Two years after R.A. Dickey was the first player cut by the New York Mets in spring training, he now has a Cy Young Award on his résumé. Dickey won the National League Cy Young on Wednesday, becoming the first knuckleballer to receive the honor.
I didn't know much about Dickey until I saw the film "Knuckleball" about a month ago. The documentary, co-directed by Emmy-nominated filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, is not just about a quirky pitch, but about a handful of athletes and dreamers who were willing to re-invent themselves to stay in a game they loved. Dickey is one of those athletes.
R.A. Dickey Credit Image: © Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com
The feature-length documentary about the impossible-to-hit pitch recounts the 2011 journey of Dickey and Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield Knuckleball pitchers are outliers in society: they have to constantly prove themselves in a world that values speed, accuracy, and numerical accountability. Our society is obsessed with youth, speed, and power and the directors were drawn to the fact that the knuckleball doesn’t require any of those attributes. It requires craftsmanship and patience, and it gets better over time. Where else in competitive athletics do you get better as you get older?
Neither director knew much about baseball when they took on the project. In some ways, that was good for the film – they weren’t afraid to ask questions because they didn’t know better, and their goal was to open up this obscure subject to people who, like them, didn’t know a lot about baseball either. If that was the goal, they were enormously successful. They turned a film about an elusive pitch into an entertaining sports documentary and a metaphor about life.
When Stern and Sundberg began shooting Knuckleball, Dickey was about to start his first major league multiyear contract of his entire career, with the New York Mets. He was 36, an age when most pitchers are starting to think about retirement. Wakefield, on the other hand, was playing the last season of his career.
As the directors cut the film, they realized the knuckleball pitch is an interesting symbol for where many of us are right now in our lives. We're living in uncertain times but in following an unexpected path, and being brave enough to reinvent yourself, you can find success. The film interweaves the small and very unique fraternity of men who have thrown the pitch over the years, demonstrating a nostalgic sense of hard work, re-invention, humility and perseverance. These guys’ personal stories are really about doing what it takes to stay in the major leagues. They are survivor stories.
Dickey's Cy Young honor this week is a testament to his survival. His 2012 feats include becoming the first pitcher in modern baseball history (since 1900) to record consecutive one-hit shutouts while striking out at least 10 in each start -- on June 13 at Tampa Bay and June 18 vs. Baltimore.
"For me, this is an honor to be shared. It's a great honor, and I am not a self-made man by any stretch of the imagination. There have been countless people who have poured into me in a way that has changed my life -- not only on the field, but off. A few of those men are some of the knuckleballers that have had incredible seasons that didn't necessarily get acknowledged for their feats -- Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, Charlie Hough. This is a victory for all of us, not to mention, the New York Mets fan base."
Congrats to Dickey on the well deserved award - and to an amazing pitcher for keeping the legacy of the knuckleball alive.
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