R.A. Dickey Book: Surprising As Any Knuckleball

“Butterflies aren’t bullets. You can’t aim ‘em. You just let ‘em go.”

— Charlie Hough

The knuckleballer-turned-tutor may have done more than tutor R.A. Dickey’s pitching. Hough may have given a nugget of wisdom employed in the writing of Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.

In writing his life story, Dickey uses the same approach. This is anything but a conventional baseball tale. Dickey lets it all go, telling about the abuse he suffered as a boy, his sometimes-shaky marriage and other challenges to what many might assume has been a storybook career.

Definitely, this book is a LIFE story, not just a baseball retrospective. Dickey writes chronologically (and in present tense, giving his writing freshness and urgency). Page 91 begins his pro career with the Rangers. He relives the heartbreak of losing the $810,000 signing bonus, when a Baseball America cover photo reveals that Dickey may have elbow problems.

Dickey’s evolution as a knuckleballer gets center stage in the book. He tells of seeking out Hough, Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield for advice. Funniest moment in the book comes when Dickey breaks a nail. In full Mets uniform, he’s sneaked out to a manicure salon for some emergency grooming.

The press release from publisher Blue Rider Press included a revealing comment from Dickey, seen nowhere in the book. Here it is:

“Q: How did your interest in literature shape Wherever I Wind Up?

A: Well, I can tell you this: I did not have much interest in writing a straightforward sports book. This is my first book. It might be my only book. I didn’t want to just stuff it with a bunch of statistics and writes about ERAs and holding runners on and bore people with page after page of baseball platitudes. I wanted to write a narrative that was meaningful to me, that was completely honest and that would hopefully stand up as a quality piece of writing.”

This thoughtful book might lead fans to guess that Dickey has the insight to become a coach or broadcaster. Read closely, and you’ll discover that Dickey harbors the hope that he could be a high school English teacher someday.

Ultimately, readers will find the life and career of New York’s elder statesman evolving like his knuckleball. While his butterfly pitch deceives, Dickey delivers his whole life story with right-down-the-middle candor and truth.

Coming Friday: Memories of Jewish baseball players.

Catcher (and Father) Tom Satriano Surprises

Did Topps recycle this
same photo in 1969?

Tom Satriano may have been among baseball’s luckiest catchers.

I asked him what was the worst injury he suffered behind the plate.

“In Hawaii in 1971 — dislocated pinky finger.”

I asked about daughter Gina Satriano, who played for the Colorado Silver Bullets baseball team once managed by Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. When my wife wrote Belles of the Ballpark, her book about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, we believed that some of these women could have been major leaguers. Do the Satrianos believe, too, that women could play in the majors someday?

“We both agree with you.”

Coming Tuesday: noted baseball bookseller Bobby Plapinger considers the value of autographed copies of Bill White’s Uppity.

How Does A Rookie Catcher Handle Knuckleballers Phil Niekro & Hoyt Wilhelm? Very Carefully, Says Bob Didier!

Didier: “He was out.”

As a Little Leaguer, I couldn’t have caught a knuckleball with a butterfly net.

That’s why I marvel at Bob Didier. He was named to the Topps All-Rookie team in 1969. That year, the Braves catcher broke in catcher two future Hall of Famers, knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm.

I wrote, asking Didier to describe those fluttering deliveries. He responded with a gem of a letter:

“Niekro was the starter and he threw his knuckelballs harder and it broker sharper. Wilhelm threw his knuckleball softer but would have 2 or 3 different breaks at different times.

I waited until the ball stopped roll and I picked them up.”

Didier’s 1973 Topps card is classic. The action shot is supreme. The 1972 Mets roster says #21 was Cleon Jones. Any details about the card?

“He was out.”

I asked about Didier’s father, super scout Mel Didier.

“He signed Ralph Garr, Cecil Upshaw, George Stone, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, among others.

He taught me to respect the game.

My dad has (written) a book about his life in baseball, Podnuh, Let Me Tell You A Story — A Baseball Life.”

Didier shared a few tales with a Cape Cod League reporter in 2008. Read (and listen) here!

 

How Does A Rookie Catcher Handle Knuckleballers Phil Niekro & Hoyt Wilhelm? Very Carefully, Says Bob Didier!

Didier: “He was out.”

As a Little Leaguer, I couldn’t have caught a knuckleball with a butterfly net.

That’s why I marvel at Bob Didier. He was named to the Topps All-Rookie team in 1969. That year, the Braves catcher broke in catcher two future Hall of Famers, knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm.

I wrote, asking Didier to describe those fluttering deliveries. He responded with a gem of a letter:

“Niekro was the starter and he threw his knuckelballs harder and it broker sharper. Wilhelm threw his knuckleball softer but would have 2 or 3 different breaks at different times.

I waited until the ball stopped roll and I picked them up.”

Didier’s 1973 Topps card is classic. The action shot is supreme. The 1972 Mets roster says #21 was Cleon Jones. Any details about the card?

“He was out.”

I asked about Didier’s father, super scout Mel Didier.

“He signed Ralph Garr, Cecil Upshaw, George Stone, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, among others.

He taught me to respect the game.

My dad has (written) a book about his life in baseball, Podnuh, Let Me Tell You A Story — A Baseball Life.”

Didier shared a few tales with a Cape Cod League reporter in 2008. Read (and listen) here!

 

Cheers for a Father-Son Hobby Team


One of my favorite hobby stops is the Autograph Addict.

This site is the collaboration of father-and-son collectors Kyle and Tyler Smego. You might spot them at Camden Yards as many as 30 games a year.

Through the mail, they’re collecting memories.

In January, the Smegos posted 40 questionnaire responses, saying they had a couple hundred more. What’s the current count?

“I try to get these online as quickly as I receive them, but it’s hard to keep up,” Kyle said. “I still have, at least, a couple hundred more that are waiting to be posted. It seems like we get around 10-15 back every month though. In the past we have tried to send the same questionnaire out to all the players (Tyler made up the questions. We try to keep it questions that the players can quickly jot down an answer.”

These “autograph addicts” are gleaning great insights from baseball history makers. Pitching coach Ray Rippelmeyer talked about teaching Steve Carlton the slider. We all know how that experiment turned out.

“Ray was one of the longest letters we have received, but not the longest,” Kyle said. “We have received many responses where the player filled out our questionnaire and wrote a letter. Some of the longer responses include: Rippelmeyer, Duane Pillette, Bobby Shantz, Jake Gibbs, Ernie Broglio, Don Ferrarese, etc….even Phil Niekro and Tony Kubek. All of those guys wrote a page or two or three.”

The Smegos’ best-ever response?

“Our longest correspondence however has been with Ken Retzer,” Kyle said. “I saw that you blogged about him this week. He really is a great guy. He likes to tell stories about his playing days with the Senators, catching JFK, his family, and his business ventures. Over the past year he has sent several letters and included some neat items each time. One time he sent a copy of an old menu from his diner that he used to own (Home Plate), a couple of pictures of his family, some additional pictures of him with JFK, copies of all his baseball cards, etc. He plans on coming out to the DC area sometime soon and I look forward to taking him out to dinner.”

Kyle and Tyler are making the hobby their own. They’ve asked for suggestions for other fun questions they can be asking. Ask someone about what they think of when they see the photo on a certain baseball card.

More than 30 years ago, Twins infielder rolled his eyes and grinned while signing his SSPC “Pure” card. I asked him if he liked that card.

“I think they took photos on the hottest day of spring training right after wind sprints,” I seem to remember Terrell saying. “Look at how sweaty we look. Look at the other Twins cards, and you’ll see what I mean.”

What fun questions do you ask when you write a former player?

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