Until excerpts of his autobiography were published, all we really knew about New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey was that he threw a knuckleball, that he seemed thoughtful and well-read, and that he scaled Mount Kilimanjaro just to see if he could. But based on the details released Tuesday in Sports Illustrated and the New York Daily News, he has experienced more harrowing moments than any human being should endure.
In the memoir "Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball," Dickey explores all of that in the abstract, but also some grim details about his ragged path to major-league success:
• Beginning when Dickey was 8 years old, he was sexually abused repeatedly by a 13-year-old female babysitter, and at least once by a 17-year-old male.
• As an adult, he contemplated suicide after cheating on his wife, Anne Dickey.
• His mom used to drag him along at age 5 to Nashville bars and drink until closing time.
• He slept in abandoned warehouses as a teenager.
• When he got to the major leagues with the Texas Rangers in 2001, Dickey found a syringe in a clubhouse bathroom stall. It could have been used for something harmless, Dickey says, but the Rangers of that era would come to be notorious for an association with performance-enhancing drugs.
It's rare for an active major leaguer to make such an announcement about anything touchy going on within a clubhouse, but the much bigger revelations, of course, were Dickey's personal horror stories as a child.
It's gut-wrenching just to read this about Dickey, to know that it happened, even if you're not a Mets fan or only know about his career casually. Listening to Dickey speak with reporters about it is even tougher. He says that, as recently as 2005 when he started to write the book, he found his own life story too painful to confront. Sometime in 2007, he said, Dickey finally had the emotional "tools" to handle it. It's hard to imagine living with these secrets.
Dickey even said today, telling reporters:
"Not a lot of people know it, even in my inner circle. It'll be news to a lot of people."
Not all of the anecdotes are quite so heavy, like when the Rangers told Dickey he had to convert to throwing a knuckleball in order to save his career. Dickey recounts the conversation with manager Buck Showalter, coach Orel Hershiser and coach Mark "Goose" Connor:
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.
Dickey wrote the bio with Wayne Coffey of the Daily News, but if you've had the chance in the past to read Dickey's quotes, or blog posts, or hear him speak, it will be easy to tell that the voice of the book is his.
If you're up for it, you can buy the book here. Dickey hopes that other victims of abuse can benefit from his tale.
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