One of the most exotic lifeforms in the world of baseball is the rare and delicate species called the knuckleball pitcher. This pitch tends to fly much slower than the normal pitch and most of the time, no one knows where it is going to go — including the pitcher and the catcher, not to mention the batter.
One or two knuckleballers may appear in the course of a decade and, if they master this strange pitch, they tend to hang around since the success of the pitch is determined by a bizarre kind of skill, rather than young muscles and cannon-like mechanics.
Right now, R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets is one of the hottest pitchers in baseball because he has mastered the knuckleball. How he got to this point is a long, strange story about a very complex and interesting man. The recent Washington Post feature about the man and his best pitch was long and heavy on fascinating details. Check out this headline: “Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has straightened out his life and crooked-out his pitches.”
However, there is a problem. The Post team mentions one very colorful detail — then drops it. The result is a major ghost. Here is the summary material that kicks things into high gear, right after the sub-head that says, “A belief in redemption.”
Dickey is, without question, the Most Interesting Man in Baseball. It isn’t just that he speaks of his primary pitch as if it were a living, breathing thing, or of his development of that pitch as a relationship — but it is partly that. He is the only knuckleball pitcher left in the majors, and only a knuckleballer would speak in such a way.
But he is also a voracious reader of Big, Important Books (for example, “My Name is Asher Lev,” by Chaim Potok; “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel), a former English major at the University of Tennessee, a born-again Christian and an avid bicyclist. This past winter, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — despite the Mets threatening
to void his contract if anything happened to him — telling New York magazine, “The scope of the mountain resonated with me.”
He is also a medical marvel, possessing no ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow, which first came to light after the Rangers drafted him in 1996 — doctors concluded either he was born without it, or it disintegrated during his youth — and which cost him a small fortune, since the Rangers lowered their signing-bonus offer from $810,000 to $75,000 upon discovering the missing ligament.
And this spring, he became an author, releasing an autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball,” that one reviewer called the “best non-fiction baseball book since Jim Bouton’s ‘Ball Four.’?”
Wow. Tons of stuff to think about in those paragraphs. He is also a fan of mass-transit systems, since he loves learning about the lives of people in different cities. He is highly committed to personal growth in all aspects of life, personal and professional. Why? Dickey openly talks about the degree to which he once hated himself.
But there’s more to come. Dickey was sexually abused as a child. He was unfaithful to his wife — yet they worked together to save their marriage.
Dickey has turned his life into an open book.
“I certainly believe in redemption,” Dickey says of his decision to be so forthcoming in the book. “Hope and redemption go hand in hand, but in order to get to redemption you have to walk through quite a bit of darkness, and for me, being honest about a past that was difficult and dark is part of the process of becoming fully me.”
Now, out of all of that, guess which angle — despite the “redemption” theme — is never explored again in the long and complex article?
If you guessed the part about the “most interesting man in baseball” being a born-again Christian, then you win the prize. This statement implies that Dickey is some kind of evangelical, but it’s hard to know since the story goes stone-cold silent on that part of his life.
Read it all. If you like baseball, it’s a great story — even with this major hole. Yet why in the world would the Post team open that door to a discussion of how this man’s faith figures into his quest for truth and then slam it shut?
What a disappointment.