The last man standing. R. A. Dickey’s coup in capturing the National League Cy Young award for the New York Mets this season has that feel to it. The last of the knuckleballers. That may or may not be how things will go, but he is currently the only full-time practitioner of the art in the majors and who knows when someone else will come along relying on that weapon. Dickey is the first hurler whose main pitch is the knuckleball to capture the Cy Young award.
Heck, the knuckleball is such a goofy pitch that we don’t know if Dickey will even be able to repeat the kind of success he had during the 2012 season. Not to mention that Dickey is 38 and has never had a season like this before. Of course, when it comes to knuckleball specialists age means less than it does when dealing with 95-mph fastball guys. The stress on the arm just isn’t there. Witness the Red Sox’s Tim Wakefield pitching until he was 44. Witness Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm pitching until he was 49. Witness Hall of Famer Phil Niekro pitching until he was 48.
Dickey had a dream season, showing that you can fool all of the people all of the time, at least for one baseball season. He finished 20-6 with a 2.73 earned run average and led the National League in strikeouts with 230. His 233 2/3 innings also led the league, as did his 33 starts, five complete games and three shutouts. For the first time in his 10-year career Dickey also made the All-Star team. Compared to many other knuckleball specialists of the past Dickey throws his knuckler a bit faster. While Wakefield, for one, might have his pitch clocked at 60 mph, Dickey routinely threw the knuckler in the 70s, and as fast as 78 mph.
Besides his mound production, Dickey has made news in other ways over the last year or so. During the off-season leading up to 2012 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which is the tallest mountain on the African continent at 19,340 feet for charity. He also released an autobiography in which he said that he was sexually abused as a child. A reader of books that go far beyond the bestseller list, Dickey said if he had not become a baseball player he would have wanted to be an English teacher. One might have thought he would have wanted to be a physics professor in order to better explain how the knuckleball does what it does as it defies the laws of physics and baffles batters.
Dickey was a clearcut winner in the Cy Young vote. Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers (14-9, 2.53) and Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals (21-8, 2.89) finished second and third behind Dickey in the Cy Young voting.
Dickey came to the knuckler late in his career after he could achieve no more than minimal success by using more conventional pitches and he thought back to his ascent upon learning he won the Cy Young. “It’s a great honor and I am not a self-made man by any stretch of the imagination,” he said, thanking those who helped him make the transition.
Funny that Dickey used that word imagination, albeit in another context, since the knuckleball is the pitch that tantalizes the imagination. Anyone who has seen Dickey pitch knows how much buzz he creates when he is on and how much fun it is to watch a guy make the best batters twist themselves into pretzels as they swing. Hopefully, through either want or need, another knuckleball pitcher will arrive on the scene to keep the brotherhood of knuckleball pitchers going.