The knuckleball is a pitch that minimizes spin on the baseball, which results in a slow, unpredictable path to home plate that nobody can anticipate. It is common for knuckleballs to change direction or corkscrew in mid-air, further confusing batters, as well as umpires who must call pitches as strikes or balls. The pitch’s slow speed and erratic nature make it difficult for pitchers to control, almost assuring that a knuckleball will get blasted into the bleachers by anyone who hits it. Understandably, pitchers have gradually phased out this pitch over time because of its undeniably high risk, but one of the last knuckleballers in Major League Baseball, New York Mets’ ace pitcher R.A. Dickey, has tamed this wild pitch. Ever since the then-35-year-old Dickey’s 2010 signing by the New York Mets, the knuckleballer has won 39 games, posted an incredibly low earned run average (ERA) of 2.95, and struck out 6.8 batters per every 9 innings. The 2012 All-Star has become a household name among fans, but Dickey’s journey from anonymity to success is one filled with depression and despair.
According to MLB.com writer Anthony DiComo, seven years ago Dickey began to write painful stories from his past and planned to compile them all into an autobiography. The anguish of re-living those memories prevented Dickey from adding to those initial stories for some time. However, after courageously venturing deep into his heart to write again, Dickey released his own autobiography titled Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball on March 29, 2012. The book discloses Dickey’s struggles, including a struggle with suicidal thoughts as well as an extramarital affair, but the secrets the 37-year old did not disclose until he was 31 were considered his most horrifying. Dickey was consistently sexually abused as a child. The autobiography reveals that Dickey suffered sexual abuse from his babysitter at least four times as an eight year old inside his home, while both his mother and his babysitter’s mother were there. In that same summer, a 17-year-old boy further sexually abused him. Because Dickey decided to stay quiet for decades, he never fully put those events behind him and the neuroticism in him kept manifesting finally culminating in his marital infidelity and a desire to end his own life. According to the 2012 National League strikeout leader, “shame and fear and loneliness” prevented him from sharing his unfortunate experiences. After admitting the book was partially written to show people the good that comes from sharing bad experiences, Dickey realized that, had he shared his past much earlier, “things might have ended up differently.”
Long Road to Success
Dickey’s baseball career actually began nearly two decades ago when the Texas Rangers decided to gamble on him with their 19th overall selection in the 1996 Major League Baseball Draft. After spending five years in the Rangers’ farm system – a series of semi-pro teams that develop players – Dickey got his shot with the Texas Rangers in 2001but failed to stand out. He faded back into obscurity until he won four of his first five starts in 2004. Even with the fresh start, Dickey still ended his 2004 season with an awful 5.61 ERA and 6-7 record. Up until this point in his career, Dickey’s weak pitching arsenal included a relatively slow fastball, a poorly controlled breaking ball, and “The Thing”, his forkball pitch. Knowing that he needed a killer pitch to escape the bowels of baseball mediocrity, “The Thing”, was the pitch that evolved into Dickey’s special knuckleball pitch. Unfortunately, that new knuckleball failed miserably in his first start with the Rangers on April 6, 2006 when he allowed 6 home runs and was subsequently demoted back to the farm system.
Between 2006 and 2009, Dickey was passed around like a hot potato by the Rangers, Brewers, Twins and Mariners due to his lack of success on the pitcher’s mound. However, upon signing with the New York Mets in 2010, Dickey seemed to finally get his bearings. He posted career high numbers in strikeouts (104), wins (11), batting average allowed (.252) and earned run average (2.84) in his first season with the Mets. After receiving a new, lengthier, heftier contract from the organization, Dickey continued to pile up the strikeouts and established a new career high for himself with 134 strikeouts in 2011. Impressively, he continued to improve in 2012 and had arguably the most dominant string of pitching performances from April to June in MLB history.
Foundation of Faith
R.A. Dickey’s highly improbable turnaround is rooted in his deep faith in God and an abundance of patience. The right-handed pitcher accepted Christ as a 13-year old boy and, even after achieving fame and wealth, serves others who are less fortunate through a ministry he helps to run. The Ocala, Florida-based ministry, named Honoring the Father Ministries, sends medical and baseball supplies to Latin American nations. In January 2012, Dickey climbed the 19,341 feet tall Mount Kilimanjaro to draw awareness to human trafficking in India. The climb also raised support for “Bombay Teen Challenge”, a ministry in the middle of the Indian red-light districts that serves human trafficking victims and their children.
Dickey’s life on and off the mound has featured extreme peaks and valleys. However, in a recent interview with TheGoal.com, the 2012 Branch Rickey Award winning Christian philanthropist states, “God does not promise you will never again experience trials.” Dickey continues with a paraphrase of Romans 5:3-5 which says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”