R.A. Dickey Lives Major League 'Odyssey'
"The Odyssey, no doubt about it," Dickey answered FanHouse when asked.
"Any metaphor you want to pick is there. It could be an allegory about my life, really. An autobiography, in a lot of different ways, just told differently."
The current chapter in Dickey's odyssey is an uplifting one. A 35-year-old who began the season with a 22-28 career record -- and in Triple-A -- is 6-0 with a 2.33 ERA going into Monday night's start, and his surprising success is a part of the Mets' surprising run to contention.
"To be honest with you, then they made the call and said he was the hot guy, I was a little concerned," manager Jerry Manuel said of the decision to call up Dickey to fill the rotation spot that opened when the Mets (finally) yanked Oliver Perez from the rotation.
"When they called and said, 'He's your guy,' I said, 'Well, OK. Here we go.' Now to have him as a part ... on a scale of 1-to-10, I'd go 9.8 -- a 9.8 deal right there."
But that great baseball philosopher Homer (with that name, he did write about baseball, right?) could never have cooked up a story like this.
Dickey was Texas' first-round pick in 1996, but shortly after the draft, the team discovered he had no ulnar collateral ligament -- the one that gets replaced in "Tommy John" surgery -- in his right elbow. As a result, instead of a $810,000 bonus, Dickey got $75,000.
He made it to the majors anyway, but without much success. So in 2005, and with a career ERA of 5.41, he became a knuckleballer.
That didn't resurrect his career immediately. By 2006, the Rangers had taken Dickey off the 40-man roster. He bounced to the Brewers, spending all of 2007 in the minors, and then the Twins and Mariners organizations, going up and down to the majors.
The Mets signed Dickey to a minor-league contract in January, and now he has almost as many wins for them in six weeks as he had in the majors in 2005-09 (7-12, 5.45 ERA).
"Dreams surely are difficult, confusing, and not everything in them is brought to pass for mankind," Homer wrote.
And The Odyssey begins: "Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide."
Thus Dickey's choice, without hesitation, of that classic.
"Everything from being at sea for that whole year -- Odysseus being at sea -- to having the battle the Cyclops of trying to get to the other side of people trying to label me," Dickey said. "It's been a journey for sure."
Other than that moment of literary self-reflection, Dickey has not paused to think about what he has done this year.
"Instead of taking a step back in the moment," he said in his Nashville accent, "I'd like to ruther wait till the end and reflect."
Dickey figures that he has now been a knuckleballer long enough that the delivery -- stiff wrist, releasing the ball with all his fingers at once, letting go of the ball at the proper height -- has become second nature. Now he can correct flaws and make adjustments mid-game, something he couldn't do before.
"I'm excited things have sort of become consistent" he said, "and less of a strain as far as mechanically battling myself. Things come much more organically now."
In his last start, against the Tigers, Dickey's knuckleball was so shaky the first three innings that he mixed in 10 of his 84 mph fastballs. But then he got the flutter back and wound up going eight scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks.
Dickey, in fact, thinks he defies the standard beliefs about knuckleballers. He feels that when he's right, he can purposely throw the knuckleball for a strike -- or intentionally out of the strike zone.
"It's almost a paradox to say you can locate a knuckleball," he said, "but I feel like I can definitely throw it for strikes.
"I feel like it's to the point where I can really trust it and it's a trustworthy pitch. It's taken a long time to get there."
(So yes, a knuckleballer has much better command than the man Dickey replaced in the Mets rotation, Perez.)
Odysseus needed 10 years to get home to Ithaca. So Dickey, of course, feels that his odyssey is nowhere near over.
He points out the win totals, from age 35 to age 42, for knuckleballers Phil Niekro (130), Charlie Hough (117), Joe Niekro (104) and Tim Wakefield (98).
"I just turned 35," Dickey said. "So if you think about in those terms, I feel like I'm about 26 in knuckleball years. And I have a long way to go."