Comparisons will no doubt me made between R.A. Dickey's new book and Jim Bouton's seminal sports classic "Ball Four". Both are eloquently written tales written about aging knuckleballers trying to get one more shot at the show. Writing for the New York Times Christopher Lehmann-Haupt famously said that "Ball Four" was: "... a people book, not just a baseball book." The same can be said about Dickey's memoirs, which succeed on so many levels, the lofty but truthful title of which is "Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball".
The most shocking thing about "Wherever I Wind Up" is the level of truth and self awareness Dickey portrays. Especially considering the hyper masculine world of professional sports, where showing any weakness can be ruinous, Dickey lays it all out for us in every painful detail. He grows up the son of an alcoholic mother, an absentee father and the victim of multiple instances of sexual abuse. Wounds that he carries with him and repeatedly cause him to live an angry and unfulfilled life. On the outside R.A. appears to be the consummate sportsman, a gritty competitor, an Olypmian and a first round draft pick. Inside he suffers what we all do at times but rarely admit candidly, low self-esteem, a deep and devastating shame for his mistakes and the circumstances which befell him, lack of self worth and a fear of abandonment.
His demons cause him to be unfaithful to his wife, be successful on the mound and into more dangerous behavior, swimming in alligator infested lakes, an ill-fated attempt to swim across the Missouri River and plans to commit suicide. The hero of the story is rarely R.A., most often we see a man who can be cold to his wife and is plagued with anger. The heroes of "Wherever I Wind up" are the people who make R.A. whole again, both professionally and personally.
We follow the dual quest for R.A. to better both himself and his knuckleball. After years of fighting his inner demons Dickey finally confronts them and admits to others the truth of his abuse. With the aid of his therapist, his wife, family and his faith Dickey gradually becomes the good natured, soft spoken guy we all know from locker room interviews. Along the way he also collects knuckleball wisdom from proponents of the mysterious pitch including Tim Wakefield and Phil Niekro. With each knuckleball expert he consults he learns a new technique he needs to become the dominant starter he is today.
Anybody who reads this site will know I am a fan of Robert Allen Dickey and reading his book only made me a bigger one. The most impressive thing about Dickey is no longer that he become dominant at age 33 throwing a quirky, mysterious pitch. The most amazing thing about R.A. Dickey is that he able to tell a story like this. That he can carry around secrets and sadness and all the foibles of humanity for 30 years and then finally let go, not just to himself and his family but to the world. "Wherever I Wind Up" is the most honest book you will read this year, by bearing all he continues his healing process, you realize that by the very act of reading his book you are helping R.A. move along on his quest.