Unlike my esteemed co-blogger, I do not give a rat’s butt about baseball. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the game. As a child, I played Little League quite seriously (only girl on my team; in 1979 my mom sewed an E.R.A. patch on my hat, which did NOT stand for Earned Run Average, which caused great discomfiture among the coaches and dads) and I attended PawSox games with much glee. These days, I go to Newport Gulls games whenever I visit mom in RI; while in labor with my second child in 2004, I listened to Game 7 of the 2004 playoffs – the blowout that clinched the Red Sox’s place in the World Series — right up until it was time to push. Nowadays I also revel in the retracting roof, fine Miller beverages and Jewishly identified left fielder at Milwaukee Brewers games; and I appreciate George Carlin’s monologue about the difference between baseball and football, the joys of playing softball in my in-laws’ backyard with my daughters and nephews, and the “William Blake?” “William Blake!” exchange in Bull Durham. (Hm, perhaps I’m more into baseball than I think I am.) All that said, I have no great fascination with any particular team. No, really.
I am, however, fascinated by former New York Met R.A. Dickey. Before I read Dickey’s memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, all I knew of the Mets was that they lost a lot and Jon Stewart was a fan. Then I read that the Cy Young Award-winning pitcher was writing a memoir for young readers. (I review children’s books in my life outside this blog.) The adult version of Dickey’s book, written with New York Daily News sportswriter Wayne Coffey, talks about how the player was sexually abused as a child, so I wondered whether the kid version was likely to get banned (sigh). I read the grown-up book to prepare, as a First Amendment fan, to defend the kid version.
And OMG. I wound up being utterly smitten by this guy. Lit major in college at Tennessee; signed in the first-round draft to a big contract that was withdrawn after a routine physical found that he was inexplicably missing a ligament in his pitching arm (he later was offered a deal for less than a tenth the original offer), bounced around various major- and minor-league teams for years, took public buses to games because he was so broke, absorbed humiliation after humiliation because he just wanted to play. The book addresses his various screw-ups and idiocies (such as betting teammates he could swim across the Missouri river — in flip-flops, no less — and nearly drowning) with humor and occasional self-laceration. It also discusses Dickey’s work remaking himself as a knuckleball pitcher.
What a kooky pitch the knuckleball is! It has no spin, so it travels really slowly, and it’s damn near impossible to hit when thrown well. It puts less stress on the pitcher’s arm, so knuckleballers have much longer careers than most pitchers. There are so few guys in the fraternity of major league knuckleball, they’re all super-supportive of each other. (Dickey makes a pilgrimage to talk to Phil Niekro, who coaches him informally and refuses to accept any money.) The pitch involves placing one’s fingernails directly on the ball and sort of PUSHING it toward the plate (here’s a vid of Dickey explaining it). In one of my fave dramatic scenes, Dickey splits a nail just before a game and needs an emergency mani; he tells the coach, who finds a Mets team cook who is a lady, who tells Dickey about her fave salon, Pink Nails in Flushing, where Dickey races in full uniform, gets an acrylic for $7 and gets back to the stadium moments in the nick of time, sneaking in right behind team owner Jeff Wilpon. (“I pray that he doesn’t turn around and see me arriving at the ballpark ten minutes before game time. I wonder if I can get a note from the people at Pink Nails if I need backup.” Thankfully Wilpon continues facing forward.)
As you can tell by my raving, I really liked the book and the guy’s struggles to be a mensch. Everybody except the Wilpon family seems to think he’s the bee’s knees. He showed up at my neighborhood park to throw with kids, for no reason except to be nice, and when the Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this year, Dickey bought ad space in all the local papers and wrote a letter thanking New Yorkers for being so supportive.
So what does all this have to do with SorryWatching? Well, a theme in Dickey’s book is the need to make amends when you mess up. Dickey loves the word “authenticity,” which he uses to mean “decency.” (He’s had a lot of therapy, which I respect him for talking about in a macho profession.) He writes about how he had an affair and needed to make it up to his wife and family. And he frequently gives others credit for their menschy behavior. In one 2009 scene, a manager for the Minnesota Twins (one of the many teams Dickey spent time with) puts Dickey in mid-game and tells him not to pitch knuckleballs, because this particular catcher has never played with him before, and the knuckleball is hard to catch. Dickey has misgivings, but does as he’s told, and the team loses. He writes:
I don’t get the loss, and I don’t even get the runs charged to me, since [Craig Breslow, the pitcher he replaced] put them on, but I feel plenty responsible for us losing the game. I am decompressing, unhappily, at my locker when [manager Ron Gardenhire] comes by.
“I’m sorry I put you in that position. It wasn’t fair to you, and I should’ve known better,” he says.
“Hey, Gardy, don’t worry about it. It happens. I appreciate your apology.”
I head off for the shower, impressed that Gardy would do this, own what he feels was his screwup. It’s a glimpse into why he’s such a good manager of people and why his players like to play for him so much. Gardy may have messed up tactically in this case, but he did something infinitely harder when he came over to take full responsibility for it. I wonder how many managers would be secure enough, and grounded enough, to do such a thing.
My guess is: not many.
I appreciate it even more because I have had to take ownership of far more serious things in my life. I know how hard it is to do, and I also know the redemptive power there is in being able to do it. The longer I live, the more I come to believe that the ability to say the words “I’m sorry” is one of the greatest healing agents in the world.
He’s right. And that’s why we do this blog.