Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey became the first pitcher who relies primarily… (Alex Trautwig / Getty Images )
R.A. Dickey's major league career was going nowhere -- and had been for years -- when he made a last-ditch decision to learn how to throw a knuckleball.
When done correctly, the floating, darting pitch is one of the most difficult to hit in baseball. But it is also one of the most difficult to throw.
“I knew what I was going to be up against in some regard when I embraced this pitch,” said the Mets pitcher, who was awarded the 2012 National League Cy Young Award on Wednesday.
Dickey was a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and was picked by Texas in the first round of that year's draft. But the Rangers reduced their signing-bonus offer from more than $800,000 to $75,000 after discovering that he was missing a major ligament in his pitching elbow.
He went on to bounce in and out of the major leagues for years and continued to struggle even after adopting the knuckleball. Still, he persevered, enlisting the help of some of the best knuckleballers in history -- Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.
Everything came together this season for Dickey, who at age 38 went 20-6 with a 2.73 earned-run average and led the NL in strikeouts (230), innings (233 2/3), complete games (five) and shutouts (three). After receiving 27 of 32 first-place votes, Dickey routed the competition and became the first pitcher who relies primarily on the knuckleball to ever win the Cy Young Award.
Of the 30 to 40 phone calls he received immediately following the announcement, Dickey said the only one he took was from Niekro. And of the 127 text messages he got, the first ones he responded to were from Wakefield and Hough.
“It brings a real degree of legitimacy I think to the knuckleball fraternity and I'm glad to represent them and I'm certainly grateful to all those guys,” Dickey said. “This was a victory for all of us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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