MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Dickey scales another peak with Cy Young Award

Spencer: Dickey scales another peak with Cy Young

He couldn't lift the New York Mets into pennant contention, something no mortal limited by flesh and bone could have done.

That pretty much wraps up the negatives with respect to right-hander R.A. Dickey.

Refusing to allow the pitfalls and pratfalls around him to throw him off track, Dickey did just about everything in 2012 that one man with knuckles and a baseball possibly could have done.

Even as his flawed team fell off the radar, the man of letters wrote one of the season's most inspiring stories, giving Mets fans someone to cheer from April through September.

Dickey beat out the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez for the 2012 National League Cy Young Award, presented Wednesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Dickey's body of work is as hard to beat as his darting knuckler is to hit. He was 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, putting together a .769 winning percentage for a .457 team. Stunning.

"To win 20 on a club with struggles is pretty big," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Especially during the times we weren't hitting, he was still winning games."

Four knuckleball specialists are in the Hall of Fame, but Dickey is the first pitcher using the dancer as his primary pitch to claim a Cy Young Award.

Dickey's total numbers add up more impressively than those of the other leading candidates.

Dickey's ERA was second in the NL to Kershaw's 2.53. Dickey's 20 wins were second to Gonzalez's 21. Dickey led the league in strikeouts with 230, one more than Kershaw, and delivered more innings -- 233 2/3 -- than anyone in the league. Kershaw was next at 227 2/3.

Dickey also led the league in complete games (five), shutouts (three) and quality starts (27).

For his part, Dickey resisted elevating his hopes while making it clear he'd love to own a Cy Young plaque as an enduring memento of a surreal season individually.

"It would put a silver lining on an otherwise sad season," Dickey said. "That's one. Two is, it's something fantastic to celebrate with the fan base."

Upon learning he'd won, Dickey spread the credit around.

"This is a story that's beyond me," he said. "It transcends R.A. Dickey. It's bigger than that.

"This is something to be celebrated with everybody, not least among these are the fans in New York. They will never know how much it meant for them to come out when we were having a tough season, and get loud and put up signs, all kinds of things like that. They supernaturally affected me in a way that was positive."

Dickey, who pitched at 37 this season, is an overnight success story years in the making. He was 41-50 coming into the season, having debuted in 2001 with the Rangers, who selected him in the first round, 18th overall, in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft.

It never happened for the Nashville native in Texas (16-19, 5.72 ERA in 77 appearances), or in Seattle in 2008 or in Minnesota in '09. Dickey's 2006 season, on a Minor League contract with the Brewers, had been spent with the Nashville Sounds, where he was the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year.

Dickey's breakthrough came with the 2010 Mets, when he was 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA. He was a deceiving 8-13 with a 3.28 ERA in 2011, and everything came together in 2012.

The obstacles have been many, but his drive and love of the game have carried him to the pitching summit.

A physical examination by the Rangers after Dickey was drafted discovered a missing ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow joint. He forged ahead, dealing with the pain.

In Texas, Dickey had one hot streak, opening the 2004 season with a 4-1 record, but he was unable to sustain it with his high-80s fastball and a forkball that would evolve into his knuckleball.

Only a handful of pitchers in the modern era have mastered the unorthodox delivery -- notably the Niekro brothers, Phil and Joe, along with Hoyt Wilhelm, Wilbur Wood, Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti and Tim Wakefield. Phil Niekro, Wilhelm, Ted Lyons and Jesse Haines are the knucklers immortalized in Cooperstown.

Dickey has been a busy man. He wrote a compelling, popularly received memoir and took the opportunity last offseason to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro as part of an effort to call attention to the Bombay Teen Challenge, a movement to help girls in need in India that he continues to support.

Scaling mountains is nothing new to Dickey, a Renaissance man worthy of a Cy Young Award.

Pitcher, Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Points
R.A. Dickey, Mets 27 5 209
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 2 11 10 1 6 96
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals 1 12 6 8 4 93
Johnny Cueto, Reds 1 4 10 10 2 75
Craig Kimbrel, Braves 1 5 5 9 41
Matt Cain, Giants 1 6 7 22
Kyle Lohse, Cardinals 2 2 6
Aroldis Chapman, Reds 1 1
Cole Hamels, Phillies 1 1

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.