More to author, knuckleballer Dickey than meets eye
37-year-old right-hander wrote a book detailing his life experiences
The Wikipedia entry for R.A. Dickey lists him as "an author and knuckleball pitcher," a combination that is more than a bit unusual.
After all, not too many baseball players double as authors. And even fewer boast baseball's most elusive pitch, the knuckleball, in their repertoire.
When asked about his Wikipedia listing, Dickey only laughed.
"I'm glad they listed it in that order [author, then knuckleballer], too," Dickey said. "I tell you, writing the book and being able to write about my life, I think that's something that will live well beyond my tenure as a baseball player. I'm thankful that one has allowed me to do the other, but at the same time, there's still a lot of story left to play out, so we'll see how that goes."
Speaking of a plot line, shall we review Dickey's?
"In high school, I knew I was probably going to be drafted. And I was drafted in the 10th round by the Detroit Tigers out of high school," Dickey said. "After that, I figured if I applied myself, in college I could probably improve my Draft position. And I went to college, worked hard to do that, and that's when I was drafted by the Texas Rangers."
That was in 1996. Dickey was all set to become a Ranger, and was even offered a generous signing bonus, until a doctor noticed his arm hanging at an odd angle. The findings were dumbfounding: Dickey had no ulnar collateral ligament, a condition that should've made the most mundane of tasks very painful.
With a reduced signing bonus, Dickey debuted for Texas, but was so-so in performance. In his quest for self-improvement, he discovered that a "forkball" he'd thrown for most of his career was in fact an unrefined knuckleball.
Dickey deliberated, and ultimately decided to take the plunge and become a knuckleballer. But the pitch resulted in six home runs in a single start, and lost Dickey his Major League job.
So Dickey signed a Minor League deal with Milwaukee, where he found success. However, the Brewers opted not to pick up his contract, and so, as a free agent, Dickey took another gig, this one with the Twins.
But before Dickey could exercise his Spring Training invitation with Minnesota, the Rule 5 Draft threw another wrench into things. R.A. Dickey was now a Seattle Mariner. At the end of his 2008 season in the Mariners organization, he was once again a free agent.
And as it turned out, he was once again property of the Minnesota Twins. He pitched 35 games for the Twins, who didn't re-sign him.
But the New York Mets were willing to take a gamble on Dickey. He began the 2010 season in Triple-A, but was soon called up and finally found success -- for good, it seems. In 2010, Dickey racked up 11 wins and 104 strikeouts in 174 1/3 innings. Before the start of the 2011 season, he signed a contract extension good for two years and $7.8 million.
And the rest -- well, the rest is history.
So, R.A., you made it to the Majors and never looked back?
"I think I've certainly looked back and, you know, I've regretted a lot of things and I've been happy about a lot of things," he said. "But one of the things that makes you who you are is to pay attention to the experiences that you have had. And my past has had a lot of those experiences, so it's not necessarily that I haven't looked back. I've looked back and remembered things that I've done, that I wished I'd done better, and I try to do those better in the present. And I've looked back and seen the things that I've done well and I've tried to continue to do those things."
Not only has Dickey done this introspective evaluation, but he's written it down, in the form of his recently published authorial debut, "Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball." It's a process he found both challenging and rewarding.
"Hard, sad, happy -- the emotional train that it took you on -- it ran through every one," Dickey said. "It was very challenging, and it was hard being able to write about things that are very difficult, but at the same time, very liberating. It was a very cathartic experience, very therapeutic and I am certainly glad that I did it."
So, too, is everyone who's read the book.
"It's been a real positive reaction, I think," Dickey said. "Obviously, when you write a book like that, there are a lot of fears about it. I had to take some risks."
One of those risks included going public with the fact Dickey was sexually abused by his childhood babysitter.
"But it's been overwhelmingly positive and people have been really able to connect with my story, and that's made for a real rich experience," Dickey said.
Although this is Dickey's first book, he's been writing for some time.
"I had written for some magazines, for some periodicals," Dickey explained. "I had written a few short stories that I hadn't sought to get published. I have been writing for quite a while. But this my first real effort to get something published, so it's a good genesis for what hopefully will become a career far greater than my baseball career."
Does that mean Book No. 2 for R.A. Dickey? "Well," he chuckled, "At least an epilogue [to 'Wherever I Wind Up'], maybe some other chapters."
In any case, 37-year-old Dickey has done plenty of thinking about a post-baseball career. For one, he is -- and always has been -- a consummate family man, and speaks eagerly of spending more time with his four children.
It's also possible that down the road, Professor Dickey will make an appearance.
Dickey said that with a degree in English literature from the University of Tennessee, "I like to think of myself as a writer and a teacher. People that made the most impact on me were teachers and coaches, and to be able to give that back in some degree would be nice."
Dickey's also a voracious reader. Some of his favorite titles include Bryce Courtenay's "The Power of One" and Chaim Potok's "My Name is Asher Lev."
Currently on his bookshelf is a collection of short stories by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami, whose tomes "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" and "A Wild Sheep Chase," Dickey also enjoyed.
And somehow, the man finds time to keep his goal of reading one piece of classical literature each month. He's currently getting ready to tackle "The Beautiful and the Damned" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The Mets hurler admits being a household name takes getting used to. Even non-baseball fans have spotted him on David Letterman and other TV shows.
"It's taken a little bit of getting used to, especially coming from humble beginnings," Dickey said. "But it's certainly been nice to be able to use the platform I have to do some things that I am really passionate about, like raising awareness for charity, or getting to talk about literacy or getting to write a book. All those things that come with having a platform of being a Major League baseball player have been nice."
And Dickey has certainly used his fame well. He even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this offseason with Indians pitcher Kevin Slowey and Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello to raise money for Bombay Teen Challenge, a nonprofit organization dedicated to stopping human trafficking.
With all the publicity Dickey's (rightfully) been getting lately, there's not much the general public doesn't know about him.
"I've left it pretty much out there. If you've read the book, I don't have much to hide. I can tell you a couple of my pet peeves. I can't stand traffic, I'm a very impatient person ... I'm working on it. But I'm an impatient person by nature. I take public transportation a lot. I love sushi," Dickey laughed.
And there you have it: an author, knuckleballer, inspiring success story, bookworm, traffic hater and sushi lover.
That's Robert Allen Dickey in a nutshell.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.