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There is only one knuckleball pitcher in the major leagues in 2012. He is Robert Allen Dickey, better known as R.A.
This 37-year-old pitcher has been experiencing success with the knuckleball since last year. He is 8-1 with the New York Mets and has the most wins of any pitcher on the team’s staff.
A Nashville native, he graduated from the University of Tennessee, where he was an English major. He made the U.S. Olympic team and won both games he pitched at the Olympics.
Dickey seemed to have a promising career ahead of him as he left the University of Tennessee. The Texas Rangers offered him an $850,000 signing bonus and a promising future in their organization. However, at his signing physical it was noted he was missing a ligament in his elbow on his throwing arm. The Rangers withdrew their marvelous offer and eventually Dickey signed for a $75,000 bonus. He went into the Ranger farm system, where he was a very average pitcher.
The future of the pitcher did not look promising until 2006, when the Rangers suggested he become a knuckleball pitcher. His father had messed around with a knuckleball for years, so R.A. knew of the pitch and threw it for fun. It was a great idea to try to become a professional knuckleball pitcher because it places virtually no stress on the pitching arm.
Most people saw the news report in 2007 of a baseball player who almost drowned in the Missouri River. This was the low point of Dickey’s career. He decided he had always wanted to swim across the Missouri River, which was just outside the hotel when he was in Omaha.
This was almost a fatal decision. After an hour in the water, he gave up. It was at that moment he hit the bottom and was able to get close enough to the bank for a teammate to pull him from the river.
This event changed his life. He knew he hit bottom. He hit the bottom of the river bed and the bottom of his life. He knew he needed to take advantage of this new opportunity in his life to become the knuckleball pitcher he wanted to be.
The knuckleball is a unique pitch as pitcher and catcher do not really know where it will go. It indeed flutters up to the plate and then dives wildly in any direction. It is an incredibly difficult pitch to catch. Most catchers wear oversized gloves and hope to knock the ball down and keep it in front of them.
The secret of the knuckleball is to release it so that, as it flies the 60 feet, 6 inches, to the batter, there’s absolutely no spin on the ball. It takes a special grip to be able to throw a baseball with no spin. This is in contrast to a regular pitch, which spins in some way to make the ball curve or move in the strike zone. The spinning of the baseball is very hard on a pitcher’s arm, which is why the Rangers wanted Dickey to find a different way to be a quality pitcher.
To be a successful with the knuckleball, a pitcher must be able to throw the pitch identically at least 90 times in a row. Most pitchers can thrown the knuckleball very well about 80 percent of the time. When the ball is not thrown perfectly it acts like an easy-to-hit batting practice pitch and most batters can pound the ball. In baseball, 80 percent is just not good enough. In fact, it is a disaster. It took Dickey four years to become consistent with the pitch and he is now very proficient.
One other factor has made Dickey a good knuckleball pitcher. He got old. He became very good at 36 and now at 37 he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Most quality knuckleball pitchers do very well even when they are in their 40s.
It is great to see an old and consistent pitcher who has overcome many obstacles to finally become one of the best in baseball.
Dr. Keith Wilson is a performance consultant in Hardin County and owner of The Wilson Center for Performance. He is performance anxiety consultant to the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.