First off, a fearless prediction: R.A. Dickey is not going to win the Cy Young award.
He’ll be deserving — he’s got a good chance to lead the league in strikeouts and maybe wins, and he’ll be up there among the ERA leaders. And I have no doubt that he’ll be mentioned alongside Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain and Kyle Lohse and Johnny Cueto.
But he won’t win.
Why not? Because he’s a knuckleballer, and because too many baseball writers and coaches and front-office people still regard knuckleballers as sideshow attractions, somewhere between freaks and cheats. During Dickey’s recent run of less-than-stellar starts, you could see this narrative come to the fore — even his own manager followed the script. (As did I, back in the beginning.) Dickey wasn’t just having a bad stretch, like nearly every pitcher does during a long season, for reasons that can rarely be pinned down beyond shrugs and guesses. No, the problem was that Dickey’s knuckleball — that fickle weirdo muse of a pitch — had deserted him. That’s the conventional wisdom, which in baseball gets carved in stone: The knuckleball is in charge, and the pitcher is just its agent. Which is a fancy way of saying a knuckleballer isn’t a “real” pitcher.
This same knuckle-dragging prejudice kept Dickey from starting the All-Star Game, as he should have. (Plus denying R.A. gave the vile Tony La Russa one last chance to make everyone to talk about him instead of the game.) Get used to it: Even if Dickey winds up redefining the knuckler by demonstrating that you can change speeds with it and locate it fairly precisely, he won’t get the credit for a long time, if ever. Baseball is slow on the uptake: It will take an additional generation of Dickeyesque knuckleballers using the pitch like a tumbling cousin of the split-fingered fastball to change perceptions and shut up the last few Neanderthals.
Fortunately, we won’t be among them — though but for some shrewd scouting by Omar Minaya (OH MY GOD YES I TYPED THAT) we could have been. Not so long ago, as Mets fans we knew about as much about the knuckleball as we did about no-hitters: Momentary Met Dennis Springer had thrown one, as had Bob Moorhead way back in the day, but besides those two all we had were guys who’d toyed with it here and there. Now, every fifth day we’re knuckleball aficionados. Certainly we were yesterday, when a masterful R.A. gave us our first win since before the All-Star break. He’s now 15-3, and in line to become our sixth 20-game winner* and our first since Frank Viola in 1990, which all of a sudden is an ungodly number of years ago. (Well, unless something goes wrong. Which it sure could, as that “first win since before the All-Star break” thing should remind you.)
R.A. aside, the marquee name in the matinee was Andres Torres, who tormented Josh Johnson (and Chad Gaudin) with a double, homer and triple. (Nobody much mourns when you wind up a triple shy of the cycle, but the lack of a single stings, doesn’t it?)
I don’t have much use for Torres, who hasn’t been much of an upgrade over Angel Pagan: He doesn’t
walk hit enough [actually he leads the team in walk rate — must have been my dislike for him talking] and mixes graceful outfield play with too many head-scratching misplays. (Before you start complaining, remember we were all pretty tired of Pagan by the end.) So I was a bit taken aback when the Mets arrived in San Francisco and Torres got a standing ovation, stepping out of the box and doffing his helmet. But of course the Torres of 2010 was a wonderful player on a championship club, reaching heights he’d never reached before and most likely never will again. I may not have much use for him, but he’ll never buy a beer in San Francisco, which isn’t a bad thing to have in your back pocket. With more days on his resume like yesterday, maybe we’d feel the same way.
* Seaver (four times), Koosman, Gooden, Cone, Viola.