Terry Collins and the apotheosis of the Mets' R.A. Dickey

Mike Stobe

There are good reasons for the Mets to trade their Cy Young Award winner, but it seems as if the heart of the franchise will go with him.

A good deal of Terry Collins' winter meetings press conference concerned the team's contract impasse with R.A. Dickey and the seemingly increasing possibility that the knuckleballer could be traded before next season. The idea seemed to make Collins wistful. While he acknowledged that the team could trade their unique ace "for the benefit of the organization in the long term," he mostly preferred to say more about Dickey than the process of retaining him itself.

"I like R.A. Dickey a lot," he said. "He knows that, and right now it isn't really fair for me to comment. Right now he isn't [being traded.]" Still, he seemed moved by the experience of knowing the pitcher, and said they spoke often. To Collins, Dickey is, "One of the great stories in baseball. I have grandkids. I put 'em on my knee and tell them that if you persevere you can accomplish anything."

How can a team trade a player who can serve as an object lesson for their offspring? There is no easy answer to that question except that sentimentality and millions of dollars tend not to coexist easily, and the same came be said of baseball and sentimentality in general. Tom Hanks could just as easily have said, "There's no sentimentality in baseball", and he would have been closer to the truth. I often think of this simple truth: Once Lou Gehrig became too sick to play, the Yankees didn't give him a further dime. They didn't offer him a front-office position, they didn't make him an honorary coach, they just bid him a fond adieu. There were people in the Yankees organization who literally loved Gehrig, but if he was done, no matter how tragic the circumstances, he was done. So, money talks, and not just if you're speaking of the Mets.

The foregoing is, of course, in no way a denial of the facts of Dickey's age, the low chances of his repeating at the same high level, and the possibility of the rebuilding Mets getting some useful parts for the pitcher. Those things should probably be priorities. Still, there is also something to the idea that there are some people whose intangibles do matter enough to trump pure baseball sense.

Most intriguingly, Collins related a conversation he had with Dickey last season in which the pitcher asked why more fringe hurlers hadn't followed in his footsteps. Years ago, the side-arming closer Dan Quisenberry said, "I found a delivery in my flaw." The same thinking applies to the knuckleball -- if you're on the way out of baseball, why not try anything, be it a knuckleball, a screwball, palmball, or something you make up that involves self-amputating two fingers? (It worked for Mordecai Brown.) Collins is receptive to this line of thinking and said the Mets would be talking about the possibilities of the knuckler during spring training. He knows these kinds of transformations are the exception rather than the rule and that the team that makes a project of a pitcher this way might have to wait through a good many beatings, but he thinks its worth trying.

In other Mets news, Frank Francisco is still being looked upon as the closer heading into spring training, and Collins does not envision platooning Ike Davis. "Ike needs to play everyday. To put up the numbers we think he's capable of putting up, he needs to be an every-day guy."

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