Hey ya’ll. I have mentioned once or twice that I’ve been working on a post about R.A. Dickey. And I am and have been for a couple of weeks.
But I haven’t finished that post yet, with a series of graduations, family events, work, a trip to Roswell, and some other things getting in the way. I’m hoping I’ll finally finish said post over the weekend. But in a show of good faith — or something — here’s a little preview of sorts:
The joke is that if you’re one in a million in China, there are still 1,338 persons just like you. Or if, talent-wise, you’re in the 99.9999th percentile with regards to skill in your craft, there are still eight persons living within the five boroughs of New York who are just as good (or better) than you. There are 23 if you expand your range to the entire New York metro area. And that, strictly speaking, about half of us are below-average humans. The overwhelming number of persons sucking air suggests that most of us are fairly unspectacular.
So now try to imagine being the best in the world at something. Anything. Pick something. Running. Multiplication tables. Picking lint out of your belly button. Imagine having the knowledge, a definitive and very real sense that – and here we’re thinking beyond that rarely-acknowledge-but-necessary self-deception which tells each one of us, “No, out of all the unspectacular people in the world, you’re not one,” the voice that keeps us from laying in bed all day staring at the ceiling – a definitive and very real sense that you are better than every other person in the world at this certain thing. How many such persons exist?
I know there is at least one. R.A. Dickey is the best knuckleball pitcher in the world. Dickey is the only knuckleballer pitching in the major leagues after Tim Wakefield’s retirement last winter, so this distinction comes mostly by default. But Dickey can make a fairly solid claim based on merit, as he’s also a pretty good pitcher. Dickey’s 3.13 ERA the 15th best in baseball over the past three seasons. If compelled, you could argue that Dickey is the best knuckleball pitcher ever (taking into account the rising quality of play, his effectiveness as a starter, and a handful of other slippery restrictions and conditions that lead to the answer you want). But if not the best ever, he’s certainly top five. At the very least, R.A. Dickey can pull himself out of bed each morning and know that, forced into a knuckleball-off with Death, he has a better shot than anyone else presently sucking air.
I asked Dickey what being the best at something felt like in the Mets’ clubhouse at Citi Field last month.
“I never stop and think that I’m the best knuckleball pitcher in the world,” said Dickey. “That’s never entered my purview until you just said it.”
“I think . . . that’s a dangerous place to go. For me, I’m constantly trying to hone my craft, and a knuckleball is so capricious and chaotic, and you can’t necessarily . . . ,” he paused here and searched for the correct words on the ceiling.
“There’s a lot of trust in it,” he said. “Because of that, you don’t really feel like you’re the best at anything. You’re just trying to do the best you can do with it. Thankfully for me, the best that I can do with it in the moment . . . I’m the only one left. That’s nice, but it’s also lonely. It’s not ideal. I’d like there to be more. All knuckleballers everywhere. An all knuckleball league.”
Maybe no one knows what it feels like.