The Toronto Blue Jays will be without R.A. Dickey in 2017. His legacy will be riddled with differing opinions. His time there was full of highs and lows.
With every offering from the mound exceeding 98 mph by Mets ace Noah Syndergaard this season, Toronto Blue Jays faithful cringed, moaned, bickered and barked displeasure. Accordingly, obscenities were uttered aloud and under the breath of fans for every 70 mph pitch of R.A. Dickey’s that fluttered unpredictably toward home plate and became a live ball between the sticks.
Dickey, on paper, had so much promise when the Blue Jays acquired him after a 2012 Cy Young winning campaign for the Metropolitans. The knuckleball itself has been used for over a century in baseball, though Dickey was the first and only artist sporting such a delivery to win pitching’s ultimate award.
When acquired, then Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos saw an opportunity to create some buzz around his club. Entering 2013, Toronto had not made the postseason in two decades and ever since Roy Halladay departed following the 2009 season, were lacking any semblance of an ace.
The package heading to Queens, New York, consisted of OF Wuilmer Becerra, C John Buck, C Travis d’Arnaud and the right-handed Syndergaard. Toronto received Dickey, his personal catcher in Josh Thole and career minor league catcher, Canadian-born Mike Nickeas.
When healthy, d’Arnaud has been a serviceable starting backstop. But the jewel that Anthopoulos under-appraised was Syndergaard. He knows it, the Mets organization knows it and anyone who has followed baseball for the last half decade is well aware of this revelation.
Toronto Blue Jays
Thor was only 20 and pitching in Single-A when Toronto dealt him. Certain executives didn’t want to wait. And ones in New York were willing to wait for the fruit to ripen. Toronto’s front office wanted to win sooner rather than later.
This past fall, Dickey signed as a 42-year-old free agent with the Atlanta Braves. Oddly enough, the Braves inked 43-year-old Bartolo Colon in the same offseason. If both arms make the rotation, surely the accumulative age of all five of their starters will surpass any other unit in 2017.
But was Dickey really that big of a bust in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform? A lot of that depends on Syndergaard’s career from here on out. Dickey’s numbers with the Jays will always be compared to Syndergaard’s from 2015-16, which, by all accounts, are very rewarding ones. However, solely stacking Dickey up against the youngster’s production isn’t a wholesome or fair assessment.
Over the last two seasons, Syndergaard has posted the 11th-most strikeouts across the league and the eighth-lowest ERA among qualified starters. No one has had a speedier average velocity on their fastball either, lighting up the gun to a measure of 97.3 mph over 332.2 IP.
Dickey doesn’t come with the cool nickname or the dazzling power arm that Thor possesses, but he made a decent name for himself as a Jay. From 2013-16, four full seasons in Toronto, Dickey racked up the eighth-most innings logged by any MLB starter, averaging 32.5 outings per year. He was always available. Many baseball coaches will attest that in order to be great, being healthy is the utmost requirement. Dickey was consistently the latter.
As for greatness, his character help balanced things out. Over his four-year term with the Blue Jays, only one MLB pitcher gave up more long balls than Dickey (114) – the White Sox’s James Shields (116). This, and Dickey’s 4.05 split ERA as a Jay, are reasons Torontonians occasionally grumbled. Dickey was usually hard on himself and accountable to the press after a mediocre or bad outing.
Dickey had to overcome a lot in his life to become a ball player and a Cy Young winner. The fact he won it in the first place as the only knuckleballer ever to do so is somewhat of an apparition or outlier. The odds were never in his favor to do it a second time, what with moving to a dome atmosphere in a hitter-friendly American League park in his late 30s.
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While a member of the Blue Jays, the veteran right-hander was always a well-spoken role model in the clubhouse. A published author before even arriving in Canada, management knew he was a genuine salt of the earth kind of guy with cognitive abilities.
Furthermore, Dickey advocated against child abuse and sexual misconduct. He involved himself with an organization in India to prevent young women from being sold into sex slavery. He donated 1 percent of his annual salary each year to the Jays Care Foundation and was the only player to do so.
Dickey’s heart, while in Toronto, never seemed to waver as often as his signature pitch did. His legacy will forever be contrasted to what remains of Syndergaard’s career. For all of Dickey’s statistical shortcomings after his hallowed 2012 season, he did take the ball nearly every time he was called upon in Toronto.
In an era rife with big league pitchers floating about the disabled list or operating table for much of their careers, Dickey is set to suit up for his 15th season in 2017. For a man born in the mid-70s, that in itself is a proud legacy to leave behind.
Toronto fans should be cognizant of his abilities, but also that R.A. was and is a man of substance who altered his entire approach to the game to get him where he is today. It’s his love of that same game and gratitude toward a city that welcomed him warmly that should be looked back upon with kind thoughts.