April 10, 2013 3:54 PM
MLB’s only “knuckler” shows his stuff
R.A. Dickey, whose sudden success for the New York Mets led to his becoming the only knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award, talks about his career and the pitch that saved it in a 60 Minutes profile to be broadcast Sunday, April 14 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Dickey pitched so well for the hapless Mets last season that they capitalized on the trading power he could bring them. They traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays in the off-season. Lesley Stahl visited the Blue Jays training camp in Florida to learn more about the knuckleball and the only man currently throwing it in the majors.
“[Batters] know what they’re getting. I know what I am throwing,” he tells Stahl. “It’s just a matter of ‘Can I throw a good one?'” He threw a lot of good ones last season, winning 20 games for a team that won less than half of its outings. He demonstrates the difference between a fast ball, which flies straight and fast with plenty of rotation, or spin, and the knuckleball, which has virtually no spin and therefore moves erratically because it’s affected by wind currents. The trick is to put just a little rotation — ideally one-quarter of one revolution — on it. Too much rotation and the ball is just a slow fastball with no movement.
“If I throw a bad knuckleball, you could hit it,” he says to Stahl. “If I throw a good knuckleball…nobody’s hitting it.”
But lots of hitters were hitting Dickey during a long and mostly minor league career, until a coach suggested he needed to change drastically to survive. The knuckleball was just such a change and he embraced it late in the second half of his career. The complete turnaround that Dickey, 38, experienced on the Mets last season was also accomplished through therapy and a cathartic book he wrote, detailing sexual abuse he endured as an 8-year-old boy that he had been suppressing his entire life. “I would always stuff it in a file somewhere…It was the first time I kind of went back and connected with that boy,” recalls Dickey. “…I was being freed up in some way.”
At one point last season, Dickey won 11 straight games. He finished the season with 20 wins and only six losses and became only the third Mets pitcher in team history to win the Cy Young. But they traded him to Toronto. “I don’t think I was hurt as I just was sad about it because [New York] is the place that I came to redeem my career,” says Dickey, who can joke about the trade, too. “I had finally had a parking space, you know,” he says with a laugh. “Which took me, what? Fourteen years to get a parking space.”
Stahl also talks with Dickey’s wife, Anne, who despite knowing her future husband since they were in school together, never knew of the abuse until she was invited to his therapy sessions. Dickey also takes Stahl back to his childhood home in Nashville, Tenn., where he grew up in a single-parent home.