Yes, I am a New York Mets fan, but the fact that R.A. Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award is the best story in sports in 2012. In a year of muck and mire – think Melky Cabrera, Lance Armstrong, the NHL mess, and the New Orleans Saints Bounty Scandal – it is refreshing to have a great story about a good guy who got what he deserved.
Dickey’s story is not just a Mets story, but one for all sports fans, for it transcends team glory and becomes a lesson in perseverance and human dignity. For every kid who has thrown a ball against a wall, for every one who has swung a bat, shot a basket, slapped a puck, or tossed a football and dreamt of being in professional sports, this is a story for you.
Looking at Dickey’s career, one would have to be surprised that he got here. Coming into this year, he had never won more than 11 games in a season (2010) and had a career record of 41-50. This is not the stuff of which dreams are made, but since coming to the Mets Dickey has “found” himself, starting more games each year, pitching more innings, and developing that knuckleball with consistency that has helped him find success.
In the three seasons he has been with the Mets he has become the ace of the staff and has endeared himself to the fans. When Dickey won the award, he was as always humble and grateful. The thing that struck me was that he said it was for the fans. He recognized that in a difficult season with not much going for it, the fans needed something for which to cheer. That something was Dickey, as he became the first Met to win 20 games since 1990 and only the third player on the team to win the Cy Young (after Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden). Of course, Dickey said, “To have my name linked to Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden is quite humbling.” Would we expect anything less?
Dickey beat out Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals with 209 votes. Clearly, the 20 wins were not the only thing that put him on top. He had a 2.73 ERA and led the league in innings pitched, strikeouts, shutouts, and complete games. He also most definitely led the league in personality, a shiningly bright example of everything good about the game.
He is also a knuckleballer, and that seems rather unique these days, a throwback to old fashioned baseball as much as the high stockings he wears on the field. He has the old-time aura about him, as if he could have been a contemporary of Cy Young or that he could have struck out Mel Ott or Ty Cobb just as easily as he could Ryan Howard or Matt Kemp.
Dickey’s story is so inspiring because he defied the odds. He had the pinball journey from team to team, from majors to minors, and then he finally came to the Mets in the minors, pitched very well, and got the team to notice. He came up in 2010 and his knuckleball excited the fans, inspired his teammates, and earned him 11 wins. Dickey was on his way after that, but the 20-6 Cy Young season still comes out of nowhere, and it is a shot in the arm to Mets fans who suffered through another dismal year, one in which Johan Santana threw the team’s first no-hitter and then fell apart, as did the season after that. The one shining light was Dickey, and fans appreciate that and he definitely knows it.
Off the field, Dickey is a simple family man from Nashville. What some people might not know is that last year Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to help Bombay Teen Challenge, a charity that assists girls in danger of abuse in Mumbai, India. He wrote of this journey in The New York Times, Dickey also wrote a book (along with writer Wayne Coffey) – Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball – and this great story is told by a man who has climbed the mountain both literally and figuratively. One can see the beauty of this story, the metaphor of mountain climbing not just to help others but as a summary of his whole pitching career. The struggle, the moving upward against all odds, the reaching the top, and the reward being not just the stunning view but the fact that he got there.
Dickey deserves this award and he says it is for the Mets fans. Yes, we are long suffering, but stories like Dickey’s not only make us happy but are also why we remain loyal fans. Our team can lose, and boy they know how to do that, but there is a human connection for us. Over the years it hasn’t just been about 1969, 1973, 1986, and 2000 (when the team was in the World Series), but about all those years in between when names like Kranepool, Throneberry, Seaver, Koosman, Grote, Swoboda, Gooden, Strawberry, Carter, Knight, Hernandez, Franco (John), Piazza, Reyes, Knight, Dickey (and too many others to name here) were not just players but guys we liked, ones who seemed like our family and friends.
Dickey climbed the mountain, got to the top, and we are all cheering him. In a tough year in sports, it is the feel good story of the year. We need more of that kind of thing for sure, but for now let Dickey bask in the glow of his accomplishment because he did it the old-fashioned way: He earned it.
Photo Credits: Dickey – NY Daily News; Kilimanjaro-telegraph.co.uk