R.A. Dickey

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Robert Allen Dickey

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Biographical Information[edit]

R.A. Dickey was a star pitcher at the University of Tennessee and won a bronze medal for the United States at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He was 1-0 with a 2.51 ERA as Team USA's ace in the 1994 Baseball World Cup but walked 8 in 14 1/3 IP.

After they drafted Dickey in the first round of the 1996 amateur draft, the Texas Rangers' medical staff discovered that he was missing a crucial tendon in his throwing elbow, and that it was unexplainable that he could pitch at any level with such a condition. They offered him only a nominal contract, fully expecting that he would break down in short order. However, his arm held up and he managed to reach the major leagues in 2001. He was a regular member of the team's pitching staff in 2003 and 2004 as a swingman, although he never managed to post an ERA under 5.00. He began to experiment with throwing a knuckleball after that. He made the Rangers' staff at the beginning of 2006 but in his sole appearance on the mound on April 6th, he gave up 6 home runs, one less than Charlie Sweeney's all-time record, to earn a ticket back to AAA.

Dickey made the 2007 Pacific Coast League All-Star team as the top right-handed starting pitcher. He went 13-6, 3.72, in 31 games for the Nashville Sounds during the season and was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 2007 Rule V Draft. He returned to the major leagues on April 14th, pitching a game in relief for the Mariners that day before making a losing start in place of Erik Bedard against the Los Angeles Angels on April 18th. He was sent back to the Tacoma Rainiers on April 22nd when J.J. Putz came off the disabled list.

Dickey became the 5th major league pitcher to throw four wild pitches in one inning, when he did so on August 17, 2008; two of the pitches scored runners in a 11-8 loss to the Minnesota Twins. Kenji Johjima also had a passed ball on one of Dickey's knuckleballs.

In 2010, Dickey emerged as a quality pitcher in his first season with the New York Mets. He went 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA in 174.1 innings. He set career highs in starts, innings, wins, and strikeouts, and his ERA was more than a run and a half lower than in any other season. He had another good year in 2011, pitching over 200 innings for the first time, with a 3.28 ERA, but lack of support meant he finished the year with only an 8-13 win/loss record.

After the 2011 season, he went on a charity climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with former teammate Kevin Slowey and two friends. The trek was to raise money for the Bombay Teen Challenge's Red Light District Outreach Mumbai Program, which aims to rescue young Indian women from human trafficking. He said he was motivated to work for the cause because he is the father of two young daughters. The Mets were not overly enamored of the idea, though, and they sent him a letter warning him that if he sustained an injury on the trip, it could be enough to void his contract, but Dickey decided to go ahead anyway. It was not his first foray into charity work. As a long-time friend of Jonathan Johnson, a former pitcher who became a minister after retiring from baseball, he began taking part in charitable missions with his friend most off-seasons while still in college. He began by making visits to children's hospitals, then travelled to Cuba on missions that combined religious and sports outreach, and worked on church construction projects throughout Latin America.

His eclectic interests off the field are not limited to charity work. When his career appeared to be floundering before the 2010 season, he went back to school at Trevecca Nazarene University (he had never completed his original degree at Tennessee) and found a passion for literature after attending classes on existentialism and modern American literature. He began to write short stories, as well as an autobiography entitled: Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, which was published in 2012 and met with an excellent critical reaction and became a best-seller. In the book, excerpts of which were published in Sports Illustrated to coincide with Opening Day, he revealed that he was sexually abused as a child, and that he was confronted with widespread use of steroids when he first joined the Rangers in 2001. He was also one of the main subjects of a documentary produced by film-makers Rikki Stern and Annie Sundberg on knuckleballers, entitled Knuckleball, which was released the same year. A version of his autobiography aimed at younger readers was released in 2013, under the title: Throwing Strikes. In 2014, movie rights to Wherever I Wind Up were bought by two producers who were hoping to turn it into a major motion picture.

Dickey had an outstanding start to his 2012 season, becoming the first pitcher in the major leagues to notch 10 wins when he pitched his second career one-hitter in defeating the Tampa Bay Rays, 9 - 1, on June 13th. The only hit was a 1st-inning bouncer by B.J. Upton that 3B David Wright failed to handle with his bare hand; after the game, Mets manager Terry Collins appealed to MLB to have the ruling changed to an error, but to no avail. In the game, Dickey set a career high with 12 strikeouts and did not walk a batter to improve to 10-1, 2.20 on the year. In his next start against the Baltimore Orioles on June 18th, he pitched another one-hitter in a 5-0 win to become the first pitcher since Dave Stieb in 1988 to throw back-to-back one-hitters. In the National League, one had to go back to Jim Tobin in 1944 to find another pitcher having performed the feat. In addition, it was his fifth straight start without having allowed an earned run and the win matched his career high set two years earlier. His streak of innings without allowing an earned run reached 44 2/3 until the New York Yankees got to him on June 24th. Experiencing rare control problems, R.A. loaded the bases with walks in the 3rd inning, then allowed a sacrifice fly followed by a three-run homer by Nick Swisher. However, the Mets rallied to tie the score before losing the game in the 8th inning and he escaped with a no-decision. He pitched another 8 scoreless inning in his next start, earning his 12th win in a 9-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Unsurprisingly, he was named the National League's Pitcher of the Month for June, having maintained a record of 5-0, 0.93 with 55 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings. He was also named to the All-Star team for the first time and got to pitch in the game. After a four-game stretch without a win, he notched his 13th on July 19th, beating the Washington Nationals, 9-5. He reached 15 wins on August 9th with a complete game win over the Miami Marlins, stopping a 9-game losing skid at home by the Mets. Indeed, after being at the thick of the wild card race until the All-Star break, the Mets had by then fallen below .500, and talk that R.A. could be asked to pitch more often down the stretch subsided. He capped a great season with his 20th win on September 27th, a 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates during which he struck out 13 opponents. He finished the season at 20-6, 2.73, leading the NL in starts (33), complete games (5), shutouts (3), innings pitched (233 2/3) and strikeouts (230). He was voted the 2012 National League Cy Young Award, easily finishing ahead of the previous year's winner, Clayton Kershaw.

After the season, unable to agree to terms on a contract extension, the Mets packaged him with Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas and sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays on December 16th, in return for prospect Travis d'Arnaud, John Buck, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra. The Jays announced that they had reached a two-year extension with Dickey the next day, worth $25 million. He was named to Team USA for the 2013 World Baseball Classic and started the team's first game against Mexico on March 8th, but allowed 4 runs in as many innings to be charged with the U.S.'s 5-2 loss. Dickey was the Opening Day starter for the Blue Jays against the Cleveland Indians on April 2nd, but the day was marred by catcher J.P. Arencibia's troubles in handling his signature pitch. Arencibia allowed three passed balls, the first two leading directly to the Indians' first run, and Asdrubal Cabrera added a two-run homer top saddle R.A. with a 4-1 loss. His second start for the team on April 7th was truly painful, as he gave up 5 runs before retiring a single batter in the 1st inning, and left in the 8th, trailing 8-0. He finally won a game on April 13th, allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings in defeating the Kansas City Royals, 3-2. He began to complain about a stiff neck and stiff back, but continued to pitch through the discomfort, although after falling to 2-4 following a 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees on April 28th, he decided to undergo an MRI examination. On June 5th, he finally pitched like a Cy Young winner, holding the San Francisco Giants to a hit and a walk through the first 8 innings, before giving way to Casey Janssen with one out in the 9th; the two combined on a 4-0 shutout, which improved Dickey's record to 5-7. On June 26th, he registered his first complete game and shutout as a member of the Blue Jays, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-0. He finished the season at 14-13, 4.21 in 34 starts. He led the AL in starts and the Blue Jays in wins, innings pitched (224 2/3) and strikeouts (177).

Dickey was again the Opening Day starter for the Jays in 2014, but he pitched poorly against the Tampa Bay Rays on March 31st, giving up 6 runs in 5 innings. He did a lot better the next time around, with 6 2/3 shutout innings against the New York Yankees on April 5th as he combined with three relievers on a 4-0 shutout. While the Blue Jays got off to a solid start, particularly in may when they surged to first place in the AL East, Dickey's season was only so-so, as he hovered around .500 with an ERA in the low 4.00's. He then went a month without wining a start after picking up his 6th win on June 4th. he snapped that streak with 7 shutout innings in defeating the Los Angeles Angels, 4-0, on July 8th. He ended up with another 14-13 mark, even though he had lowered his ERA from 4.21 to 3.71. In relative terms, the drop was not so dramatic, though, as scoring went down throughout baseball, so his ERA+ only improved from 98 to 103. Still a workhorse, he logged 215 2/3 innings and his 34 starts were tied for most in the majors, his third straight season of leading his league in the category. It ended up being a disappointing year for the Blue Jays, as they could not keep the pace after building a nice early lead in the AL East in the first half of the year. The Baltimore Orioles surged ahead in the second half, and the Jays ended up well out of first place.

In 2015, Dickey gave up his opening day starting slot to Drew Hutchison. He did not pitch well in the early going, as 2-6 record and a 5.29 ERA over his first 13 starts attest. On June 18th, however, he was matched up against 42-year-old Bartolo Colon pitching for his former team, the Mets, and he came out on top, pitching into the 8th inning in a 7-1 win. It was the first match-up of two 40-year-old starting pitchers in the major leagues since Greg Maddux had faced Jamie Moyer back on August 15, 2008. He then lost his next four starts, however, and was still only 3-10, 4.87 at the All-Star break. He pitched a lot better in his first few starts after the pause, however, as he reeled off three straight wins starting on July 23rd, giving up a total of 2 earned runs in 25 1/3 innings, then in a key match-up against the division-leading New York Yankees on August 7th, he gave up only one run in 7 innings and the Jays won, 2-1, in 10 innings. On September 2nd, he pitched a complete game four-hitter in defeating the Cleveland Indians, 4-1; it was his seventh straight win, evening his won-loss record at 10-10 and continuing a remarkable turnaround after his poor first half. He ended the season at 11-11, 3.91 in 33 starts. He made his postseason debut at age 40 in Game 4 of the Division Series with the Blue Jays facing elimination at the hands of the Rangers. He responded by giving up only one run in 4 2/3 innings before manager John Gibbons decided to let it all hang out and sent starter David Price to the mound to nail the win. He then started Game 4 of the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals but was rocked for 5 runs in 1 2/3 innings and was charged with the 14-2 loss.

On May 29 and June 3, 2016, he had back-to-back starts against the Boston Red Sox in which he took a no-hitter into the 6th inning. In the first, he gave up three runs in the 6th and ended up with a no-decision, but he won the second, 5-2, snapping Xander Bogaerts' 26-game hitting streak in the process. Overall, however, his year was not so great, as he was bedeviled by the long ball, as he allowed 28 in 169 1/3 innings and went 10-15, 4.46 overall. He was left off the Jays' postseason roster. He became a free agent after the season and on November 10th signed a one-year contract with the Atlanta Braves. When he recorded his first win of the 2017 season on April 15th at brand new SunTrust Park, defeating the San Diego Padres, 4-2, he became the only man to pitch in all three ballparks used by the Atlanta Braves. He had played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the 1996 Olympics and made 9 appearances at Turner Field in the intervening years.

He became eligible for the Hall of Fame in the 2023 Hall of Fame Election but received only one vote and dropped off the ballot.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2007 Pitcher of the Year Pacific Coast League Nashville Sounds
  • NL All-Star (2012)
  • 2012 NL Cy Young Award
  • AL Gold Glove Winner (2013)
  • NL Innings Pitched Leader (2012)
  • NL Strikeouts Leader (2012)
  • NL Complete Games Leader (2012)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (2012)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2012)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 1 (2012)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 5 (2011-2015)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (2012)

NL Cy Young Award
2011 2012 2013
Clayton Kershaw R.A. Dickey Clayton Kershaw

Further Reading[edit]

  • Mark Bowman: "Dickey living the dream of playing for Braves: Veteran knuckleballer was huge fan growing up in Tennessee", mlb.com, November 18, 2016. [1]
  • R.A. Dickey and Wayne Coffey: Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, Blue Rider Press, Penguin Books USA, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 0399158154
  • R.A. Dickey, Sue Corbett and Wayne Coffey: Throwing Strikes: My Quest for Truth and the Perfect Knuckleball, Dial Books, Penguin Group (USA), New York NY, 2013. ISBN 978-0803740372
  • Howard Megdal: "Butterfly Effect", Sports on Earth, May 8, 2014. [2]

Related Sites[edit]