The bad luck and bad pitching that put the Mets in need of two new starters looks like this: Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey takes Oliver Perez‘s scheduled start Wednesday, and on Friday, Hisanori Takahashi starts against the Yankees, fresh off a humiliating defeat of the Red Sox tonight. Dickey is en route from Class AAA Buffalo and according to reliable sources already has uni number assigned to him: 43. That number most recently belonged to reliever Brian Stokes. I’m cautiously hopeful that Dickey can beguile his opponents and terrified that Takahashi could see weeks of goodwill in a low-pressure mopup role unravel with a bad start against the Yankees. It’s a shame Dickey won’t have No. 49, which has become something of a symbol for knucklers dating back to Hoyt Wilhelm. The Mets’ last knuckleballer was Dennis Springer, No. 34 for a few ill-fated emergency appearances 10 years ago, as recalled here.
Another reminder that tonight (Tuesday, May 18) is Amazin’ Tuesday, at a new venue, Two Boots Grand Central. We’ll have beer, pizza (The “Dave Schneck .199” is the special slice) and readings by me, Greg Prince of Faith & Fear in Flushing, Taryn Cooper (My Summer Family) and Josh Wilker, author of Cardboard Gods. I just finsihed CG myself and can tell you it’s excellent, a more focused delivery of the themes on his blog, telling a story of brotherly love, lonesomeness and the evocative power of Topps baseball cards in the 1970s. Josh will have books on hand to sell and sign, I strongly recommend you get a copy!
Only a few knuckleballers come around per generation, so I was pleased to learn the Mets were on the verge of signing one Tuesday. R.A. (Remarkable Athlete) Dickey has kicked around several organizations since first surfacing with Texas in 2001 and like many knuckleballers, developed the pitch only after his other stuff (including elbow ligaments) abandoned him.
The Mets’ have employed but two pure knuckleballers in their history. The first was righthanded reliever Bob Moorhead, who developed the delivery while on the road back to New York following a string of injuries (including, ironically, breaking two knuckles by punching a Sportsmans Park dugout door in frustration after a 1962 outing). Moorhead’s other distiction was having been the first relief pitcher ever called on in a Mets game. Moorhead wore 22 as a knuckleball dabbler in 1962 and 21 as a specialist in ’65. The Mets’ last pure knuckler, Dennis Springer, was released shortly after taking a pounding from the Reds on a frigid, wet, windy April evening at Shea in 2000. He wore No. 34.
Other Mets have included a knuckler as part of their repetoire, including relievers Jeff Innis (who threw his sidearm); Dave Roberts; Tom Sturdivant; Frank Lary; Warren Spahn; Bob McClure and Todd Zeile, whose whole pitching career was something of a stunt. Dave Mlicki threw a knuckle curve.
The Mets for a time were developing potential knuckleball throwers in the minors. One, Zac Clements, was a converted catcher who appears to have topped out at AA Binghamton in 2006.Charlie Hough, a longtime knucleball hurler, was the Mets pitching coach in 2001 and 2002.
Dickey in the meantime only signed a minor league contract, and has had only sporadic success in the majors to recommend him, but I’l be rooting for him just the same. Knucklers of recent vintage including Tim Wakefield and Tom Candiotti wear No. 49 so as to honor Hoyt Wilhelm, one of the giants of the craft. The Mets’ current tenant of 49 is lefty Jon Niese.