R.A. Dickey won the National League Cy Young this week. As someone whose favorite all-time player is hall-of-famer Phil Niekro (who won over 300 games playing on the worst team of the ’70s and ’80s), I love that the Major League’s only current knuckleball pitcher won baseball’s highest pitching honor—the first knuckleballer to do so.
Dickey, a Christian, gave a fascinating interview earlier this year with Dave Davies on NPR’s Fresh Air, discussing his newly published memoir. Among other things, he describes surviving childhood sexual abuse while living with his alcoholic mother. He also describes a pitching career that turned the corner only after nearly drowning while attempting to swim across the Missouri River.
DICKEY: I know, you know, I certainly look at it as almost a baptism of sorts. You know, I mean I went into the Missouri River. I was hanging on by a thread professionally. I was like one in four at the time with a six something ERA, which is not very good in baseball at all, and I was one phone call from the general manager away from being released and never playing baseball again, maybe. And when I came out of the river, I ended up going 11 and two with like 2.80 ERA and became the [Pacific Coast League] Pitcher of the Year…
DAVIES: Terrific season. Yeah.
DICKEY: Yeah. Terrific season. And I say that only to emphasize the point that, you know, I think when I came out of the river I was so consumed with just wanting to live in the present well that I think that carried over directly into my pitching and I just cared about each pitch singularly. And so, you know, if one pitch didn’t go well, forget it. Here’s this pitch. What am I going to do with this pitch? And when I did that over and over and over again, I was able to look back and all of the sudden I was putting together a pretty incredible run. And I decided that that’s how I wanted to live my life.
“If one pitch didn’t go well, forget it. Here’s this pitch. What am I going to do with this pitch?” That is a pretty good way of tackling life!
Davies asks him whether knuckleball pitching could be a metaphor for his life: instead of overpowering hitters, throwing a knuckleball is a matter of “letting the ball do what it’s going to do.” Does this relate to the therapy he’s received over the past several years as his personal and professional life have turned around?
DICKEY: Oh, man, what a fantastic insight. You know, I think that’s exactly what happened. You know, I feel like that there was something very divine about that, you know. I began throwing the knuckleball exactly when I really started working on my life and trying to become, you know, who God had authentically created me to be. And I think those things parallel each other.
I like that: knuckleball pitching as a metaphor for surrendering to God.