How did a little boy with a devastating secret grow up to eventually win the highest award possible in his field? Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey asked for help and spoke his truth. I happened to catch his story on 60 Minutes recently and am compelled to share. May it inspire you as well.
Last year, Dickey received a Cy Young award, given to Major League Baseball’s best pitchers. He was also selected to his first career All-Star Game – at the age of 38. But for quite a while, it didn’t look like he would find success as a major leaguer, despite his early athletic promise.
Dickey grew up in the poor side of Nashville. His mom was an alcoholic, and when he was 7, his dad left. The following year, he was sexually abused by his female babysitter, and later that summer, raped by a man while playing near a garage. He buried his shame, becoming an angry kid who, fortunately, found an outlet through baseball. And he was good. At 13, he got a scholarship to play at a prep school, which gave him that discipline and structure that every single one of us needs if we’re going to succeed.
By his junior year in college, the Texas Rangers made him their #1 draft choice and offered him a signing bonus of $810,000. But just before the offer was finalized, the team’s trainer saw a photo of Dickey, along with the rest of the 1996 Olympic baseball team. Dickey’s throwing arm was bent at a funny angle, and a subsequent MRI revealed he didn’t have a certain ligament in his elbow – the one that holds the elbow together.
Eventually the Rangers offered him a $75,000 contract. Dickey, a classic fastball pitcher, kept flopping on the mound and kept getting sent back to the minors. He persevered, moving around as a journeyman in the minors for 14 years. With the exception of two seasons, he was supporting his wife and kids while earning as little as $11,000 a year.
In 2005, at the age of 30, Dickey’s fastball began to lose steam, and the Rangers’ pitching coach told him, “You’re not good enough. If you’re going to make it, you have to do something different.” Dickey was told to throw the knuckleball full time. The knuckleball has been described as “something hitters can’t hit, coaches can’t coach, and pitchers can’t control.”
Dickey wondered, “Are they telling me that what I’ve done for 15 to 20 years of my life isn’t good enough anymore? … That was a hard pill to swallow.”
But he did. Dickey taught himself how to throw the knuckleball, since no coach in the majors even knew how. On April 6, 2006, with high hopes, he took the mound, ready to bamboozle the batters with the tricky-to-hit knuckleball. No one expected what happened next.
Dickey set a record that day, but not the kind he’d hoped for: He allowed 6 home runs in just 3 and 1/3 innings. It was devastating. Once again, he was sent to the minors. Everything seemed to be falling apart, including his marriage to his childhood sweetheart.
That’s when Dickey decided to seek therapy. Finally, he was able to address the childhood traumas that he had kept locked deep inside. He was no longer simply going through the motions. Now, he was starting to move through the emotions. He was starting to face squarely the truths of his life.
“First time I went back and connected with that boy,” he said in the 60 Minutes interview, “I don’t cry that much, but I cried. But I enjoyed it. I started to enjoy risking, because I felt like I was being freed up in some way.” He invited his wife to therapy and shared the truth. She wondered why he hadn’t trusted her.
“I didn’t trust anybody,” he explained. But the therapy — and his faith — helped turn his life around. The truth had set him free. No longer was he tormented by the shame that he had carried for all those years.
He was then able to focus almost obsessively on his pitch. When asked if he would have had the breakthrough in baseball without the breakthrough in therapy, he responded, “No, I think it had to happen simultaneously.”
Dickey continues to rack up wins this season and is proof that speaking your truth can transform your life. It’s time for you to knuckle down and face your truth. Otherwise you’re simply going through the motions.