Dickey knuckles down

Mets starter R.A. Dickey pitches against the Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington. D.C., June...

Mets starter R.A. Dickey pitches against the Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington. D.C., June 7, 2012. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:13 AM ET

TORONTO - If you are a sports fan in general, and baseball lifer specifically, you are probably well aware of the incredible feel-good story that is pitcher R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets.

For those living under a rock, Dickey is the rags-to-riches right-hander who has come from nowhere floating on his dancing knuckleball.

In 14 starts this season, Dickey has gone 11-1 and, as he prepares to face the Yankees on Sunday in the finale of the Subway Series, he is riding two consecutive one-hitters into the game.

The amazing thing about Dickey, beyond his record and 2.00 ERA, is that he is a strike-throwing machine, which for a knuckleball pitcher is unheard of. On his season, 99 innings, Dickey has walked just 22 batters and has issued two or fewer walks in 12 of his 14 starts including zero walks in three of his past six.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

One of the questions that floated through my brain while digesting his story is this: Why does the Big Apple, New York, seem to be the black hole for these types of stories?

Before Dickey, the big story in North American pro sports was Linsanity, the saga of Jeremy Lin that rocked the NBA.

Lin, naturally, played for the New York Knicks and that insured that every magical moment he produced would be posted front and centre on every major media outlet.

Prior to Linsanity, which started Dec. 27 when he was picked up by the Knicks, it was all about Tim Tebow.

Yes, I’m well aware that Tebow produced his brand of magic with the Denver Broncos but it’s kind of a bummer that the team that Denver traded him to would be the Jets of New York.

Linsanity, Dickey and coming to you this fall, Tebow in the wings — that’s a pretty good trifecta.

About the only feel-good, little-kid-from-nowhere-turned-star yarn that has avoided New York’s grasp is the one about Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista.

Try and imagine the hype and spotlight that Bautista would have performed in if, say, the Yankees had acquired him from Pittsburgh and he went on to become the top slugger in baseball.

Bautista’s mug would be on every cereal box in the land.

KNUCKLE THIS

While tossing and turning in bed last night and thinking of Dickey, I wondered why he is a phenomenon and not an everyday occurrence.

No disrespect to Dickey or the great knuckleball pitchers that came before him such as Charlie Hough, Hoyt Wilhelm and Tim Wakefield, but I would hazard a guess based on no research whatsover that the art of throwing and perfecting a knuckleball is greater than coming up with a pitcher who can whistle it in the high 90s to go along with his breaking-ball stuff.

Every kid who has played the game has tried to throw a knuckleball — every one.

Back when I was 12 or 13, I’d be playing catch with friends and uncork my knuckleball. About 99.9% of them did absolutely nothing but, every once and while out of nowhere, one would float out of my hand, do that fluttering thing on it’s way to my friend and then dip out of sight at the last second.

If you took a million kids and gave them a personal pitching coach from the time they were 10 to 18 and instructed them in the art of throwing fastballs and curves, the number of kids that would develop into a Sandy Koufax or Nolan Ryan would be zero.

Take a million kids and have them be instructed in the art of throwing a knuckleball and how many would become another Wakefield? I like those chances better.

About the worst thing that ever happened to kids and sports in the past 20 years was the saga of Earl and Tiger Woods. Suddenly, every star struck overbearing father was taking his poor kid out to the driving range to whack balls.

Given that the odds of making it to the big leagues would be enhanced if little Johnny was tutored in throwing a knuckleball instead of the high hard one, you’d think that knuckleball training sites would have sprung up like mushrooms in the spring.

For a big-league pitching staff, it would be revolutionary.

Throwing a knuckleball takes about as much effort as combing you hair. There is no stress on the elbow and next to none on the shoulder.

Knuckleballers don’t require a lot of down time between starts with the mental grind being far more draining that the physical part. If a major-league staff had three knuckleball pitchers in the rotation, that would probably be all they needed.

No five-man staff, no wear and tear.

Imagine the cobwebs that would be forming in the waiting room of Dr. James Andrews down in Birmingham, Ala.

So, for those push dads who want to ride their kids’ coat tails to stardom, throw away the golf clubs and have them work on a knuckleball.

Who knows? It may provide riches beyond one’s wildest dreams and a wife so smokin’ hot tat she makes Penelope Cruz look like a dog.

Finally, you don’t have to worry about coming up with a nickname.

Just all him “Knucksie.”

• • •

DOUBLES TROUBLE

In New York, any team rarely gets to enjoy the sweet smell of success.

The Yankees are playing great these days and beginning to pull away in the AL East, but not everything in Gotham is rosy.

Take Alex Rodriguez for example. A-Rod is not hitting like the A-Rod of old and, given that he is about to turn 37 in July, that isn’t too surprising. But, when you are making the big dough that he is and cavorting with the likes of Cameron Diaz, anything less than superstar-like stats must be regarded as a failure.

Heading into Friday’s games, A-Rod has played in 67 games where he has had 249 at-bats. He has responded with just 17 extra-base hits — 11 home runs and a measly six doubles.

For a player of A-Rod’s pedigree, that’s embarrassing.

To put it into perspective, if A-Rod were on the Jays, his 17 extra-base hits would rank sixth on the team.

“There is a big gap between where he should be and where he is right now,” hitting coach Kevin Long said. “What is hard is that I feel good about where his swing is. He is not lost. I do feel a good streak is coming.”

Long has to preach the positive, but he did admit that the six doubles — with just one this month — is “alarming.”

The six doubles rank 234th in the big leagues.

It’s way too early to write off A-Rod, but six doubles does make you go: ‘Hmmm.’

PAPI NOT HAVING MUCH FUN

It hasn’t been a season of Happy Days for either the Boston Red Sox or their slugging DH, David Ortiz.

Following the grenade that ESPN’s Buster Olney threw into their clubhouse this week, claiming said clubhouse was ‘toxic’, Ortiz went off.

Playing in Boston under the incredible scrutiny that the players and team receive at all times is one thing. But what has transpired this season in the wake of management changes and the leadership of manager Bobby Valentine is something else.

Ortiz, who accepted a one-year, salary arbitration contract in the off-season, sits just four homers shy of 400 for his career but these days he claims the joy has left fabled Fenway.

“I’m just tired of dealing with the drama here,” Ortiz said. “This is baseball, man. It seems like everything that goes on around here is like one of those Congress decisions that will affect the whole nation. It ain’t like that, man. This is baseball. We’re supposed to have fun, to have our performance out there at the highest level. Every day is something new, some drama, some more (expletive). I’m tired of that, man.”

Not quite like the good old days hen they were kings and winning World Series.

“It’s becoming to be the (expletive) it used to be,” he said. “Look around, bro. Look around. Playing here used to be so much fun. Now, every day is something new, not related to baseball. People need to leave us alone, play ball and do what we know how to do.”

PINE TAR TIP WAS INSIDE, NOT LOW

You’ve gotta love Rays manager Joe Maddon, but his Washington counterpart, Davey Johnson, was within his rights to ask the umpires to inspect the glove of Tampa reliever Joel Peralta (pictured), knowing it was loaded up with pine tar.

It was clearly a case of inside information and certainly was hypocritical of the Nationals to allow Peralta to have pine tar on his glove when he played for them and then call foul when he appears against them.

Pushing the envelope and ‘cheating’ has always been part of the game, but if Johnson was informed that something was amiss and knew it, he would not be doing his team or players any favours if he didn’t act.

“If you use information based on the fact the guy has played here (goes against baseball’s unwritten code),” Maddon said. “I don’t know if that’s a form of cheating, but that’s underhanded, I think.”

Is it cheating to call out a player who is cheating? We don’t think so.

It reminds me of the old race track line: “The only people who object to a fixed race are those that didn’t know about it.”

ON A VOTE AND A PRAYER

Jim Leyland, the manager of the Detroit Tigers, is as crusty as they come.

The other day, however, he came up with a terrific quote regarding the innocent-of-all-charges Roger Clemens and his chances of being elected into the Hall of Fame.

Leyland told reporters that, if he had a vote, he would give the nod to two suspected juicers in Clemens and San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds.

“The Hall of Fame is the promised land,” Leyland said. “It is not the holy land.”

Amen.

GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY WITH LEYLAND

The other day in the Detroit Free Press, John Lowe had an interesting column about Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

Leyland’s Tigers are on the prowl these days and, having won seven of their past 10, now are 34-35 and in third place in the AL Central, 21/2 games back of Cleveland and two games behind the White Sox.

The lone regret that Leyland had was that he would like to have a few more ‘dirtbag’ players on the team.

“(They) know how to win games. That type of guy can hit .240 and be just as important as a guy that’s hitting .310 because he got the guy over (to third base) on a consistent basis, he got the squeeze down, he broke up a double play, he tagged up from first on a long fly to left-centre,” Leyland said. “Those are the dirtbags I’m talking about.”

‘Dirtbags’ are a breed of player near and dear to the heart of all big-league managers. Go up to any manager and ask if he has any ‘dirtbag’ players and the response will be a wistful smile and an appreciation for what that type of player brings to a team.

Of course, if every position player on a team was a ‘dirtbag,’ that team would have fewer wins that the woeful Chicago Cubs.

‘Dirtbags’ are scrappy, make-the-most-of-their-talent type of fringe players who would gleefully run through a wall if asked. They usually are fan favourites.

Why do managers admire this type of player so much?

The answer is probably that the managers were exactly that type of player, guys with limited talent who worked their butts off.


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