Not So Amazin': Letting the Good Ones Slip Away
RA. Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for charity last winter. Then he published his memoir that made The New York Times best-seller list. He led the National League last season with 230 strikeouts, was second in the league in earned run average, and won 20 games.
He then walked off with the NL Cy Young Award for 2012.
Dickey did all of this at age 37, proving that someone with determination and a high IQ can overcome the traumatic childhood experience of being sexually abused, resurrect a career headed for the junk heap, and still come out a very popular winner with four good kids of his own.
Of course, he still does not know exactly where each of his pitches is going. But then, what knuckleball pitcher knows the measured trajectory of the horsehide when he releases one of those funky looking floaters that frustrate batters and drive catchers crazy?
Nevertheless, those long-suffering Mets fans were looking forward to Dickey returning to lead the Mets to a better season in 2013.
But in a replay of last year’s postseason wheeling and dealing, the Mets rid themselves of their best player of 2012 by trading Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays last week in a swap for four players “with considerable promise.”
Following the 2011 season during which the Mets’ shortstop, Jose Reyes, won the NL batting title, Reyes slipped out of their hands when he signed as a free agent with the Miami Marlins.
With personnel moves like these, is it any wonder the Mets rarely make the playoffs?
But the Mets aren’t the only team to make rather unexpected if not just plain strange moves involving a couple of their very best players during the last two years. How about those Texas Rangers?
C.J. Wilson, who was the Rangers’ best southpaw pitcher, signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels last December. Now Josh Hamilton, the slugging outfielder for the Rangers, also signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels.
Winner of the 2010 AL Most Valuable Player Award, Hamilton, a native of Raleigh, agreed to a five-year, $133 million contract a week ago yesterday. He joins Albert Pujols, who jumped ship after the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series, to sign with the Angels.
One wonders how Nolan Ryan, president and primary owner of the Rangers, could allow two such outstanding athletes to get away in consecutive years. The Rangers are no longer as powerful as in recent years.
The Hamilton and Dickey moves may well alter the landscape in both the AL West and AL East Divisions.
The Toronto Blue Jays, who have had good hitting of late but questionable pitching, can hope for improvement on the mound with Dickey aboard. This might give them a shot at the usual contenders in the East, the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox. And with the reinvigorated Baltimore Orioles, who made the wild card playoff spot in the AL East looking better than both the Yanks and Red Sox, the AL East can be a real five-team scramble in the season ahead.
Losing Money by the Bucket
The strangest move may have happened because the Mets ownership and their general manager, Sandy Alderson, seemed unable or unwilling to come to terms on a contract extension with Dickey, who deserved an increase and some security despite his age. So these Mets officials dumped their ace.
The two primary Mets owners, Fred Wilpon and his brother-in-law, Saul Katz, came very close to financial ruin as a result of their association with Bernie Madoff, the arch-criminal of the super Ponzi scheme. The pair has survived so far, as have the Mets, who are losing money by the buckets full each year.
It is typical of circus barkers and other loud entertainment folks to come up with a mediocre product and then increase the price of tickets. That is just about what the Amazin’ Mets have done for the coming season as they sent Dickey north of the border and out of the league while jacking up the ticket prices for Citi Field.
At least the Mets nailed down the best player remaining on their roster when they signed David Wright, their third baseman, to an eight-year, $138 million contract early this month.
In bidding adieu to New York at a press conference and hello to Toronto last Tuesday, Dickey said, “I cannot tell you how excited I am to be part of an organization that is committed to winning and putting a product on the field that the fans can be excited coming to support.”
That surely puts the Mets in their place — well beneath the Toronto Blue Jays in Dickey’s opinion of future possibilities.
But then, the Mets officials are offering up the excuse that since the team was not going to make it to the 2013 World Series, the team should unload old folks like Dickey and grab on to youngsters who carry the hope of reaching that promised land within the coming decade or so. Lots of luck, fellas.
These athletes that seem headed for big things in MLB that the Mets got in exchange for Dickey and two catchers, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, were Travis d’Armaud, a highly rated minor league catcher, and Noah Snydergaard, a right handed pitcher who is also a minor leaguer with that ever optimistic quality, “a future.” The Mets also got John Buck, a catcher, and Wuilmer Becerra, an outfielder.
Although the 23-year-old d’Armaud is rated as just about the best catching prospect in the minor leagues, he suffered a knee injury last June that put him out of action for the remainder of the 2012 Triple A season with Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League. It is not certain he will be ready to start the 2013 season with the Mets or their triple A team. And a catcher with bad knees is good for how long?
Age Is Only a Number
Dickey may be old by baseball standards. However, knuckleball pitchers are known to approach 50 before hanging it up. Tim Wakefield, the most recent successful knuckleballer in MLB, was 45 when he retired from the Boston Red Sox a year ago.
Throwing that crazy, jumping pitch doesn’t take the toll on an arm the way a hard-throwing fastball pitcher’s arm is stressed. The 20-year-old Noah Snydergaard, one of those “promising” talents the Mets got for Dickey and friends from Toronto, is a 6-5, very hard-throwing right-handed pitcher who might run afoul of typical arm problems. Just when will that happen, if at all?
Dickey started out as a hard thrower. But after five mediocre seasons with the Texas Rangers he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair that right arm. As a result, he sat out the 2007 season, was traded to the Seattle Mariners and then the Minnesota Twins before landing with the Mets in 2010.
Following the surgery, Dickey rebuilt his career by learning to throw the knuckleball. Not every pitcher can handle the silly, slow pitch. But Dickey persevered and came to be the only current MLB starter with the knuckleball as his primary pitch.
Dickey and Hamilton have a lot in common other than being the focus of this year’s most notable postseason personnel moves in MLB. Each player had to overcome personal difficulties in his past to succeed in the majors.
Hamilton was afflicted with the disease of alcoholism plus an addiction to drugs. He has managed to sober up enough to perform at the very top of MLB hitting although he fell off his pace somewhat during the 2012 campaign. Also, he has not remained sober at times as he “slipped” on more than one occasion in the past few years.
The slugging outfielder has needed a one-man “baby sitter” to follow him about and keep him from booze and other drugs. That watchdog system never really works.
Hamilton has to stay sober on his own. The Angels must hope he sticks to ginger ale and water.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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