x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Knuckle down is a knucklehead move as Dickey proved the Mets

The Knuckleheads are the New York Mets, who could have retained him at a salary below market value. But their offer to the free agent all but shouted disinterest.

RA Dickey won 20 of 26 games for a rotten team.
RA Dickey won 20 of 26 games for a rotten team.

It is the season in America to gather around a roaring fire - or, in more tropical climes, an outdoor swimming pool - for some holiday storytelling. Here is one called The Knuckleballer and The Knuckleheads.

The Knuckleballer is RA Dickey, master of the peculiar and unpredictable pitch that inspired Bobby Murcer to liken hitting it to eating jelly with chopsticks. Dickey won 20 of 26 games for a rotten team, which made him the Cy Young Award winner in the National League.

The Knuckleheads are the New York Mets, who could have retained him at a salary below market value. But their offer to the free agent all but shouted disinterest.

As a result, Dickey is learning the lyrics to O Canada. The Knuckleheads shipped him to the Toronto Blue Jays in a multi-player swap.

In fairness, the Mets fall short of total knucklehead status. They pried decent prospects from the Blue Jays. When your team is rebuilding - though, in the Mets' case, restoring the pyramids might be completed faster - sacrificing veterans for youngsters is an accepted practice. But the Knuckleballer is a special case.

Dickey is 38, resourceful enough to have reinvented himself with a new pitch in the apparent twilight of his career. Suddenly, it is midday all over again. He might as well be 33, given how little his arm is taxed by throwing the knuckler.

Dickey did not adopt the pitch until 2005, which suggests he is still on an upwards arc.

Judged strictly on between-the-lines factors, the trade is a closer call. For Dickey, there is so much more to consider.

He is an incentive for Mets fans, a dwindling bunch, to patronise the ballpark, if only on every fifth day. He is a reason for them to pay attention as Dickey is an imminently likeable fellow who never responds in cliches to the media but is always thoughtful, and sometimes provocative in his responses.

Need someone to stand as an exemplar for your team, one who defies the jock stereotype? Dickey frequents sushi restaurants, listens to Chopin on his car CD player and devours books by Japanese authors. He studied existentialism in college and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Some teams frown on their players supposedly fouling up the locker room with interests that distract them from pondering endlessly on whether to hit the cut-off man or take a 2-and-0 pitch.

Such knuckleheaded thinking, that is. Guys whose curiosity extends beyond the stadium are better suited to leave their work behind, thus creating a more healthy environment to succeed.

One more thing. Not that the Mets should toss this onto the scales, but Dickey's memoir that chronicled how he has come to terms with being victimised by child abuse is so uplifting that it is a shame he will no longer have the media megaphone that a New York presence allows.

Yes, a knuckleballer can drive a catcher loony. Bob Uecker said: "The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up." So, give the Mets catchers a token raise for their troubles.

In some circles, it is considered downright unmanly to rely on a pitch that Willie Stargell once equated to "throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbour's mailbox".

Hard-core baseball men prefer Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson, whose servings are relatively arrow-straight while breaking the speed of sound.

Yet Dickey's distinction as the lone big-leaguer whose primary pitch is the knuckler, plus his projected longevity, should have made him a keeper with The Knuckleheads.

And that concludes our holiday story. Next: Tyrannosaurus Rex - How Jets Coach Rex Ryan Joined The Dinosaurs in Extinction.

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