Decision on Dickey another chapter in knuckler's life
The R.A. Dickey saga seems to demand a happy baseball ending, something even larger than a Cy Young Award. A World Series would work.
Dickey won the National League Cy Young in 2012. But his introduction to the American public came before that with the publication of his splendid book, "Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball," written with Wayne Coffey of the New York Daily News.
This was a painfully honest work, detailing, for instance, Dickey being the victim of sexual abuse as a child. Now, on the same topic, he is one-half of a Sports Illustrated cover story.
So even apart from the highest individual single-season pitching honor that baseball can bestow, Dickey is becoming an iconic figure in the larger American culture. For once, this is someone who deserves that sort of status. Dickey is a man of genuine intelligence, keen perception, and judging by the mountains he has climbed, literally and figuratively, he is possessed of a singular persistence.
He is, in other words, the kind of role model the public often hopes for, but often does not actually receive. His remarkable story of personal redemption, and of pitching redemption, via a second career with the knuckleball, has resulted in an award-winning season.
The quality of his 2012 work was beyond dispute: a 20-6 record, a 2.73 ERA, a WHIP of 1.053, league-leading numbers in innings pitched and strikeouts.
His story; remarkable, unique, compelling, is missing only one aspect. That would be pitching for a team that competes for the ultimate championship.
This is a development that does not appear to be in the immediate, predictable future for his current employers, the New York Mets. At this moment, Dickey and the Mets are negotiating on the issue of a contract extension. His current deal will expire at the end of the 2013 season.
Dickey's salary requests, relative to the rest of the pitching market, are relatively modest. But no agreement has been reached and Dickey has suggested that if the Mets choose to bring him back for 2013 without a new deal he would not likely return to the club for 2014.
"Things are emotional for me," Dickey said. "When people say, 'It's business, it's not personal,' that just means it's not personal for them. It can be personal for me.
"I'm hoping that it's going to end up in a good place. But you can't help but think in the back of your mind it may not. And that's sad."
The standard objections to giving a 38-year-old pitcher a contract of any substantial duration are out the window with Dickey. Accomplished knuckleball pitchers have been known to work successfully into middle age.
The classic example would be knuckleballer and Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm. From 1964 through 1968, working in relief for the Chicago White Sox, Wilhelm recorded earned run averages of 1.99, 1.81, 1.66, 1.31 and 1.73. He turned 45 in June of 1968.
So Dickey, far from bordering on retirement, might just be hitting his stride in this line of work. If he has anything resembling Wilhelm's kind of longevity perhaps he could last long enough for the Mets to rebuild their way to the top.
With lesser pitchers signing contracts for greater average annual values greater than Dickey is requesting in his bid for a contract extension, there has been considerable speculation about the Mets trading him and receiving in return a hoped-for windfall of legitimate prospects. This is what the Tampa Bay Rays pried out of the Kansas City Royals in return for James Shields, a very capable, but not great, starting pitcher.
What Dickey's trade value is, in the absence of a trade, remains a matter of conjecture, although the conjecture at least has an element of logical behind it.
In moving Dickey and building for the future, or keeping him, paying him something resembling market value and hoping that he is a bridge to a better future, the Mets would be making purely a baseball decision.
Wanting to see R.A. Dickey's story reach the World Series is easier than that. It is not a baseball decision. It is a storyline decision. A triumph over personal adversity and later, professional adversity, is a human story, and in this instance, a terrific, human story. Why not hope for the best?
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.