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The R.A. Dickey Holiday Blues

I know what happens
I read the book
I believe I just got the goodbye look
—Donald Fagen

If R.A. Dickey were a garden-variety drama queen, I might have written off his use of phrases like “disappointment”; “impatience,” “emotional scope”; “we’re asking for less than what’s fair”; “you already think you’re extending the olive branch”; and “I don’t want to be taken advantage of” as typical Dickey, always with the drama. But watching R.A. as I listened to him at the Mets’ holiday party Tuesday morning, I didn’t sense there was anything typical about the way he was answering questions about his ongoing contract negotiations [1]. R.A., who’s always been about passion over drama, was more downcast than the occasion was festive.

And besides, since when is R.A. Dickey a garden-variety anything?

Dickey’s demeanor was a touch surreal, given that when you get a baseball player to stand in front of a baseball team’s wall of dancing logos at an event as nominally upbeat as a party whose purpose is to present children with gifts, the talk is inevitably of the happy variety. At the very least, you’d count on innocuous. But you’d count wrong here, for this was the aberration. This was the home team baseball star for whom you wouldn’t have guessed that over the last several months it’s been a wonderful life.


Happy holidays?

Is there someone to blame between the player who just got done being certified the best pitcher in the league and the team that has hesitated in committing to his satisfaction? We love Dickey [3], and our default switch is set to the assumption the Mets are probably doing something wrong if they’re doing anything at all, yet I’m not sure there’s blame to be assigned in any of this. Here are the basics of this negotiation as I understand them:

• Dickey’s due a sizable amount of money in 2013.

• Dickey wants a more sizable amount of money for 2014 and 2015.

• The Mets are offering a more sizable amount of money for 2014 and 2015.

• The amount of money the Mets are offering isn’t really in line with the market value of the best pitcher in the league, so although it’s sizable, it’s not that sizable in context.

Thus, the Metropolitan Standoff. One is tempted to say it’s about money, but that would be the garden-variety answer. This is R.A. Dickey. He’s blossomed in a garden of his own tending, where feelings grow as tall as any stack of guaranteed dollars. “When people say, ‘It’s business, it’s not personal,’” he said to a small mob of media, “well, that just means it’s not personal for them.’” To the Mets — or any baseball team/business — R.A. Dickey’s contract is a figure on a ledger. To R.A. Dickey, maybe more so than any ballplayer we’ve ever encountered, you get the very strong impression that everything is personal.

That’s what makes him R.A. Dickey, for better or…actually, there’s almost never been a speck of “worse” where R.A. Dickey’s been concerned these three years we’ve known him. So as much as one wants to avoid hitting the default switch and blaming the Mets for doing what teams do and taking into account all factors that would go into extending Dickey’s contract to something closer to his satisfaction than theirs, boy is it difficult to not think that if R.A.’s feeling a bit bruised from this process, then something must be awry with the process.

R.A. was at Citi Field to play an elf, which is easy to forget when you’re not one of the hundred or so kids from Far Rockaway who the Mets invited for lunch and toys and a little Santa Claus action. John Franco was going to be along later to reprise his old-time role, so in the early going Tuesday, R.A. and Ike Davis donned blue Mets jerseys and greeted the children [4]. A big “YAY!” went up when they appeared. R.A. the elf spread the good cheer as he’s been spreading it to us since 2010. Then the elf left the Acela Club dining area, making way for the Cy Young winner to stand in front of the dancing-logos wall behind the curtain where the media was waiting. Per usual, he seemed intent on answering all questions honestly.

And honestly, he didn’t seem too thrilled as he answered.

There he was, in Mets blue, against a wall of Mets blue, being kinda blue. There was a multitude of cameras and microphones and notebooks, every one of them wielded by someone asking about the progress of those negotiations. R.A. didn’t put a happy face on it. He said only good about being a Met and didn’t say anything bad about the people on the other side of the negotiating table (if there were true rancor, someone else likely would’ve played Ike’s elfin partner). They’re the people he’s still employed by, the people who are as likely as not to trade him if they can’t extend him soon. If he gets to Opening Day without a new contract, he’s as good as gone. If he’s not his current employers’ kind of investment at the price he desires, then it’s not unreasonable for them to gauge what he’s worth in a trade [5], considering how much his current team needs in order to compete. He’s been dangled plenty for weeks. He’ll be dangled some more unless he’s signed.

I don’t see him signing. I might have before the holiday party, but this was not the countenance of a man on the verge of professional satisfaction. This was not a man stoked by the spirit of the season. Even a question about the kids in the dining room, chosen to attend because they went to schools that were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, didn’t seem to take R.A. out of the moment. He acknowledged that he “can’t fathom what they’re having to go through,” but the Dickey who would’ve found exactly the right words to show he probably fathomed it better than most wasn’t fully present at Citi Field. Some days even the best pitcher in the league doesn’t quite have his knuckleball.

Dickey was on a tight schedule Tuesday, having committed to a promotional appearance in the city. There was one big media scrum for his attention, which wound down with a backbeat of Jay Horwitz warning R.A.’s most persistent inquisitors, “He’s gotta go, he’s gotta go.” Sure enough, R.A. was going. He removed the new blue DICKEY 43 Mets jersey — a model he’s never pitched in — and put on his coat, grabbed his bag and left through the Acela Club’s back exit.

I had only my fan instinct for guidance, the one that told me Ray Knight, Darryl Strawberry, Edgardo Alfonzo and Jose Reyes couldn’t possibly not return when their status was in limbo, so don’t consider my hunches a leading indicator of anything. But honestly, once that uniform shirt came off, I couldn’t help but think I had just seen R.A. Dickey’s last appearance as a New York Met.