The vast majority of athletes’ “biographies” are tranparent attempts to cast themselves in the best possible light with terminonlogy they don’t understand; “facts” that aren’t quite facts; and text with their names attached to them that most didn’t even bother to read.
Athletes and celebrities use the pretense of candor to generate a media splash and increase sales when the only passages worth reading are those in which heretofore unknown revelations are made, then then degenerate into a run of the mill biography with interchangeable names and titles.
R.A. Dickey does none of that in his new book, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity And The Perfect Knuckleball, written with Wayne Coffey.
Dickey is a still-active player whose new career phase has just begun at age 37 and will possibly last for another decade. He could have written a book about his struggles from conventional journeyman pitcher to successful knuckleballer; about how he went from 1st round draft choice of the Texas Rangers whose contract offer was pulled off the table because of a medical anomaly in which he doesn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow; to a 4-A pitcher who was constantly on the verge of being unemployed; to a man with a novelty pitch trying to hang on.
He could’ve written about the diverse personalities and the stuff that goes on inside baseball, gotten it published, made a few extra bucks and moved on.
But that’s already been done ad nauseam.
Like the mechanics of the knuckleball, the key is to let it go and allow it to do its work. Shifting that blueprint from pitching to writing, Dickey throws himself out there completely without concern for perception or negative aftermath.
In a rare effort of honesty from a ballplayer, Dickey reveals his status as a child from a broken home as the son of an alcoholic mother; his own adult infidelity and that he considered suicide; how he endured years of financial hardship, separation from loved ones and maintained the determination to keep trying when all signs told him it was time to hang it up and move onto something else that would be more stable and provide for his family.
Most courageously, Dickey tells of being sexually abused as a child.
First was a 13-year-old female babysitter who forced herself on him when he was 8. The abuse occurred several times over that summer and Dickey relates the story with sickening descriptiveness indicative of a memory that’s been scorched into Dickey’s whole being and will never be fully exorcised.
Then on a family visit to the Nashville countryside, Dickey is forcibly raped by a neighboring teen.
He kept these incidents to himself until he was in his early-30s.
In the insular, macho world of professional baseball, how many other people have encountered similar instances of abuse, yet have kept silent out of fear, shame or embarrassment for something that’s not their fault?
After reading about the abuse, you’ll find yourself wondering why Dickey never confronted those who abused him. In the case of the babysitter, a decade later and through accident of circumstance, he did.
There was no admission of guilt nor great epiphany on either side.
There are many laughs and “I knew it” sections in the book.
Dickey and Mets’ teammate Mike Pelfrey climbed over the fence of a Port St. Lucie football field so Pelfrey could practice field goal kicks to try and win a bet with David Wright; Dickey scoffs at and explains the absurdity of the pre-draft psychological tests that are given to players and how meaningless they are because most players who have the werewithal to do so will give the answers they think the team wants to hear, rendering them worthless as anything other than a validation of what the club thinks of the player in the first place; and, he tells the world what we already knew: Ichiro Suzuki not only understands English, but he speaks it well.
As in every baseball diary or biography, there are coaches, managers and front office people saying one thing to a player’s face, then doing the exact opposite.
And naturally, there are the obligatory Alex Rodriguez tales of (seemingly unintentional) A-Rod egomania, but they’re not done in a tone of “look what a diva A-Rod is”, but with a shrugging, matter of fact sense of “that’s A-Rod”. When Dickey pitched his first complete game shutout in the big leagues, A-Rod said, “You have me to thank for that” because A-Rod claimed to have called every pitch from shortstop.
In his next start, Dickey got shelled and asked A-Rod if he should thank him for that too. A-Rod said that he didn’t call the pitches in that game.
Faith plays a large part in Dickey’s life. He’s a born again Christian and he believed—with no evidence to support him—in his own ability to relearn how to succeed on a baseball field in a completely opposite way to what got him drafted by using a pitch that requires timing and is somewhat magical rather than a fastball that lights up the radar gun.
The theme isn’t a holier-than-thou tome of, “I live this way and so should you.”
Dickey’s self-destructive acts came years after he became a devout follower of Christ.
Dickey’s baseball career is used as a symbol that can be transferred to anyone no matter what they’re doing or trying to do. All players, top draft picks or not, encounter roadblocks. They come in different forms, but are inevitable. The value of perseverance in the face of on and off-field adversities the likes we didn’t know—or didn’t want to know—existed are the overriding points in the book.
It goes unsaid, but if you ask Dickey why he was so open about instances in his life that were painful and might cause others to look at and treat him differently, he’d respond with a perplexed look and ask, “Why wouldn’t I tell the truth about my life? It’s the stigma of humiliation and self-loathing created by sexual abuse that are exacerbated by the lifelong silence of victims.”
If there’s anything to take from the book, it’s that faith—religious or not—gives freedom to be true to oneself.
Dickey tells the truth. And sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do.