Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I Love Knuckleballers

The R.A. Dickey story is an odd one:
A hard-throwing all-American pitcher at the University of Tennessee in 1996, Dickey became a first-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers and a starter for the United States Olympic team, along with Kris Benson, Billy Koch, Seth Greisinger and Braden Looper. Baseball America pictured the five of them standing side by side on the cover of its Olympic preview issue.

Dickey was ready to accept the Rangers’ $810,000 bonus offer when a team physician picked up the magazine and noticed Dickey’s right arm hanging somewhat awkwardly at his side. The doctor recommended that the team examine him further, leading to the bizarre discovery that Dickey not only had an elbow issue, he had no ulnar collateral ligament, the primary tissue that stabilizes the joint. The Rangers pulled their offer and wound up offering him $75,000, more out of guilt than confidence in his future.

Baseball America: proving once again to be history's greatest monster. But you're never going to be able to keep a guy with perspective down, and this my friends, is the sort of perspective I like to see in a ballplayer:

“The majority of knuckleballers have most of their success from ages 32 to 40, and win most of their games,” said Dickey, who studied the history of pitchers like Hoyt Wilhelm, Wilbur Wood and Phil Niekro while making his transition. “I think there’s something to that. There’s the maturity that comes with throwing that pitch. To surrender to being a new person and a new pitcher is tough. You kind of feel like the leper of the colony, a circus act.”
For all of the beauty of Ball Four, you never get the sense that Jim Bouton ever really embraced the knuckleball like that. For all of Bouton's insight and depth, he seemed to be fighting more than anything rather than understanding, like Dickey seems to, that you have to give something up of yourself and your ego to really strike out as a flutterballer.

Dickey is a Rule 5 pick, so the Mariners have to keep him on the big club roster this year or lose him. For that reason, there's a good chance he sticks. I sure hope so. The world needs more knuckleballers.

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