R.A. Dickey on Not-Finalizing the Knuckleball: “It’s been one big, constant, perpetual adjustment….”

R.A. Dickey, who just turned 42, is getting more than his share of goodbyes for someone who has not yet decided whether to hang up his baseball cap. May it all be embarrassingly premature.

r-a-dickey-and-familyIn any case, Dickey’s ponderings in an interview with John Lott at TheAthletic.com (“R.A. Dickey has much to fill his life without baseball—if he decides to leave”) will be apropos whenever the day of retirement does come.

Here’s one chunk, about the subject we’re especially interested in:

In your post-game scrums, you typically analyze in some detail what your knuckleball was doing that day, what the elements were that influenced it, and you talk about working on it between starts. I get the impression from some people that all you do is go out there and throw it and hope. Between starts, what is the process you follow?

The margin of error was so much greater as a conventional pitcher than it has been as a knuckleballer because I’m throwing at far lower speeds to hitters are paid to hit balls with exit velocities that would exceed 100 miles an hour. So I have to be really good and precise with my mechanic, much more so than as a conventional pitcher. So in between starts, I’m always trying to hone my craft…. It’s been one big, constant, perpetual adjustment. Sometimes you have runs where you don’t have to do as much adjusting because you feel really good. But you have to be your best coach and you have to have the ability to feel when your mechanic is out of whack, much more so than I ever did as a conventional pitcher.

What sort of mechanical adjustments?

Positions of my wrist, release point, the way my hand comes out of my glove, how quickly I get on top, all those little intricacies that are in a mechanic I have to be in tune with. There’s a real relationship there between my mind and my body and how to make the ball do what I want it to do when it releases out of my hand. The metaphor I always use is golf. It’s a lot like golf because of how important the mechanic is to what I do. A lot of guys can just be athletic out there, and instinctually muscle memory takes over and they produce a pitch that’s going to be pretty good. That’s how I was as a conventional pitcher. But as a knuckleballer, it’s a little bit more rigid. I have to have things in certain places in order to take spin off the baseball.

Is it more difficult then, when you are on the mound in a game, to let your instincts take over? That’s what athletes always strive for: they practice, they work on things, then they go out there and they don’t want to think about mechanics.

That’s the hope. The goal for me is to have built in enough muscle memory to where my knuckleball mechanic is repeatable without me having to think, ‘OK, is my arm right? Is my wrist right? Is my grip right?’ That’s always the end game for me. I have to be able to do that or I wouldn’t be able to compete at this level.

You can’t be thinking about the position of your wrist.

You can for an inning. Much more than that, and you’re going to be out of the game.

The interview also discusses why Dickey feels “at peace” despite his ups and downs with the Jays, the balance between “being present-moment minded” and “do[ing] things with integrity,” the several ways in addition to his pitch in which Dickey is “an outlier,” Dickey’s vocabulary, how he feels about his performance during the 2016 season. Bottom line on the last: “I’m thankful that I can look at myself and be thankful that there wasn’t ever an outing where I thought I could’ve given a better effort. And that goes for my career as a Blue Jay.”

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