R.A. Dickey isn't considered the best knuckleball pitcher ever. But he had the best season for a knuckleballer in baseball history in 2012.
The 38-year-old New York Mets right-hander, who picked up the pitch when his career was languishing, became the first pitcher whose primary pitch is the knuckleball to win the Cy Young Award.
"This is a story that's beyond me," Dickey said to MLB.com. "It transcends R.A. Dickey. It's bigger than that."
While Dickey won the National League award, another first-time winner prevailed in the American League in Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price, who won in one of the closest Cy Young votes ever over the 2011 winner, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.
Price and Dickey are both from the Nashville, Tenn., area and they were both first-round picks. But they shared much different paths to becoming the best pitchers in each league. Price was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft and seemed destined to win this award someday; Dickey, picked No. 18 overall in the 1996 draft by the Texas Rangers, was pitching in Triple-A at age 35 just two years ago.
Dickey's mastery of the knuckleball is the reason for his late-career ascent. He's the only one throwing the pitch in the majors now, and perhaps this will lead a renaissance for a pitch that's spawned Hall of Fame careers (Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm most notably). According to MLB.com, Niekro was among the first people he contacted after winning the award, as he was among Dickey's mentors. Dickey knows he won't be joining Niekro in Cooperstown, but he never had a season like Dickey had in 2012.
Dickey became the New York Mets' first 20-game winner since Frank Viola in 1990 and led the NL in strikeouts, innings, complete games and shutouts, going 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA. And he did it for a Mets team that went 74-88. Dickey had never won more than 11 games in a season before 2012. His career record before the season was 41-50.
Dickey picked up 27 of the 32 first-place votes from the writers and was second on the other ballots. Those first-place votes were split among Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals, Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds and Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. Knuckleball pitchers had finished second in the voting in three previous seasons (Joe Niekro in 1979, Wilbur Wood in 1972 and Phil Niekro in 1969).
Kershaw won the NL award last year. In fact, both winners from 2011 finished second in the balloting in 2012.
Price won by just four votes, the closest since a weighted voting system was implemented in 1970. Price had 14 first-place votes to Verlander's 13. Both received 13 second-place votes. Two California writers placed the Los Angeles' Angels Jered Weaver in second place and Verlander in third, and if both had flipped their vote, Verlander would have won. One writer voted Rays closer Fernando Rodney first.
Price is the first-ever Rays pitcher to win the honor. He finished second in 2010. In 2012, Price was 20-5 with a league-leading 2.56 ERA and consistently pitched deep into games for the Rays, pitching seven innings or longer in 23 of his 31 starts.
A look at the voting, a 7-4-3-2-1 system that is weighted toward first-place votes. The Baseball Writers Association of America expanded the voting to five places in 2010 - previously, there were just three players on a ballot.
2012 Cy Young Award Voting
|AL Cy Young||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th||Pts|
|David Price, Rays||14||13||1||153|
|Justin Verlander, Tigers||13||13||2||149|
|Jered Weaver, Angels||2||14||9||1||70|
|Felix Hernandez, Mariners||5||10||6||41|
|Fernando Rodney, Rays||1||5||4||8||38|
|Chris Sale, White Sox||1||4||6||17|
|Jim Johnson, Orioles||1||3||5|
|Matt Harrison, Rangers||2||2|
|Yu Darvish, Rangers||1||1|
|NL Cy Young||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th||Pts|
|R.A. Dickey, Mets||27||5||209|
|Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers||2||11||10||1||6||96|
|Gio Gonzalez, Nationals||1||12||6||8||4||93|
|Johnny Cueto, Reds||1||4||10||10||2||75|
|Craig Kimbrel, Braves||1||5||5||9||41|
|Matt Cain, Giants||1||6||7||22|
|Kyle Lohse, Cardinals||2||2||6|
|Aroldis Chapman, Reds||1||1|
|Cole Hamels, Phillies||1||1|