R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets paid homage to “the pantheon of knuckleballers” after becoming the first Cy Young Award winner who throws a pitch that many in Major League Baseball deride as a gimmick.
Dickey, 38, who became the Mets’ first 20-game winner since 1990, won the award as the National League’s best pitcher this season. David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays claimed the American League honor after leading that league in earned run average and tying for the lead with 20 wins.
“It brings a real degree of legitimacy to the knuckleball fraternity and I’m proud to represent all of them,” Dickey said on a conference call. “I’m thankful to the New York Mets for the chance to work on my craft and to perfect it.”
Dickey said he received 127 text messages and about 40 phone calls in the half-hour after he was announced as the winner last night. He took one phone call, from Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. He answered one text, from former Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield. Both threw the knuckleball.
Dickey, who had a 41-50 career record before going 20-6 this season with a 2.73 earned run average and an NL-leading 230 strikeouts, said the sports writers who voted him the award showed baseball is about more than fastballs and sliders.
“They didn’t see the knuckleball as a trick pitch, they didn’t see it as an illegitimate weapon,” he said. “They saw it as a legitimate weapon to get big-league hitters out.”
It’s the fifth time a Mets pitcher has won. Tom Seaver was the Cy Young winner in 1969, 1973 and 1975. Dwight Gooden captured the award in 1985. Dickey is the first Mets pitcher to win 20 games in a season since Frank Viola 22 years ago.
“I was always looking for new ammunition to bring to the mound, so I attempted the knuckleball,” Seaver said in a statement released by the Mets. “It’s a very difficult pitch to throw and, needless to say, I never mastered it.”
Dickey is the only active major leaguer who throws a knuckleball, typically a slow-moving pitch that doesn’t spin, making the ball move erratically. It’s difficult for hitters to predict where the ball will go.
The right-handed Dickey went 13-1 to start the season, at one point throwing 44 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. In June, he threw back-to-back one-hitters.
His performance was one of the few bright spots this season for a Mets team that went 74-88 and finished 24 games behind the NL East-winning Washington Nationals.
Dickey got 209 votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 2011 winner, was second with 96 votes, three more than Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals. Dickey received 27 first-place votes among the 32 ballots, which used a 7-4-3-2-1 scoring system.
Price, who like Dickey is a native of Tennessee, had an ERA of 2.56 and posted a 20-5 record while being selected as an All-Star for the third straight season.
The 27-year-old left-hander had 153 points in balloting, while Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, who won the Cy Young Award last year, was second with 149.
The four-point differential was the closest of any election since voting for more than one pitcher was permitted in 1970, the BBWAA said on its website.
“If you can ever be in any conversation with Justin Verlander, you know you’re doing something right,” Price said in a conference call. “I hope we can have more Cy Young races like this.”
Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels was third in the voting with 70 points.
The last of the BBWAA’s annual awards will be announced today when the Most Valuable Players in the AL and NL are revealed.