. - During baseball's annual All-Star Red Carpet Show on Tuesday, players will parade toward Kauffman Stadium in shiny pickup trucks and convertibles.

R.A. Dickey should coast in, riding a bike.

That's how the Mets knuckleball artist often traveled to the ballpark during his 14-year minor-league career. He rode a bicycle to Rangers Ballpark on April 6, 2006, the day he matched a major league record by giving up six home runs.

His journey -- from that season when he almost lost his marriage and contemplated suicide, through his truncated 2009 season with the Twins -- is quite a tale. Dickey, 37, who majored in English at Tennessee, details the highs and lows in his bestselling memoir, "Wherever I Wind Up."

If you're not into long-form reading, here's how Dickey sums himself up on his Twitter page (@RADickey43): "Father, Husband, Christian, Pitcher, Author, Adventurer, Star Wars Nerd, Reader, Ninja in Training & Cyclist."

Last winter, he successfully scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, reaching the 19,000-foot peak with former Twins teammate Kevin Slowey in a climb that raised $100,000 to help curtail human trafficking in India.

Dickey was the talk of baseball again Monday, when National League manager Tony La Russa picked Matt Cain to start the All-Star Game, even though Dickey is 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA.

"I'm not going to break down in tears over it," said Dickey, a first-time All-Star. "But at the same time, I'm a competitor. I want to pitch."

Fresh air

His entrance will be highly anticipated whenever it comes. Dickey is anything but conventional, and he's exactly what the All-Star Game needs. For so many, the passion has disappeared. Long gone are the days when Pete Rose would barrel over Ray Fosse to score the winning run.

Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement requires players to attend the event if they're selected. Nobody had to twist Dickey's arm. His wife, Anne, and their four children made the trip, too.

"They're all excited about the parade tomorrow and coming to the Home Run Derby," he said. "You know, they get it. And to play long enough where your kids get it, that's a big deal."

Dickey grew up poor, in Nashville, Tenn., where his parents divorced. He has vivid memories of riding in his mother's Chevy Vega, which "had a 50 percent chance of starting any given day," he writes in his book.

He felt like he'd won the lottery in 1996, when the Rangers made him a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee (No. 18 overall) and offered him a $810,000 signing bonus. Dickey was ready to sign, when the Rangers discovered that he didn't have an ulnar collateral ligament -- the ligament that is reconstructed during Tommy John surgery -- in his right elbow.

The team rescinded its initial offer and eventually signed him for $75,000. He never quit pinching pennies, sleeping in cheap hotels, biking to ballparks.

Long way down

After reaching the majors briefly in 2001, Dickey spent the next year in the minors and contemplated retirement, wondering if this was the best way to support his family.

By 2005, Dickey had posted a 5.47 ERA in 67 major league games, including 28 starts as a conventional pitcher. That's when the Rangers, led by then-manager Buck Showalter, convinced him to be a knuckleballer.

If it was that simple, every pitcher on the bubble would try mastering this tantalizing pitch. When thrown right, with two fingernails poking the horsehide, the ball emerges from the hand with no spin, veering way off course just before it reaches home plate.

Many pitchers play around with the knuckleball, but most find it nearly impossible to throw for strikes.

"It's almost like trying to make a righthanded hitter a switch hitter in the middle of his career," Dickey said.

Dickey poured himself into the project, making pilgrimages to see such knuckleball masters as Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield and Phil Niekro, and practicing by himself with thousands of pitches against concrete walls.

By 2006, after that six-homer debacle, Dickey's life reached a low point. Anne was eight month's pregnant with their third child, when she ordered him to come home from Class AAA Oklahoma. Dickey had been cheating on her.

"I am a hypocrite, a man who masquerades as a devout Christian who has betrayed his wife and God," Dickey writes in his book. "My self-esteem is so low, it doesn't even have a reading."

Dickey reluctantly began seeing a therapist and finally opened up about things he'd never told anyone, even his wife. When he was an 8-year-old boy, he was repeatedly molested by a 13-year-old female babysitter. That same summer, he was raped by an older boy. Therapy helped him unbottle those emotions. The more healing he did as a person, the more he gained mastery over his new pitch.

The road back

Dickey landed with the Twins in 2009 and had an effective eight-week stretch, from early May to late June, posting a 0.61 ERA in 29 1/3 innings of relief.

"We figured he was our ace in the hole because he could throw every day," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "He could throw five innings tonight, five innings tomorrow because that's a pitch that doesn't take anything out of your arm."

But Dickey posted a 9.28 ERA in his final 13 appearances for the Twins. They sent him to Class AAA Rochester in early August to clear a 25-man roster spot for Carl Pavano. Weeks later, they designated Dickey for assignment, clearing room on the 40-man roster for lefthanded reliever Ron Mahay.

Those moves might look short-sighted now, but the Twins' starting pitching cupboard wasn't nearly as bare that year, as they returned to the postseason. In his book, Dickey writes that he hadn't done enough to gain the baseball establishment's trust, pitching "like Mr. Dependable one night and Lady Gaga the next."

He finally found stability with the Mets, going 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA in 2010 and earning a two-year, $7.8 million contract. That deal will expire this fall, setting him up to make tens of millions more.

What makes Dickey unique is how hard he throws the knuckleball, up to 80 miles per hour, which is about 5-mph harder than Wakefield and others have thrown it. Dickey can change speeds and location. The results have been stupefying. He had a 42-inning scoreless streak at one point and threw back-to-back one-hitters.

Cain is 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA and tossed a perfect game last month. La Russa said he wanted to pair him with starting catcher Buster Posey, his Giants teammate. La Russa hinted that Dickey would enter midgame, starting a fresh inning with backup catcher Carlos Ruiz, who'd have time to warm up with him in the bullpen.

Bob Uecker once said the best way to catch a knuckleball was to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up. But Dickey, who carries an oversized mitt that he's happy to lend to any battery mate, believes the catcher comfort angle is "overwrought."

He points to his statistics. He's had one wild pitch all season. He has 26 walks and 123 strikeouts in 120 innings.

"Henry Blanco can roll out of bed and catch me with chopsticks," Dickey said. "It depends totally on the guy."

Twins catcher Joe Mauer admits it was challenging catching Dickey at times, especially when there were runners on base, but he respects the way Dickey worked to hone his craft.

"I'm really happy for him," Mauer said. "He's one guy I'm looking forward to seeing [at the All-Star Game]."

Legions of baseball fans feel the same way.

  • 83RD ALL-STAR GAME

    6:30 p.m. Tuesday • Kauffman Stadium • Kansas City • TV: Ch. 9

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Atlanta 6:00 PM
Cleveland
Phoenix 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Dallas 6:30 PM
Detroit
Utah 6:30 PM
Miami
Orlando 6:30 PM
Boston
Brooklyn 7:00 PM
Toronto
Memphis 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Portland
Houston 9:30 PM
Denver
Indiana 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Ottawa 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Boston 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Dallas 9:00 PM
Vancouver
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 6:00 PM
Ball State
SIU Edwardsville 6:00 PM
Campbell
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Duquesne
North Florida 6:00 PM
Florida State
Catawba 6:00 PM
George Mason
Ferrum 6:00 PM
High Point
Hampton 6:00 PM
Illinois
Gardner-Webb 6:00 PM
Jacksonville
Longwood 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
Arkansas State 6:00 PM
Miss State
Tennessee 6:00 PM
NC State
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Manhattan 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Robert Morris 6:00 PM
Toledo
Char Southern 6:00 PM
Wofford
Kennesaw St 6:00 PM
Youngstown St
Barber-Scotia 6:00 PM
NC Central
Detroit 6:30 PM
UCF
Liberty 6:30 PM
UNC-Wilmington
TX A&M-CC 7:00 PM
Denver
Ark-Pine Bluff 7:00 PM
Houston
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Illinois State
Milligan 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Abilene Christian 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago
USC Upstate 7:00 PM
Memphis
Alcorn State 7:00 PM
Murray State
Central Mich 7:00 PM
Northwestern
Georgia State 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
TX-Pan American 7:00 PM
Saint Louis
Ill-Chicago 7:00 PM
SMU
Texas State 7:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
SC State 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
Missouri State 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Chicago State 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Morehead State 7:00 PM
Green Bay
Northern Colorado 7:00 PM
Nebraska Omaha
Winthrop 8:00 PM
Auburn
New Mexico St 8:00 PM
Baylor
San Diego St 8:00 PM
Cincinnati
Eastern Mich 8:00 PM
Michigan State
Loyola Marymount 8:00 PM
Stanford
Incarnate Word 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Northeastern 9:00 PM
Cal Poly
Central Arkansas 9:00 PM
New Mexico
Howard 9:00 PM
Pepperdine
Portland 9:30 PM
UNLV
CS-Northridge 10:00 PM
Oregon
Grambling St 10:00 PM
Washington
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 54 1st OT 4:43
Seattle 56
(7) Stanford 28 2nd Half 20:00
Chattanooga 29
Florida A&M 12 1st Half 9:56
Southern U 20
Oklahoma 15 1st Half 12:42
(13) Duke 16
Savannah State 11 1st Half 12:45
Auburn 18
Northern Colorado 6:00 PM
South Florida
Youngstown St 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
Siena 6:00 PM
Sacred Heart
Vermont 6:00 PM
St Francis-NY
(1) South Carolina 6:00 PM
Hampton
Fla Gulf Coast 6:00 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Texas Southern 6:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Northwestern 6:00 PM
UNLV
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Appalachian St
NC Central 6:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Drexel 6:00 PM
Quinnipiac
Cincinnati 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Alabama State 6:00 PM
Georgia Tech
Morehead St 6:00 PM
USC Upstate
Arkansas State 6:00 PM
Kent State
American Univ 6:00 PM
Manhattan
UNC Greensboro 6:00 PM
St Bonaventure
Arkansas-Monticello 6:30 PM
Northwestern St
Prairie View 6:30 PM
Sam Houston St
McNeese State 7:00 PM
(3) Texas
Yale 7:00 PM
Wagner
Oakland 7:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
Eastern Kentucky 7:00 PM
Alabama A&M
SIU-Edwardsville 7:00 PM
Northern Ill
McMurry 7:00 PM
TX-Arlington
Portland 8:00 PM
Eastern Washington
North Texas 9:00 PM
San Francisco
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Do you like the Ervin Santana signing by the Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close