If the baseball season ended right now, Mets’ pitcher R. A. Dickey would probably win the National League Cy Young Award. Going by the numbers, he is having a season for the ages.
But Dickey’s story goes far beyond the numbers. It would be worth hearing even if he were an ordinary pitcher.
But he isn’t: Right now at the All Star break, Dickey has a 12-1 record. He leads the National League in wins and complete games and is second in strikeout and walk rate.
The last number is perhaps the most extraordinary of all. You see, Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher, the only one in the major leagues. I won’t explain how a knuckleball works — that’s like explaining how a bumblebee flies — but, suffice it to say, the knuckleball, unlike a fastball and a curveball, seems to have a mind of its own, which makes it notoriously hard to hit and even harder to control. Dickey’s command of the pitch is virtually unprecedented.
The arc of Dickey’s career is also unlikely: He didn’t make it to the big leagues until he was 28 years old. He is missing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow; that’s the ligament replaced in Tommy John surgery. As he put it, “Doctors look at me and say I shouldn’t be able to turn a doorknob without feeling pain,” much less pitch in the major leagues.
Until this season, his record was mediocre at best; but considering his medical condition the fact that he’s playing baseball at all is amazing. This year he’s gone beyond amazing: He’s the biggest reason my hometown Mets, who were expected to finish last, are still in contention halfway through the season.
But the best part of this story is the one that he tells in his recent autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.”
As you may have guessed from the subtitle, Dickey is a Christian. Specifically, he is a thoughtful and articulate Christian. His locker doubles as a kind of clubhouse library, “filled,” as Sports Illustrated put it, “at any given moment with anything from C. S. Lewis to Tolkien to . . . F. Scott Fitzgerald.” As a result, “he is the rare ballplayer whose interviews are parsed on the vocabulary.com blog.”
I know whereof I speak; I got an email from Dickey recently in which he used the adjective “laggard.” Not typical for a baseball pitcher. What he has to say in the book is even more important than how he says it. Sports Illustrated calls his autobiography “a brutally honest account of family woes, childhood abuse and his failures as a husband and father,” adding that “it might be the finest piece of nonfiction baseball writing since [Jim Bouton’s] “Ball Four”.”
And at the heart of Dickey’s account is his faith. He became a Christian while in high school, partly in response to a traumatic childhood that included being sexually abused by two different people.
But that wasn’t the end of his struggles — far from it. In being so honest about his quest to find the peace that comes from authenticity and truth, Dickey provides hope to those of us who also struggle with our past and with ourselves.
It also provides a kind of witness to the Gospel that non-Christians usually do not hear. He’s a stereotype-buster in so many ways, and he’s busting the stereotypes in the country’s media capital.
And that’s why, even if you don’t follow baseball, the story of R. A. Dickey’s quest is worth knowing.
Of course, we have his book, “Wherever I Wind Up,” available for you at our online bookstore at BreakPoint.org. Stop by and get a copy for yourself or for that sports fan in your life.