Photo: AP Photo/ Paul Bereswill
For almost 20 years, R.A. Dickey slaved away trying to perfect his pitch.The baseball player went in and out of the major leagues, playing for the Texas Rangers, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Minnesota Twins, the Seattle Mariners, the New York Mets, and now the Toronto Blue Jays.
But this year, everything finally fell into place for the 38-year-old pitcher. Dickey finally got so good at mastering the knuckleball that he basically became unhittable.
Today, Dickey is the only major league player who uses the knuckleball as his primary pitch and he’s become so good at it that he won the National League Cy Young Award.
Dickey is now at the top of his game, but what he went through to get to there is the definition of an ultimate underdog story.
Dickey recently opened up about his childhood abuse in a memoir called 'Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.'
He wrote that he was abused on several occasions by different individuals when he was eight years old in Tennessee. The memories of those incidents have plagued him his entire life.
He sought refuge in sports, playing quarterback and pitching for his high school teams. He earned a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Tennessee.
He was drafted to the major leagues—only to have his signing bonus slashed after doctors discovered a flaw.
In 1996, Dickey graduated from Tennessee as an All-American and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the first round.
But when a physician from the Texas Rangers discovered that Dickey does not have an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow--his pitching arm--the Rangers dropped his signing bonus from $810,000 to $75,000.
He pitched just 266 innings for the Rangers between 2001 and 2006.
However, he pitched in the minor leagues every year from 1997 to 2010, with five stints in AAA Oklahoma City and AA Frisco in between.
Dickey's pitching velocity continued to deteriorate due to the absence of the ligament in his throwing arm. To combat that, he began to experiment with the knuckleball.
The Texas Rangers called Dickey's knuckleball 'The Thing.' It didn't exactly work at first, though.
He got crushed in his first starting pitch using his knuckleball in April 2006 when there were six home runs--a major league record. He was sent to the minors, again.
Dickey married his college sweetheart, but he revealed in his memoir that he cheated on her during the winter of 2005-06. It tore him up so bad that it pushed him to the brink of suicide.
She told him to leave at the time, but eventually let him back into her life and the two are still married.
In 2007, he tried to swim across the Missouri River in an attempt to replenish his mind and nearly drowned.
Dickey went to pro knuckleball pitchers like Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough for advice on how to perfect his pitch. He later described that group as 'The Jedi Council of Knuckleballers.'
As he learned to hone the knuckleball, he became a regular starter for the Seattle Mariners in 2008. He was still erratic at times and signed with the Minnesota Twins following the season. He only made one start for the team.
In 2010, he signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets, and that's when he began to see regular innings as starter.
He made 60 starts in 2010 and 2011, going 19-22 in those two seasons. But he proved that he could be a reliable starter heading into the 2012 season at 37 years old.
In January 2012, Dickey reached the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro--even though the Mets threatened to void his $4.25 million contract if something happened to him.
He made the trek to raise money for the Bombay Teen Challenge, a charity aiming to fight human trafficking in Mumbai.
Dickey made it clear he pitched with the injury since April, but it's unknown how he injured it.
Despite the injury, Dickey racked up a 20-6 record with an NL-best 233.2 innings pitched and 230 strikeouts.
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