MIAMI – R.A. Dickey decided to pass on an opportunity to start the Braves’ final game of the season Sunday, and the 42-year-old knuckleballer hasn’t decided whether to pitch again or retire, regardless of whether the Braves decide to pick up an $8 million team option on his contract for 2018. Dickey might have made his last start Tuesday at New York against the Mets, the team he pitched for when he won the National League Cy Young Award in 2012.
The father of four said he’ll decide after the season whether to continue his career or go home to Nashville and spend more time with his family. His wife and children spent the summer with him in Atlanta before returning home when school started. Dickey said that’s been the hardest time of the year for him in recent seasons, when the children went home to start school.
He doesn’t know if he wants to endure the physical grind of pitching at his age, or the mental grind of being away from his family. He’ll finish his first season with the Braves with a 10-10 record and 4.26 ERA in a team-high 190 innings. For his career, he’s 120-118 with a 4.04 ERA in 400 games including 300 starts.
Dickey discussed his season and his career Friday at Miami before the second game of the Braves’ season-ending series at Marlins Park. Braves rookie pitchers were set to start each of the final three games, including Max Fried in Sunday’s finale.
Are you satisfied overall with how this season went?
No. I thought we should have done a little bit more coming into the year. But some injuries hurt us and, you know, a few of us probably didn’t play as well as we had hoped. As a competitor you’re not really satisfied with that part of it. But I’m happy with my contribution to the team. I think it was an opportunity for me to pour into some guys (offer tips and advice) and do a job, and I felt like I was able to do both of those things.
You pitched 190 innings, got on a roll during the summer, does that at least give you some satisfaction as you go into the offseason?
Yeah. Physically I feel great. My velocities are even better than they were in my Cy Young season, so I felt like I was able to handle any microinjuries that I might have had throughout the season. We had a great group (medical and training staff) in there that helped me stay on the field, which is always the goal is to stay healthy through a full season. You know, I made my 252nd consecutive start the other day, that’s pretty memorable for me. That’s what I always set out to do, to be a trustworthy and dependable piece to a championship team, and I felt like being able to stay healthy and post up every fifth day was a big part of that.
What will be the determining factor for you in whether to come back?
It’ll just be a family decision. I need some time to sit down and really figure it out with (his wife) Anne and the kids and see what we can tolerate or not tolerate. It comes down to that for me, solely. And so if this is it, I walk away from the game a little bit better than I entered into it. And that’s what you hope for. You always want to be able to walk out on your own terms, if that is the case. I think there’s like 18,000 players that have ever played major league baseball, and probably one percent of those get to walk out on their own terms. That’s a special thing as well. So we’ll see. We have made no official decision at all, but we certainly have had conversations around both coming back or retiring.
Did this season prove to be as convenient from a family perspective as you anticipated?
Yeah. And there was only one decision for me this past offseason -- that was to be an Atlanta Brave, really. From that standpoint, (president of baseball operations) John Hart, Coppy (general manager John Coppolella), Snit (manager Brian Snitker), everybody involved were incredibly helpful in letting me be a dad and a husband as well as a baseball player. It’s a real important part, and it’s a part that really gets missed by the public eye. You know, through half of my life – 21 years of my 42 on earth – I’ve been a professional baseball player. So I’ve dragged my wife and kids around the country and around the world, really, to play winter ball and all kinds of places. So that part is something that you struggle with how to reconcile that over the long haul, for a guy like me. So, we’ll see. But the guys made it so convenient for me to race home and get to a birthday party or an eighth-grade graduation. They were really understanding, and I appreciated that.
Having said that, does a lot of your decision depend on whether the Braves pick up the option on your contract? If it’s not for the Braves, would you pitch for anybody?
It would have to be the perfect spot. There are a few teams that are close to home, like Cincinnati, St. Louis, Atlanta, all three of those. And if the Braves weren’t interested and I still wanted to play, felt physically able to do it and my family was behind me, then I would entertain it. But it would have to be an ideal situation. And those kinds of things come up when you’re older, you get the opportunity to get to take a day off here or there during a series and go home because they understand what it’s like to be an older player. And if teams are willing to make concessions like that, then it’s something that I would entertain even if it wasn’t one of those three. But right now, you know, it’s hard to fathom being any further away than those three places.
Where will this season rank for you in your career, a guy who’s won a Cy Young Award and had other accomplishments?
Where it ranks will maybe depend on my decision after the season. Hypothetically, if this was my last year I couldn’t think of a better place to end it. And having the opportunity to contribute on a grand scale for a team was nice. You know, a lot of times you don’t get the opportunity, and then you’re kind of pushed out. So from that regard, it would be very satisfying, it would rank very high, especially because I felt a real connection with a lot of my teammates. Moreso than I have in the past on teams. So that’s been a real blessing for me, to get to interact with some guys that I’ve really enjoyed being around, and who I think are going to be great baseball players for the Atlanta Braves for a long time. So it would rank pretty high no matter what, but if it would end up being my last year, I can’t think of a more memorable way to end it other than ending it with your childhood team in a situation where a lot of people from Nashville got to participate in that.
If a team like the Cardinals, who are usually good, would pursue you, would the chance to perhaps compete for a World Series potentially sway your decision?
It would be one of the (factors) in the equation, I think. But I believe in this (Braves) team. I believe in where it’s going, I believe in the players that we have coming up, and so it wouldn’t – I think St. Louis is a great ballclub, but I don’t see any reason this club can’t be as good. So that wouldn’t sway me away from coming back here. If I made the decision to keep going it wouldn’t be because I think St. Louis has a better chance than these guys. We just need a few pieces, and I think that we have a really good shot. And that’s exciting.
You were out throwing this afternoon on the field even though you’re not going to pitch again this season. That just because you love the game?
Yeah, it is. It’s because I love to play catch and I love to, even when there’s nothing on the line, I like to kind of work on my craft and see if I might pick up something in the last days of the season. I mean, there might be one or two guys in the clubhouse that might want me to throw to them in the cage so they can see what it’s like to hit a knuckleball. You never know.
So you’re not planning to pitch an inning or two in relief Sunday?
No, when I didn’t take the start, that meant that for me I was going to be a cheerleader for the last four days of the year. It’ll be great for Max (Fried) to get some experience as well. My last outing was my 300th start and my 400th appearance, and so those are two nice round numbers to end on for me. If we were in the playoff race and it meant something, you’d have to shoot me to keep me from pitching. But I think it’s an opportunity for Max to get some more experience and for me to take a deep breath.