The Knuckleballer That Got Away

I’m making my return to work from vacation today after nearly two weeks off. I spent much of that time on the road with family and away from TV/internet, but still did the best I could to keep up with the sports world.

For example, I am notorious for being the most active owner in the fantasy baseball league I run. But I made few moves over the last two weeks.

But there is one move that I made that’s paid huge dividends: On the first day of my vacation, I signed R.A. Dickey.

New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey pitched for the Minnesota Twins in 2009. Associated Press photo

You know the name. Hard to forget a name like R.A. Dickey.

On a few different occasions from 2007-09, he was property of the Minnesota Twins. I’ll explain in a moment.

Today, he is 9-1 with a 2.44 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 81 innings pitched for the New York Mets and could be in line to START the All-Star Game in July.

Forget about Phil Humber – he of perfect game fame – being the one that got away for the Twins. Fans should really bemoan the loss of Dickey.

Dickey’s path in the big leagues has always been an unusual one. He initially signed with the Texas Rangers, where team physicians noticed during negotiations that he was missing an ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow of his throwing arm. Dickey has said, “Doctors look at me and say I shouldn’t be able to turn a doorknob without feeling pain.”

He pitched in the majors for Texas from 2001-06 while sporting a conventional repertoire of pitches. But in 2006, he decided to add a knuckleball, spending much of the season in the minors.

Dickey pitched in the Brewers organization in 2007, then signed with the Twins the following offseason. However, the Seattle Mariners selected Dickey in the Rule V draft after the Twins left him unprotected. The M’s retained his rights in 2008 before the Twins signed him again in 2009.

Dickey pitched in 35 games for the Twins in 2009, almost entirely in relief. His numbers weren’t exciting: 1-1, 4.62 ERA, 42 K, 64.1 IPs. He became a free agent again after that season, signed with the New York Mets, and has been quite good. In three seasons with the Mets, he has pitched in 70 games, compiling a 2.97 ERA with a 28-23 record.

It seemed during Dickey’s time with the Twins that he was viewed as a novelty by many outside the team. I don’t think anyone will blame a competitive Twins organization back then for not keeping him around. I certainly won’t.

But I was always intrigued, simply because you were looking at a guy that didn’t depend on the knuckleball to get to the majors. That’s what makes him different than almost every other knuckleballer that’s ever pitched. He had major league stuff – though not very successful stuff – before he added the knuckleball.

And Dickey sure has figured it out in New York. Here’s a stat: 23 of his last 24 starts have been quality starts. Twins sure could use that. It’ll be fun to see what he does on the big stage at the All-Star Game.

3 Responses

  1. Arlan

    At the time he was with the Twins, they were still playing inside the dome. Do you think they would have kept him and/or he would have had more success with the knuckleball by playing outside at Target Field?

  2. Glad to see there’s no argument here that the Twins made a mistake in letting him go.

    That mess is the same revisionist history that we hear about Papi, except worse. Dickey wasn’t very good and he was old. Papi just wasn’t every good, with Papi you can at least argue that the Twins rigid approach with him was part of the problem but bully for them both for figuring it out on their next stop.

  3. Sometimes it just takes the right coach or the right message to get players to figure it out. Or in Dickey’s case, he may have simply needed more time to perfect the craft. Again, his case is just not typical of a knuckleballer. He simply hadn’t been throwing the pitch for that long when the Twins had him.

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