When I became a baseball fan in late second grade, I went all-in. I devoured every rule, every stat, every story to get up to speed on this game that the cooler kids all knew better and even played far longer than I did. Baseball cards, cereal boxes, newspaper clippings- they all became my lifelines. Then I got my public library card in third grade, and even more worlds opened. To this day, the only Dewey Decimal number I know by heart is 796.357- home of the baseball non-fiction collection. When those ran thin (and face it, in 1968, books about the Mets were the essence of thin-ness), I sought out fiction. Including one which I can still see in my mind's eye, and, thanks to the amazin'ment of the Internet, in my eye's eye too:
You can even find it in at least a handful of upstate (mostly school) libraries, or buy it on Amazon, and the tale told of it there is about what I remember it being:
Tom Faust is a sparkling young pitcher with a live arm and a superb fastball. So good that he can simply rear back and throw it by major league hitters. He also has superb control, which means that he can put the ball in the locations most difficult for the batters. His desire to win is so great that he agrees to pitch at a frequency that burns his arm out in a few years.
After consulting numerous physicians, he is finally told that his arm is simply worn out and no medical treatment, even rest, will lead to recovery. His only hope to return to the major leagues is to develop a set of off-speed pitches, known in the trade as junk. It is a struggle at first, requiring him to completely change his style. He also must learn to become a super fielder, the batters that before were whiffing in style are now hitting him hard, and he must be prepared to respond at all times.
Despite a few emotional outbursts, Tom is a willing and eager learner and eventually works his way back into the major leagues. In an act of coincidental revenge, he pitches his greatest game against the team that originally burned him out. Barely missing a no-hitter, he shows the world that he is truly a pitcher and not just a body with a whip for a right arm.
I'd forgotten the Marlowe-ian foreshadowing in the character's name (and can't let it go, seeing how this blog is named for a Marlowe-ian character) , but otherwise, that long-lost story came back to me this morning after reading the accounts of R.A. Dickey's final appearance, and of the speculation on how it would impact his Cy Young chances. There seems to have been much suspicion from potential voters about his bona fides on account of his being a Junk Pitcher, such that his similar story of failure, frustration and fantastic readjustment is held against him rather than as cause to celebrate.
Further, I don't recall any emotional outbursts on R.A.'s part, but other than that, the parallels to this old tale are striking. The revenge against those who gave up on him, the barely missing a no-no, and then the stranger-than-fiction inclusion of Adam Greenberg in the story of last night's events. I heard Greenberg on a sports show earlier today, who considered it a strange irony that he'd get his second shot against a guy with such a striking story of his own. He flat-out declared Dickey as deserving of the Cy Young, no question about it; and he looks forward to getting a second at-bat against him in the future to redeem himself.
Unless, of course, two final fates converge, and the Mets both retain R.A. and sign Greenberg. You can never go wrong with a name like that in New York.
Other than those memorable moments, last night just put more runny icing on the cake left out in the rain. I don't think that I can take it, all the memories of the past few months after the promise of the first three. The only certainty so far seems to be the retention of the field generals, which will no doubt result in Wally Backman going elsewhere, a year before Wright and R.A. likely do the same. Only the prospect of a complete collapse, whether on the field or in the financials of the Wilpons, would give me hope of things becoming different any time soon. After seeing how quickly an ownership transfusion changed the fortunes of the Dodgers, there always is that hope if it happens. I fear, though, that it won't, and probably can't, happen without that change.
On the other hand, the Wilpons could try selling their souls to the devil- again- and see if it works out better this time. Hey, it could work as well as it apparently did down in D.C. this year. If you need to get in touch with the ol' boy, just get in touch, Jeffy; I just might be able to figure out the Prince of Darkness's website address;)