Get to know R.A. Dickey
A former Olympian, R.A. Dickey transformed into a knuckleball pitcher midway through his career. Since signing with the Mets, he's mastered the craft, enjoying a career resurgence. Get to know Dickey with these 10 fun facts.
Compiled by Bobby Bonett
R.A., which stands for Robert Allen, was an Academic All-American for the University of Tennessee. He was one of 26 players named to Tennessee’s All-Century baseball team and played for the U.S. National team in the 1996 Olympics. The team won the bronze medal.
A photograph cost Dickey $775,000. After getting drafted by the Rangers, Dickey was initially offered an $850,000 signing bonus. However, the team’s head trainer, Danny Wheat, saw Dickey’s arm hanging awkwardly in a photo. Eventually, it was discovered that Dickey’s pitching arm didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament. His bonus was then cut to $75,000.
The photograph that cost Dickey nearly $1 million was the 1996 cover of Baseball America. Dickey was photographed with four other pitchers on the ‘96 Olympic team — Billy Koch of West Babylon (selected fourth overall in the 1996 draft), Seth Greisinger (sixth overall in 1996), Braden Looper (third overall in 1996) and Kris Benson (first overall in 1996). While each of the other pitchers’ right arms hung loosely by their side, Dickey’s was slightly bent.
Dickey told The New York Times that he had a pair of plans for the $850,000 signing bonus: to help his family, and to buy an engagement ring. He’s now married; his wife’s name is Anne, and he has three children. He’s more than made up for the lost money, too; he is making $2.25 million in 2011, and is scheduled to make $4.25 million in 2012 with a $5 million team option in 2013.
Dickey, taken 18th by the Rangers in the first round of the 1996 draft, was part of a memorably weak first round. According to the WAR statistic — “wins above replacement” — the best player taken in the first round of that draft was Eric Chavez. The best pitcher taken in the first round, according to that same statistic, was Eric Milton. Dickey, who has a losing record and an ERA around 4.50 for his career, was the seventh best pitcher to come out of the first round, according to WAR.
According to a profile in Tennessee’s Torchbearer Magazine, former All-Star pitcher Orel Hershiser suggested Dickey try to refine a knuckleball in 2005.
Dickey’s last start with the Rangers was on April 6, 2006. It was his first start for the Rangers using the knuckleball, and it wound up being historic. Dickey gave up six home runs to the Detroit Tigers — coincidentally, the team that drafted Dickey out of high school in the 10th round in 1993 — tied for the most in the modern era of baseball. Chris Shelton homered twice off Dickey, and Marcus Thames, Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge and Craig Monroe each went deep once. He was demoted to Triple-A, and didn’t make it back to the major leagues until 2008.
The knuckleballer also holds a share of another dubious record: the most wild pitches in an inning. On Aug. 17, 2008, as a member of the Mariners, Dickey threw four wild pitches against the Minnesota Twins.
A bookworm, Dickey keeps a stack of books in the top shelf of his locker. Among the literature is “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel, and a series of writings by C.S. Lewis. He’s also compared his career to “The Odyssey,” by Homer.
Dickey may soon be able to add another book to his collection — an autobiography. The knuckleballer said he spoked with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, promising him that it wouldn’t be an inflammatory tell-all. According to a February 2011 article in The New York Times, the book is schedule to be published by Penguin in early 2012.