Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Book: Wherever I Wind Up, by R.A. Dickey (2012)

Robert Allen Dickey is the kind of player you want on your roster, and I don’t say that just because he currently has a 4-1 record for my New York Mets. The last active knuckleball pitcher in Major League Baseball is good copy. He’s a character, obsessed with Star Wars (see his Twitter feed), eloquent in postgame interviews, talking up William Faulkner in the clubhouse. He also has character; inspired by his love of Hemingway, he spent part of the last off-season climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for at-risk women and youth in Mumbai. And now he’s written a book.

Wherever I Wind Up, co-authored by New York Daily News reporter Wayne Coffey, is a plain-spoken memoir about a life spent in “a game of managing regrets.” Dickey writes honestly about growing up in a broken home in Tennessee, his mother’s alcoholism (“I got my share of yellow stars (for success in Little League), but they never made it onto my uniform. My mom had a lot going on.”), incidents of childhood sexual abuse. Sports was a way out, until a routine physical revealed that the Olympic athlete lacked a crucial ligament in his elbow. He instantly went from first-round draft pick to cast-off, scuffling for years in the minor leagues. Dickey is blunt about the psychological, emotional and financial hardships of a career spent largely at the margins of what “can be a brutal, bottom-line business” which at its best affords “a life that can make you a perennial adolescent, where your needs are catered to, and narcissism is as prevalent as sunflower seeds.”

What saved him was religion, the love of a good woman, and the knuckleball, the fluttery pitch that maddens hitters and maims catchers. It’s certainly the only weapon in a hurler’s arsenal that requires emergency trips to the nail salon. The best stretches of the book are about the curious fraternity of knuckleballers, members of which – Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield – provide Dickey with insight and pointers. (“I’m part of a brotherhood, and the only prerequisite for admission is a passion for the pitch.”) It’s an unlikely tale of an unorthodox triumph, told by an amiable narrator.

R.A. is also featured in the upcoming documentary Knuckleball! Here’s a clip. And it’s worth remembering that former Mets ace and current Mets announcer Ron Darling also wrote a book. The New York Metropolitans: the most literary team in the league.