New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is on top of the world today. As of this week, he’s been one of the best hurlers in Major League Baseball over the past year.
And he does it with the most unusual pitch in baseball; the knuckleball. But things haven’t always been that way for Dickey.
After a no-decision start that carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning Monday night, Dickey is 3-1 with a 4.45 earned run average early in the 2012 baseball season. That follows a remarkable final half of the 2011 season when he spent his first full season in the major leagues.
That ended his 15th season as a professional pitcher, many in the minor leagues, and fortunately for us, he kept a journal through many of those 15 years. And that journal has been crafted into an autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up; My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball,” by Dickey and sports writer Wayne Coffey.
As far as sports autobiographies go, this is one of the best. Dickey is clearly a very intelligent and introspective man who plays a game that's basically designed for children. Dickey and his autobiographer tell his story in a very frank and readable fashion.
And it's quite a story, one that meanders far from the usual straight-line progression of a baseball player from high school and college through the many rungs of the professional game. Dickey describes set-back after set-back during his unlikely ascent to his current status as one of the top pitchers in baseball today.
Dickey interweaves his personal pitfalls and triumphs with his remarkable journey that ended with his adoption of the quirky and unreliable knuckleball as his primary pitch at an age when most major leagues pitchers are considering retirement.
The book comes across as an honest and gritty account of a man haunted by his past, struggling to deal with his weaknesses as he tries to move forward in life and his profession. After roiling in a sea of personal trials, many of his own making, Dickey describes how Christianity became his lifeboat, yet maintains a certain down-to-earth dignity. His story remains one of humility and avoids any hint of the self-importance and arrogance that pervades the persona of many pro athletes today.
And as he relates the story of his redemption, he never comes across as evangelical. Dickey’s message seems to be, “This is what worked for me. This is how I pulled a tumultuous life together.” That, too, is refreshing among biographers that clearly attempt to push an agenda, be it religious, political or of any other persuasion.
Dickey comes across as honest, a professional athlete who’s had many years to reflect on his life and career even as he’s living and working at it. He freely admits the book is part of his penance, his therapy, for mistakes he made along the way.
Which is part of the book’s intrigue; there are glimpses into dark corners of Dickey’s life without garish and sensational detail. If a reader is looking for a voyeuristic tour of man who feels the need to bare his soul to purge his demons, this book isn’t really that. It’s about transgressions and redemption, but told on the writer’s terms, which works well for this autobiography. Dickey’s focus is on how he turned his mistakes into life lessons, and emerged as a more complete and whole human being.
Dickey’s story isn’t complete yet, but after reading this book, I can only hope he stays the course.
And I think most readers would agree.
“Wherever I Wind Up; My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball,” published by Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., New York. Copyright 2012.