There's much more to R.A. Dickey than the knuckleball.
That's the theme of a compelling but haunted profile of the New York Mets pitcher in the April 2 issue of Sports Illustrated. The piece is tied to the release of a memoir by Dickey — "Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball" — that the magazine suggests "might be the finest piece of nonfiction baseball writing since 'Ball Four.'"
The opening of the story:
It tacks in inexplicable and unpredictable ways. It sometimes resists the desired path, no matter how much control you try to exert. When you think you've solved the mystery and discerned the secrets, it confounds you anew. When hope diminishes, it has a way of cooperating and breaking right.
Yes, life mirrors the knuckleball, just as the knuckleball mirrors life. R.A. Dickey is singularly well-suited to appreciate this. The Mets righthander is the lone knuckleballer in a major league rotation. He is the keeper of the flame carried by the Niekro brothers, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield -- inasmuch as there's anything flaming about a pitch that dips and dives and dances and usually travels slower than the speed of interstate traffic. Plus, at age 37, Dickey has done his share of living, his tortuous -- and sometimes torturous -- path to the majors marked by gratifying highs, and lows that had him pondering suicide.
As you might imagine, Dickey ultimately finds redemption.
But what role does his "devout Christian" faith play in that journey? An extremely vague role, based on the Sports Illustrated profile.
The story skirts at the edges of Dickey's faith, at one point referring to his "salvation" but never pressing him to explain his "hope." The magazine treats the knuckleballer's Christianity as an afterthought, not worthy of introspection:
That lonely night in Tacoma when Dickey first began writing his story? He was called up to the Mariners a few weeks later, and he's barely been in the minors since. At the same time, through heavy-duty doses of therapy and faith, he's come to grips with the abuse he suffered and the emotional damage it caused. He's repaired his relationships with his mother (now sober) and his wife, the twin heroines of his book. Dickey confesses he's nervous how Wherever I Wind Up will be received, inside the clubhouse and beyond. But cutting back on the honesty he displays on the page was never an option. "I couldn't share my story and not share the most difficult parts of it," says Dickey, who while writing sought advice from J.R. Moehringer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who co-authored Andre Agassi's bracing 2009 memoir, Open. "As a reader, I can tell when someone is skating around the truth."
As early as 2001, when Dickey pitched for the Oklahoma RedHawks, then the Texas Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, I wrote a short item for The Oklahoman about the pitcher sharing his Christian testimony at a church. The pondered suicide and an extramarital affair highlighted by the magazine both occurred after that. I, for one, would love to know more about the ups and downs of Dickey's professed walk with Christ.
According to the New York Daily News, Dickey "views the book as a narrative about faith, redemption and hope." But the 2,000-word Sports Illustrated story fails even to identify the pitcher as a "Christian."
There's much more to R.A. Dickey than the knuckleball. Much more, it would seem, that the magazine cared to explore.