There are two types of sports fans: Those who jump to conclusions without considering consequences and those who recognize that while results, standings and stats are important, there’s more to sports than just those three items.
There’s really no right style to go with. The former is passionate, direct and is not afraid to state an opinion. The ladder is compassionate, direct if needed and tries to be more constructive with any criticism.
I personally fall with the ladder. Sure, I might be wearing “rose-coloured glasses.” Sure, I might be talking – or writing – out of my ass. But I’m happy with the way I am.
These clashing styles of fandom could not be more evident than how R.A. Dickey’s tenure in Toronto was viewed.
Before continuing, I want to express a few things: For starters, Dickey is one my favourite athletes. He’s a unique character and I’ve always been personally drawn to athletes with rarities. Let’s not forget the incredible hurdles and horrific trauma he had to overcome to get where he is; nor should we forget the charitable work he does off the field.
With that in mind, I have no problem admitting that the Mets won the trade and Dickey’s overall performance these last four seasons was below the level we had originally hoped for. Limiting his starts down the stretch this season and keeping him off the playoff roster was the right thing to do.
To be honest, a part of me is also relived he’s no longer on the team. Almost every time he started a game, I would get very nervous. It was the same anxiety I felt when Roger Clemens or Roy Halladay – who I admired – stepped on the mound. Like Clemens (pre-allegations) and Halladay, I badly wanted Dickey to have an amazing performance and play a significant role in a Jays victory. Therefore, I invested a lot more emotion than I would for – as an example – Pat Hentgen, A.J. Burnett or Marcus Stroman. Sometimes, my investment paid off; sometimes, it painfully didn’t.
Upon reflection, it is appropriate to say that while Dickey performed well below our original expectations, he was certainly not a disaster.
As CBN’s Andrew Hendriks recently pointed out…
Perhaps Mike Wilner summed up Dickey’s tenure appropriately with this mid-season tweet.
Speaking for myself, I was naïve when Dickey was acquired. I ignored the fact that pitching in the AL East is different than the NL East; arguably more challenging. I also didn’t appreciate the unpredictable nature of the knuckleball. In time, I learned there would be “Cy Young innings” and “beach ball innings.”
This is where the two styles of fandom clash.
Those who jump to conclusions witnessed Dickey have a poor performance against the Cleveland Indians in his first-ever regular season start for the Jays, followed by a disastrous start five games later against the Boston Red Sox.
From that point on, these fans viewed Dickey as a bust. No matter what he did, he would be given the same treatment earmarked for Larry Murphy, Andrea Bargnani and Eric Hinske, just to name a few. It also didn’t help that Noah Syndergaard actually became a stud with the Mets.
Those who are compassionate – the camp I fall with – recognized that Dickey wasn’t the ace of the staff or a Cy Young-dominant starter. However, we also saw that he properly filled the role of a middle to back-end starter who ate innings and held things together, while the top starters rested and usually lightened the workload for the bullpen. In other words, Dickey couldn’t fulfill a leading role, but he was certainly a strong supporting cast member. We simply adjusted our expectations and were satisfied.
Unfortunately, our satisfaction was constantly challenged by those who decided early on that he was nothing more than a failure
Sadly, some fans insist in having a scapegoat when things go wrong. Dickey was that scapegoat and the treatment he received was harsher than what other Blue Jays who struggled dealt with. It was painfully familiar to the 2013 villianization of J.P. Arencibia.
Yes, Dickey wasn’t perfect. Yes, he deserved criticism. However, some of this criticism was far too excessive.
There were two people in my personal life who I would constantly debate with about Dickey. Unfortunately, it nearly got heated on a couple of occasions. There were countless times I would read something negative about Dickey on Facebook and Twitter that crossed a line and it would put me in a bad mood. Don’t even ask me how many times I thought of telling Sportsnet’s George Rusic – an unapologetic anti-Dickey proponent – to go screw himself.
Rusic and colleague Dean Blundell made my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels at times. If Dickey had a bad game, they would loudly remind us who the Jays gave up for him. If Dickey pitched well, they would focus on other ways to criticize him; making fun of his beard, the way he spoke or his age.
It is worth noting that Blundell would change his tune about Dickey as the season went on, defending the knuckleballer mostly in an effort to provoke Rusic. Blundell also interviewed Dickey this past season, which was civil and pleasant, though I suspect there was some “behind the scenes” stuff I wasn’t privy to.
Regardless, the smallest and nastiest comment would set me off.
I hate how some people still expected him to be an ace. I hate how some people called him a “one-hit wonder.” I hate how some people are still upset about trading Syndergaard; seriously, Noah was an unproven talent and had a 50/50 chance of meeting his forecasted potential. That’s why teams trade “prospects” for proven commodities in an effort to field the best lineup.
I hate how some people put the 14-2 result of game four of the 2015 ALCS entirely on Dickey. Yes, he deserves blame. But it’s infuriating that the bullpen – with the exception of Liam Hendriks – gets off scot-free, despite surrendering nine of the 14 runs.
I hate how some would blame Russell Martin’s 2015 offensive struggles on having to catch Dickey. Many would call BS on that, with Russell being the first to say it.
I also hate how some people vilified Dickey because he needed Josh Thole. In fact, I hate every single rude comment that was made towards Thole. People with no knowledge of baseball would read every single ugly statement and think Thole was suppose to hit 40 homers, collect 100 RBIs and have an OPS over 1.000. There’s no denying that Thole is more suitable for the AAA level, but he wasn’t here for his bat. He was here to catch Dickey because he was the best option. It didn’t work out with JPA, Henry Blanco, Erik Kratz and Martin. So like it or not, Thole was the guy. Cry and moan about Thole taking a roster spot as much as you want. His job was to catch a knuckleball. Get over it.
In the end, I will reflect fondly on Dickey’s great moments and he had his share. Here are a few that come to mind:
2013 – Two phenomenal starts against San Francisco and Tampa Bay. A Gold Glove award as well.
2014 – Three victories over Boston. A tough 1-0 loss on the final day of the season against Baltimore. Dickey had a number of losses due to a lack of run support.
2015 – 2.80 ERA in the second half. Most notably was his start at Yankee Stadium on a Friday night in August. He held New York to one run in a match the Jays would win in extra innings and ultimately sweep the Yankees.
2016 – A phenomenal start against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, the same place his professional career started nearly 20 years ago and where he suffered his most embarrassing performance in 2006. Don’t forget about his final start as a Blue Jay: September 16 against the Angels, where he threw five scoreless innings in a 5-0 Jays victory. At a time when the team needed Dickey the most, he answered the call successfully.
Don’t forget his start in game four of the 2015 ALDS where he held Texas to one earned run over 4.2 innings. His performance that day was better than David Price, who replaced RAD in the fifth inning. Sure, he had a lot of run support in the match. However, if Dickey didn’t hold the fort, there wouldn’t have been a game five and there wouldn’t have a been a legendary bat flip. Dickey’s effort kept the Jays alive.
While I was proud to wear a t-shirt with Dickey’s number 43 on it, I knew he wasn’t coming back in 2017. So it wasn’t a surprise when I found out he signed with the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves are a perfect fit for Dickey. They’re a team in the re-tooling stage and would certainly benefit from a veteran starter that can gobble up innings. Plus he’ll work with Bartolo Colon, forming a very unique tag team.
So I wish R.A. Dickey the wish the very best. He might not have been the superstar we originally hoped for, but he certainly fulfilled an important supporting role. Nevertheless, I’m grateful his narrative came through Toronto.