After much speculation and negotiation, the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets as part of a seven-player trade that sends the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner to Toronto along with catcher Josh Thole and Minor League catcher Mike Nickeas in exchange for highly touted catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, the system’s top pitching prospect in Noah Syndergaard, veteran catcher John Buck and outfield prospect Wilmer Becerra.

Only in a world where fantasy baseball trades, video game franchise modes and prospect rankings are given more credence than they’re due could this trade be viewed in a negative light. It’s a good deal for both teams. The swap shores up a New York Mets organization that hopes to build around a young pitching rotation with the proven talent of the recently locked up David Wright. Meanwhile the Toronto Blue Jays further establish their newly found status as the best team in the American League East – at a time when the rest of the division appears wobbled by age and inconsistency – by acquiring a pitcher whose $5 million salary in 2013 likely makes him the greatest value-add possible for a rotation.

Dickey’s contributions go beyond the benefits of exceptional talent at a below-market price. He’s a unique player, a unique person, who offers a multitude of qualities underneath his jersey. He isn’t easily encompassed or grasped. However, here for your enjoyment and edification is an attempt to do just that: The Getting Blanked A-Z Guide To R.A. Dickey.

A Is For Awesome

R.A. Dickey is awesome. He’s smart. He’s old. He’s affable. He’s articulate. He does something that no one else in the game can do. And he does it well. He’s everything that baseball fans should want a baseball player to be. After David Wright began looking more like 2011 David Wright instead of 2007 David Wright as the season wore on, Dickey was one of the few reasons to watch the 74-88 New York Mets finish out their season.

Despite his contributions, he was maligned by the front office this off season for publicly pushing his agenda to sign a contract extension. Writing for the New York Times, Tyler Kepner defended Dickey and chastised the Mets organization for their questionable behavior toward the team’s best pitcher last season.

Dickey is unfailingly polite and respectful, the way we wish all players would be. His compelling back story, and willingness to share it, broadened the Mets’ appeal. [...] Yet this is the man the Mets chose to malign. Trading him might make sense, if the prospects help the Mets start winning again, someday. Smearing him in the process was utterly classless. For all he gave the Mets, on the field and off, Dickey deserved better.

We could argue over the merits of this particular statistic all day, so please don’t take it for more than the fun with which it’s intended, but the New York Mets were 53-39 in games that R.A. Dickey started over the last three years. They were also 177-217 in games with any other starter.

B Is For Born-Again

R.A. Dickey is a born-again Christian. It’s easy to mock the spiritual beliefs of professional athletes because it often seems that their faith is borne out of convenience or tradition rather than genuineness. That’s not the case for Dickey, who is extremely thoughtful in his conviction and understanding of religion. His beliefs are well-rooted as evidenced by him counting obscure scriptures among his favorites and a locker that’s perpetually full of C.S. Lewis books.

C Is For Cy Young

R.A. Dickey won the 2012 National League Cy Young Award. There are valid arguments to make for other pitchers having more successful 2012 seasons. Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and maybe even Craig Kimbrel all have legitimate cases. However, no pitcher combined as stellar of a statistical performance with the capturing of our collective imaginations quite like Dickey.

His numbers in comparison to 46 qualified starting pitchers across the National League:

  • 20 wins (second in the NL);
  • 5 complete games (first in the NL);
  • 3 shut outs (first in the NL);
  • 233 and two-third innings pitched (first in the NL);
  • 2.73 earned run average (second in the NL);
  • 24.8% strike out rate (fifth in the NL);
  • 5.8% walk rate (tied for twelfth in the NL);
  • 1.05 walks and hits per inning pitched (third in the NL);
  • 12.2% swinging strike rate (tied for second in the NL);
  • 50.6% swing rate from batters (first in the NL);
  • 27 quality starts (first in the NL);
  • 14.4 pitches per inning pitched (first in the NL); and
  • 62.1 average game score (second in the NL).

He is the first and only knuckleballer to win the award.

D Is For Dickster

R.A. Dickey calls his favorite sandwich The Dickster. According to Ted Berg of SNY.com, the wrap is a staple on road trips for the knuckleballer. It consists of turkey, bacon, Havarti cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise, all wrapped up in a tortilla shell.

E Is For Extension

R.A. Dickey was willing to sign a very reasonable extension with the New York Mets. They didn’t want to do that, and so they traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays. As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, this probably works out well for both teams. However, by signing Dickey to a two-year contract extension worth $25 million, they acquire an elite pitcher who will receive an average of $10 million annually over the next three seasons. That’s phenomenal value.

Compare this to three-year free agent contracts that pitchers have signed so far this off-season:

  • Jonathan Broxton for $21 million;
  • Jeremy Guthrie for $25 million; and
  • Brandon League for $22.5 million.

Or compare it to Zack Greinke’s six-year contract worth $147 million that could end up as a three-year deal worth $76 million if the pitcher opts out half-way through. Of course, none of the acquiring teams from these examples had to give up multiple prospects to sign the pitcher, but none of these pitchers, not even Greinke, has contributed more to his team than Dickey over the last three seasons (according to Baseball Reference).

In addition to merely signing an extension for less money than he requested from the New York Mets, Dickey’s deal with the Blue Jays also includes an extra year at the team’s discretion.

F Is For Five Consecutive Starts

R.A. Dickey is the only pitcher in Major League Baseball history to have five consecutive starts without giving up a single earned run, all while still getting at least eight strikeouts in each appearance.

G Is For Giving

R.A. Dickey gives back to those in need. In addition to his work with the faith-based chairty Honoring the Father Ministries, providing  impoverished areas of Central America with medical supplies and powdered milk, along with baseball equipment, Dickey has raised money and awareness to combat human trafficking and sexual abuse both at home and abroad.

H Is For Hit

R.A. Dickey gave up one single hit in three starts last season. Two of those one-hitters came on back-to-back starts. This bit of good luck/bad luck will be familiar to Blue Jays fans. The last pitcher to throw consecutive one-hitters was Dave Stieb back in 1988. He finally pitched a no-hitter in 1990. Generally speaking, hard-throwing pitchers who induce a lot of fly balls and collect a lot of strike outs are the most likely to no-hit the opposition, Dickey, with his dominating disturbance of a batter’s timing, remains a no-no threat.

I Is For I

R.A. Dickey believes that there is an “I” in “TEAM.” We’re not all equally enamored with Dickey. In fact, to read a Ken Davidoff column that appeared in the New York Post this weekend, we realized that there are a quite a few from among the New York Mets front office, roster and cadre of beat writers who don’t care for the pitcher’s shtick.

Dickey can be a handful.

Less boastfully, Davidoff continues:

He clearly has enjoyed his rise from the ashes into a Flushing folk hero, and while he deserves praise and riches, there’s also the matter of him having to coexist peacefully in a workplace. His gift for self-promotion and his love of attention don’t endear himself to most teammates. Instead, his durability and outstanding results led him to be appreciated but far from beloved.

Whether this is the manifestation of the sour grapes propaganda of a front office that was displeased with Dickey’s criticisms of the team during a holiday party, or the legitimate findings of a generally well-regarded writer, it shows that not everyone is as in love with Dickey as it sometimes seems.

J Is For Journeyman

R.A. Dickey is a journeyman. Nothing has come easy for Dickey. After ten years of floundering in the Texas Rangers organization, including 77 appearances at the Major League level as both a starter and a reliever, the pitcher was reduced to signing a Minor League contract with the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2007 season. He spent the entire year with his hometown Nashville Sounds at the Triple-A level.

He signed another Minor League deal with the Minnesota Twins ahead of the 2008 season, but he was picked up by the Seattle Mariners in the Rule Five Draft and spent more than half of the season in the Majors, pitching out of the bullpen.

Before the start of the 2009 season, he was traded back to the Minnesota Twins, where he again pitched as a reliever, splitting time between Triple A and the Major Leagues.

At the end of August, he was designated for assignment by the Twins, and his season was finished.

Dickey, not interested in calling it a career quite yet, signed another Minor League contract ahead of the 2010 season with the New York Mets. He began the season with the Buffalo Bisons at the Triple A level, but soon got the call-up. He pitched well enough that year to earn his first Major League contract as a free agent, signing a two-year deal with a club option for 2013. Over the next two years, Dickey would go on to pitch more innings than all but five other pitchers, and rack up the eighth-lowest ERA in all of baseball.

His newest contract, this time with the Toronto Blue Jays, means that he’ll never have to ride the Dickey-Dee bike again.

K Is For Knuckleballs

R.A. Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher.

After eight years in the Texas Rangers system, with his unimpressive stuff proving ineffective at the Major League level, Dickey made the decision to extend his career by adapting his forkball, which more closely resembled a knuckleball anyway, into the pitch that he most frequently uses today.

Dickey described the moment of this transformation in his autobiography:

I am in a small space, surrounded by concerned faces. The topic of the day is my lifelong run as a conventional pitcher. It is being decided on a sofa in Buck Showalter’s office. The sofa is comfortable, but I am not.

Across from me are Buck, pitching coach Orel Hershiser and bullpen coach Mark (Goose) Connor. It is mid-April 2005, nine years after the Rangers drafted me. I’ve been a member of Buck’s staff for the last two seasons, my first extended time in the big leagues. I am not even as good as marginal. My ERA was 5.09 in 2003 and 5.61 in 2004, and I give up a bunch more hits than innings pitched. I have enough promising moments to convince the front office to keep me around, but as hard as I compete I can’t seem to sustain any success.

Two days earlier, against the Angels, I’d thrown a sinker and felt as if I’d been stabbed in the right shoulder. The pain landed me on the disabled list and now on my manager’s couch. My senses are on high alert, noticing everything from the tight weave of the carpet to the reddish, round contour of Buck’s face.

After you finish rehabbing your shoulder, what would you think about going back to the minors to become a knuckleball pitcher? Orel asks. We think it’s your best chance for success. You have a good knuckleball already. You have the perfect makeup to make it work, because you know how to compete.

I squirm on the sofa. Orel and I have had some general conversations about this but nothing concrete. I’ve done bullpen sessions for him in which I’ve thrown nothing but the knuckleball. He’s always been positive and supportive. Positive is exactly what I need right now, because I’m full of doubts and short on hope, a 30-year-old journeyman whose career is hanging by a glove string.

O.K., so not many people have confused me with Nolan Ryan. But still, I’ve always been able to throw 92 or 93 miles per hour. I became an All-American at Tennessee and an Olympian and a first-round draft choice because I had a big league fastball and a big league changeup. Now I am supposed to say goodbye to all that and join the lineage of Hoyt Wilhelm and the Niekro brothers and Charlie Hough?

It is what I have to do, because radar guns don’t lie, and this whole spring, my fastball has been topping out at 85 or 86. My arm feels fine and I cut the ball loose, and what? Nothing.

In my heart I know what is going on. I know my arm is spent. I have no backup plan if the Rangers let me go. Worse still, I have lost all belief in my ability. I feel overmatched. I imagine a future making widgets on an assembly line.

So I look at Buck and Orel and Goose, and I tell them:

I’ll do it. I’ll go to the minors. I’ll become a full-time knuckleball pitcher.

I stand up and shake hands with all three of them, a life-changing, seven-minute meeting complete. I feel as if a weight has been lifted, as if they’re throwing a lifeline to me. Who cares about throwing 90? I’m tired of being average, or worse. Tired of being lost, hiding on the margins of life and the Rangers’ roster. Tired of pretending I am something I am not. I have no idea how this experiment is going to go, but I can’t wait to find out.

The Rangers, desperate to attain some value from what had become a lost first round draft pick, agreed that desperate times called for desperate measures, and gave Dickey a chance to try out his knuckleball at the Major League level by putting him in the rotation ahead of the 2006 season.

In his first start as an official knuckleballer, he gave up six home runs, and was quickly demoted back to Triple-A Oklahoma. Then, after three more years of fiddling with the pitch for three different organizations, moving back and forth between Triple-A and the Major Leagues, Dickey finally found his pitch with the New York Mets. As he’s grown more confident with it, the results have become more and more impressive. In fact, he won last year’s NL Cy Young award while using knuckleballs for 85% of his pitching repertoire.

L Is For Life Of Pi

R.A. Dickey read Life Of Pi. Dickey is an avid reader, with a reputation for having a locker that resembles a liberal arts major’s personal library (minus the bag of weed). Perhaps the most appropriate book ever spotted in his locker was Yann Martel’s second novel. The religious allegory is essentially about a journey both in terms of literal distance and personal growth, something that Dickey, as a baseball sojourner, could appreciate and relate.

M Is For Mount Kilmanjaro

R.A. Dickey climbed Mount Kilmanjaro. In order to raise funds and awareness for combatting human trafficking in India, Dickey climbed the mountain in January of 2012 with New York Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello and Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Kevin Slowey. Together, they raised over $100,000 for “Bombay Teen Challenge,” an organization that assists victims of human trafficking located in the city’s “red-light district.” The decision to make the climb could have potentially cost Dickey the entirety of his 2012 contract if he had injured himself and could not live up to his team’s expectations. The New York Mets organizations was reportedly (and understandably) not terribly enthused with the idea at the time.

N Is For New York Mets

R.A. Dickey signed a Minor League contract with the New York Mets two days before Christmas in 2009. After starting the 2010 season at Triple A Buffalo, Dickey was called to the big leagues on May 19th. He would never look back, emerging as the team’s best pitcher and earning a tw0-year contract with a club option at the end of the year.

Over the course of three full seasons as a member of the New York Mets, Dickey put up the following numbers:

  • 91 games started;
  • 8 complete games;
  • 4 shutouts;
  • 616 and two-third innings pitched;
  • 468 strike outs;
  • 1.15 walks and hits per inning pitched;
  • 3.12 strike out to walk ratio; and
  • 2.95 earned run average.

As previously expressed, Dickey quickly became a fan favorite in New York. His efforts were often the only reason to watch and care about the team. It should be recognized that in addition to being a solitary spark of light during a rather dark period in the franchise’s history, his trade also ushers in a new era for Mets fans to look forward with the return that the team receives from the Toronto Blue Jays.

However, I’m not sure if there’s better evidence of how beloved Dickey is in New York than the fact that the most cynical baseball fans that I’m aware of turn to absolute mush at the briefest mention of the pitcher’s name.

O is For Olympics

R.A. Dickey competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, winning a bronze medal with the U.S. men’s baseball team. He started two games during the tournament, and received credit for the win in both instances. This might actually be of importance to someone out there.

P Is For Puns

R.A. Dickey has a name that inspires a lot of puns. It can get a bit RA-Dickey-lous, but with a last name resembling a slang term for a particular piece of male anatomy, elementary school puns are par for the course with the knuckleballer. While typically, this doesn’t go much further than questioning whether or not Dickey will be able to keep it up, rumors of a potential Dickey extension provided more ammunition than ever before to the comic geniuses who recognize the hilarity of genitalia.

If you find such plays on words offensive, I’d recommend that you take a long and hard look at yourself, straighten out your flaccid sense of humor and firmly grasp what it might take to become more open-minded and less stiff as it pertains to laughter.

Q Is For Quotes

R.A. Dickey gives good quotes. Part of the reason for Dickey becoming such a fan favorite in New York is due to the light in which he’s painted by the media. As a player who provides thoughtful answers to the questions of writers and broadcasters, Dickey has established himself as a unique source. The admiration of journalists, as intercessors for fans, comes across to the supporters who follow the team, whether he’s speaking about the craft of his duties:

Growing up, you just want to compete, and then once you have the weaponry to compete, you want to be really good, and then when you’re really good, you want to be supernaturally good. For me, there’s been this steady metamorphosis from just surviving, to being a craftsman, and then, ultimately, the hope is to be an artist in what you do. This year is kind of representative of that for me.

Or embracing his role as philosopher pitcher:

If you aren’t willing to face your demons – if you can’t find the courage to take on your fear and hurt and anger -you might as well wrap them up with a bow and give them to your children. Because they will be carrying the same thing … unless you are willing to do the work.

It represents an articulation of thought that’s uncommon to most locker rooms, and it’s a rather welcome change for both reporters and fans alike.

R Is For Robert

R.A. Dickey’s full name is Robert Allen Dickey. He was born on October 29, 1974, in Nashville, Tennessee.

S Is For Sexual Abuse

R.A. Dickey was sexually abused as a child. In his autobiography, Dickey courageously shares his story of sexual abuse, admitting that the hurtful incidents from his past led to his later struggles with suicidal thoughts. Dickey stayed silent about the abuse for more than 20-years.

In an interview with Anthony DiComo for MLB.com, Dickey explained why he wanted to share his suffering.

It doesn’t ever really go away, so to speak. But you certainly can live with it in a way that you’re not ashamed. Shame and fear and loneliness – those are the sensations that you feel when something like that happens to you, and those are the sensations that I carried with me for a long, long time. So part of the effort of the book is to try to convey that a lot of good can come from sharing it.

I hope sexual abuse is never looked at in the same way, as far as something that’s taboo to talk about or something that’s tough to openly discuss. We all have our issues and all have had our adversities in our lives, and that was one in particular for me that I feel like if I could have handled differently early on, things might have ended up differently. And that’s part of the story.

T Is For Texas Rangers

R.A. Dickey was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the 1996 Rule Four Draft from the University of Tennessee. He signed a $75,000 bonus, and spent four years in the organization before his Major League debut in 2001, making four relief appearances. He spent all of 2002 in the Minors before being used as a long-man/spot-starter in 2003. After three more seasons between Triple-A and the Majors, the Rangers let him go following the 2006 season.

He didn’t provide much in the way of value to Texas as a first round draft pick, but the Rangers showed a lot of patience to Dickey in allowing him the time to try to find himself, or more accurately, his knuckleball. Without their willingness to keep the draft bust around, it’s unlikely that he would’ve developed into the pitcher that he is today.

U Is For Ulnar Collateral Ligament

R.A. Dickey doesn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament. It’s rare that a first round draft pick should receive as little in terms of a signing bonus as Dickey did from the Texas Rangers, but there’s some reason behind this. After being drafted by the Rangers, Dickey was initially offered an $810,000 signing bonus. However, after seeing the pitcher’s arm hanging awkwardly in a photograph, an evaluation from team doctors revealed that Dickey didn’t have a UCL. The signing bonus was quickly taken back, and a new offer of less than 10 per cent of the original was left on the table.

When we hear of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery, it’s to repair this particular ligament, something that prior to Dickey, was assumed to be an absolute necessity for pitching. Even Dickey himself has been quoted as saying that doctors have told him that he shouldn’t be able to turn a doorknob without feeling pain. While the medical mystery might be cause for some concern, at least the pitcher nor his team never need worry about missing time for rehabilitation after Tommy John surgery.

V Is For Variance

R.A. Dickey throws different types of knuckleballs depending on the situation. When we refer to R.A. Dickey as a knuckleball pitcher, it’s not quite accurate. R.A. Dickey is a knuckleballs pitcher. He throws two knuckleballs.

In French, a knuckleball is much more elegantly referred to as “la balle papillon.” Translated literally, this means a butterfly ball. When most of us think of knuckleballs, we think of Tim Wakefield’s slow drifter, coming at the batter much like a butterfly would flutter. However, Wakefield was never able to collect as many swinging strikes or induce as many swings at pitches outside of the strike zone as Dickey has been able to over the last few years.

That’s because Dickey throws different knuckleballs in different situations. His typical pitch comes at hitters more than ten miles per hour faster than a Wakefield offering at a speed that more closely resembles Jamie Moyer’s best fastball. It moves a little less, but leaves the batter with even less time to have any clue as to what’s going on.

The most impressive thing to baseball nerds like myself is that Dickey somehow mastered the control of knuckleballs in 2012, both in terms of velocity and location. Here we see how Dickey collected strike outs last season. Basically, by throwing up in the zone on two strikes. This is something that’s never been done before. A typical knuckleball up in the zone is what batters are looking for when they face that type of pitcher.

However, Dickey is able to dial back and actually choose to throw his knuckleball at a higher velocity  (and with slightly less movement) when he’s ahead in the count than when he’s not ahead in the count. He does this all while locating it up in the zone where he’s able to successfully attain those precious swings and misses.

W Is For Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball

R.A. Dickey’s autobiography is titled: Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball. While much attention was paid to the knuckleballer’s revelations regarding his history of sexual abuse, a much larger portion of the book was dedicated to Dickey’s faith.

According to a feature in Sports Illustrated, the impetus for the book arose from the gloom of looking ahead to another season of Minor League baseball.

Four years ago, Dickey was in the Mariners’ organization and, in what had become a rite of spring, he failed to make the team. Then 33, he was dispatched to Triple A Tacoma, “a 4A player,” as he puts it, too good for the minors but not quite good enough for the Show. He rented a house overlooking Puget Sound, furnished only with an inflatable air mattress from Walmart. One night, he opened a moleskin notebook and began to write down his story. “I’d always journaled, but now I had to get it in narrative form,” he says. “I had to write what was true, even if it meant going to some dark places.” After a few nights, the exercise became so painful that he put the project on hold. Dickey says he “didn’t have the emotional vocabulary” to deal with the issues he was exploring.

By 2010 he was in a better place, physically and metaphorically. Living in New York after a midseason call-up by the Mets, Dickey revisited the manuscript, met with the prominent literary agent Esther Newberg, partnered with Wayne Coffey, a well-regarded sportswriter with the New York Daily News, and landed a deal with Blue Rider Press, a division of Penguin. Dickey has spent the last two years ruminating, outlining, writing, rewriting and rewriting some more.

X Is For The X-Factor

R.A. Dickey has the x-factor. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Dickey is that he’s not the fictional creation of an American writer. His personality and performance mirror each other so well that it’s difficult to believe he’s a genuine human being, and not a construct built to offer an allegory.

Whether we compare his pitching style to other pitchers or his thoughtfulness to other athletes, Dickey stands out. He is exceptional in his uniqueness, and his almost mutant-like status seems to extend into every facet of his being. This is a guy, after all, who names his bats after swords in J.R.R. Tolkien books. He’s not the typical baseball player, and he’s not the typical man.

Y Is For Years

R.A. Dickey is 38-years-old. Compared to other Major League pitchers, that would be old, but as you’ve hopefully gathered from this guide, R.A. Dickey shouldn’t be compared to other Major League pitchers. He is something else entirely. And as such, the age of 38 might be considered middle age, especially if we dare to compare Dickey to knuckleballers from the past like the aforementioned Tim Wakefield, who retired as a 45-year-old; or Charlie Hough, whose last season came at the age of 46.

It’s likely a fool’s errand attempting to compare Dickey to anyone, but as a knuckleballer, he could very well remain a productive pitcher for years to come.

Z Is For Zone

R.A. Dickey is able to throw his knuckleball in the strike zone. When we see that Dickey is successful at inducing swings from opposition batters, and we see that those swings more often than not result in bad contact and misses, the solution to finding success against Dickey might seem obvious: Just don’t swing at his pitches.

That wouldn’t work out so well. Here’s his location chart on his knuckleball from last season:

In the past, Dickey has talked about each knuckleball he throws having a life to itself, beyond his control. This may be somewhat modest. As previously expressed, Dickey does quite a good job of controlling his most used pitch. While he may not be able to locate it with the precision of Cliff Lee placing a fastball, his high called strike to ball ratio ensures that batters can’t just sit back and not swing at pitches.

This is why he was the only pitcher in baseball last season to induce swings on 50 per cent of his pitches. He’s an absolute nightmare to face because a batter is essentially damned if he does or damned if he doesn’t. If he does swing, there’s a 26.5 per cent chance that the batter will miss completely, 36 per cent chance that he’ll merely hit the ball foul, a 13 per cent chance that he’ll pop up to the infield, and a less than 20 per cent chance that a batter will be able to make good enough contact for a line drive.

This is why 25 per cent of Dickey’s pitches result in an outcome. It’s almost impossible to go deep into a count with him, because the odds are that he’s going to make a batter look foolish while getting him out.