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R.A. - The One That Got Away

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Size:  30.8 KBOn Thursday afternoon, R.A. Dickey tossed 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball for the Mets in a win over the first-place Nationals. The victory moved the knuckleballer's record to 9-1 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.44. Holding opponents to a .225 average and sporting a dazzling 78-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 81 innings, Dickey has to be considered a Cy Young front-runner in the National League, and he might start the All-Star Game.

This is the best we've ever seen from the 37-year-old right-hander, but his effectiveness is nothing new. During his first two seasons with the Mets after joining up in 2010, he posted a 3.08 ERA over 383 innings. This after spending most of the first 14 years of his career struggling to stay in the majors. That included a stop in Minnesota his last stop before turning into a steady rotation anchor for the Mets.

Dickey is one of the most fascinating stories in today's game, for various reasons. He's a born-again Christian and philanthropist. He doesn't have an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing elbow, yet still managed to be come a first-round draft pick in 1996. He recently climbed Mt. Kiliminjaro, along with his friend (and local media punching bag) Kevin Slowey. He also recently published a book in which he bravely details, among other things, his battle to overcome sexual abuse as a child.

As a human interest story subject, you won't find many better. And the tale of Dickey's baseball career holds plenty of intrigue too.

After failing to find much success as a conventional starter in his first decade as a pro, he became a full-time knuckleballer in 2006 with the Rangers. The process of completely overhauling his style as a pitcher, and learning to master a pitch that few in the sport's history have been able to effectively harness, was slow and fraught with turbulence. In his first start for Texas in '06, he gave up six home runs.

The Rangers quickly bailed on the experiment, but clearly there were plenty of clubs that saw something in Dickey. He went through stints in the Milwaukee and Seattle organizations before latching on with the Twins in 2009.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson spoke excitedly about the acquisition that year:

"You know what's neat about him? He's a knuckleballer, but he's got enough fastball to get people out, or use when he's behind in the count. He threw a changeup to strike a guy out the other night. He has weapons."
These are all attributes that have helped Dickey become a force in the Mets rotation, and the Twins deserve credit for recognizing them at the time.

They also may deserve criticism for failing to move him along. Was it a bad coaching approach that kept the righty from turning the corner in Minnesota? Was it the decision to use him almost exclusively as a reliever rather than have him start? Or should the Twins have simply been more patient and given him additional time to harness the knuckler and refine his command, instead of dropping him after one forgettable season?

I'm not sure there are any lessons to be taken from this situation. Dickey is a unique case. And while it's unfortunate that he couldn't find this success with the Twins, he's still a fun guy to root for, and along with his co-ace Johan Santana he makes it easy for fans in Minnesota to get behind the underdog Mets in the NL East.
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