2012 Cy Young Award Winner: R.A. Dickey
CY Young Award Winner
Here’s another great sports story for those of you who root for the underdog and like to see the good guy win every now and then. If you are not familiar with Major League Baseball, R. A. Dickey is a 38 year old pitcher with the New York Mets. Prior to the 2012 season, Dickey had spent the better part of the previous 14 seasons jumping from team to team and in and out of the minor leagues. In Major League baseball, when you get to your thirties and you find yourself still in the minor leagues you know that it’s probably time to start looking for your next career.
During those 14 seasons Dickey won a total of 41 games while losing 50, not exactly stellar numbers for a major league pitcher. But Dickey persevered. In the 2012 season, Dickey had what some consider to be the most amazing turnaround season in the history of the game. He went from a journeyman pitcher in the twilight of his career to winning the prestigious National League CY Young Award, given to the top pitcher in the league as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
To describe R. A. Dickey’s journey as improbable is an understatement. His career actually started with much promise. He was a star player at the University of Tennessee and played on the United States Olympic Baseball team in 1996, winning a bronze medal. Drafted in the first round of the 1996 Major League Baseball draft by the Texas Rangers, Dickey’s career path looked very promising.
But as is the case with many a professional athlete, faith had a different plan for Dickey. Initially offered a signing bonus of $810,000, the Rangers suddenly reduced their offer to just $75,000.
What happened? The story goes that the Rangers team physician happened to notice that Dickey’s pitching arm looked to be hanging in an odd manner. Upon further investigation it was discovered that Dickey was missing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Doctors could not explain how Dickey could be pitching at all, never mind at a major league level.
And so started a decade long struggle that saw Dickey move from the Texas Rangers, to the Seattle Mariners, to the Minnesota Twins, and eventually to the New York Mets in 2010. Along the way, Dickey came to the conclusion that if he was going to make it in the major leagues he would need to reinvent himself. And so, at the beginning of the 2006 season, Dickey decided that the only way to extend his baseball career was to become a knuckleball pitcher.
For a pitcher this is a big deal. To go from throwing the ball at 90 mph to trying to get the ball to flutter across the plate at 60 to 70 mph is a big change. Mastering the art of throwing a knuckleball would certainly be a risky move for the then 32 year old pitcher.
The new look R. A. Dickey had about as much success initially with his new pitch as the old Dickey. Struggling to perfect the knuckleball, team after team gave up on the right hander. In 2010, the New York Mets decided to take a chance on the then 35-year-old Dickey and signed him to a minor league contract with their Triple-A team the Buffalo Bison’s.
Interesting facts about R.A. Dickey
- He is an avid reader?
- Dickey has just published his autobiography titled, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball
- He is the first knuckleballer to win the CY Young award.
- He is the second oldest first-time winner the CY Young award.
- Dickey risked his 2012 salary in order to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
- He threw consecutive one-hitters in 2012.
The Comeback Begins
With the help of current and former knuckleballers Tim Wakefield, Hall of Fame member Phil Niekro, and Charlie Hough, Dickey finally started to find his groove. After performing well for the Mets minor league team, Dickey was called up to the Major Leagues in late May of 2010 and immediately made an impact. Dickey went on to finish the 2010 season with very respectable numbers, which were good enough for the Mets to offer him a two-year contract.
2011 was another solid year for Dickey although he finished with a losing record of 8 wins against 13 losses. Despite the losing record, he posted personal bests in games started, innings pitched, and strikeouts. Dickey’s goal of prolonging his major league career seemed to be working as he now had two solid seasons under his belt with the Mets.
It certainly could be stated that no one saw R. A. Dickey’s 2012 season coming. The Mets were not expected to be contenders and most pundits out there probably expected Dickey to have another solid, yet unspectacular season. The fickleness of throwing the knuckleball combined with Dickey’s age (37) certainly made for expectations to be modest.
At a time when most major league players are wrapping up their careers, R. A. Dickey proceeded to have a storybook season in 2012. He finished the season with a 20-6 record, a 2.73 ERA, and struck out 230 batters in 234 innings, almost one strikeout for every inning pitched. In doing so, he placed his name alongside some of the other great redemption and comeback stories in baseball history.
At a point when most major league players are thinking about retirement or at least seeing their abilities suffer due to age, Dickey had far and away the best season of his career. And to cap it all off he was honored as the CY Young Award winner for the National League.
Off the Field
While R. A. Dickey labored as a relative after thought for most of his baseball career, he has lead a productive and very philanthropic life off of the field for many years. If you listen to his interviews you get a sense that this man is truly grateful for the blessings that have been bestowed on him. A longtime born-again Christian, Dickey is very active in the Honoring the Father Ministries, which provide medical supplies and baseball equipment to poor areas of Latin America. He also supports an organization called the Bombay Teen Challenge that helps to support victims of human trafficking in India.
For winning the CY Young Award and for showing all of us that it’s never to late to blossom in life, we name R. A. Dickey as the November, 2012 Athlete of the Month.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio