60 Minutes: Blue Jays R.A. Dickey Charity & What Is A Knuckleball?

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60 Minutes: R.A. Dickey Cy Young Award

In 2012, R.A. Dickey was honored with the Cy Young Award and became the best pitcher in Major League Baseball’s National League. Dickey stands out because he is a “knuckleballer,” and as Lesley Stahl found out, that is a rarity.

60 Minutes: R.A. Dickey 2012 Season

Dickey has mastered the infamously uncontrollable pitch, which can bring uncertainty to everyone from the mound to the dugout. But after a rocky start in life, including abuse as a child and a nomadic life in the minor leagues, Dickey got his shot at age 37.

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During the 2012 season, Dickey notched 20 wins and an 11-win streak. All his accomplishments are made more stunning thanks to his signature knuckleball, his preferred pitch 90% of the time.

60 Minutes: What Is A Knuckleball?

60 Minutes: Blue Jays R.A. Dickey Charity & What Is A Knuckleball?

On 60 Minutes, Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey explained the knuckleball, revisited his painful childhood, and promoted his Bombay Teen Challenge charity.

A knuckleball bobbles and is affected by wind speed much more than a fastball, for example. It is noticeable because it barely spins at all while in the air. But since it is such a wild card, it’s hard for even a pitcher to control.

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Stahl said that other pitchers have tells before they throw a certain type of pitch. But Dickey’s signature is well known before a batter steps up to the plate, and everyone knows what to expect. It all comes down to execution, and when done properly, it can be almost impossible to hit.

60 Minutes: R.A. Dickey New York Mets

Batters have a variety of unpredictable reactions to the strange pitch, which Dickey thinks of as “magic.” Throwing a bad knuckleball makes it easy for batters to hit. He said he has never been pitched a knuckleball, in part because no one throws it anymore.

New York Mets fans loved Dickey and his winning season, so it was a bit of a shock when he was traded at the end of the year. He said he wasn’t hurt, but he did know he would miss the home he made for himself there.

60 Minutes: R.A. Dickey Toronto Blue Jays

Now, Dickey pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays, under a three-year, $30 million guaranteed contract. Stahl and Dickey visited the pitcher’s boyhood home in Nashville, Tennessee. Growing up, his childhood was hard.

His alcoholic single mother worked several jobs. His father left the home when Dickey was around age 7. He saw a hard side of alcoholism in his mother’s behavior.

60 Minutes: R.A. Dickey Childhood Abuse

At age 8, he was abused by a female babysitter. He recalled the memories as confusing and terrifying. He did not know how to react to this behavior from a caretaker. He now recalled four incidents over the course of one summer.

Dickey said he kept the story to himself, in part out of fear that he was complicit in what had happened. Later that year, he was also violated by a male stranger while out playing. He recalled giving up during the attack, and carrying shame with him afterwards for not speaking up.

60 Minutes: R.A. Dickey Wife

His memories were buried deep inside him as he grew up, full of anger. Sports gave him an athlete, and his talents helped him get out in the world. At age 13, he attended a Nashville prep school on scholarship.

He met Anne, a classmate’s sister, whom he proposed to back when they first got to know one another. It would be several more years, and a Texas Rangers draft pick, before the couple made it official.

60 Minutes: R.A. Dickey Ulnar Collateral Ligament

Surprisingly, a team photo spotted by a coach led to an MRI, which revealed that Dickey was missing an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The Rangers retracted their offer upon learning the news.

Dickey was devastated at the turn of events, but he accepted a spot on the team at a reduced salary. Eventually, he was sent down to the minors, initiating a vicious cycle of back and forth, spending eight out of 10 seasons playing for various minor league teams.

60 Minutes: Orel Hershiser Knuckleball

His wife, Anne Dickey, said that she was stubbornly committed to his career, just as R.A. was. In 2005, his fastball was falling apart, and a coach gave him some real talk about his performance and future prospects.

That coach, Orel Hershiser, planted the seed of the knuckleball. That made R.A. question his 15-year career, but he did not have a choice: learn the knuckleball, or give up the dream.

60 Minutes: R.A. Dickey Therapy

By 2006, he had mastered the pitch well enough to show it off in public. That immediately backfired, and he set an unfortunate record, giving up six home runs in just a few innings.

Times were trying, emotions bubbled over, and trouble at home sent him to therapy, where he processed his childhood abuse for the very first time. He learned to enjoy risk and the freedom of the truth.

R.A. Dickey Charity: Bombay Teen Challenge

Anne said that it helped her put his trust issues and past into perspective. R.A. also credited his Christianity with helping to turn things around on the field, focusing intently on conquering the knuckleball.

Dickey reconciled with his mother, works with the Bombay Teen Challenge charity in India to combat human trafficking (providing counseling and health care), and is spending more time with his growing family.

Dickey has been reborn, on and off the field. Though he broke a fingernail early in the 2013 season, he is committed to making this another monumental season.

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