A Conversation With R.A. Dickey, Part One

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This past Thanksgiving weekend I went home and reached out to fellow Nashvillian and Mets pitcher, R.A. Dickey, for a chance to talk about the team and his incredible career. Mr. Dickey attended my high school and his legend was well established by the time I enrolled as a seventh grader. His Team USA jersey, plaques, and State Championship trophies, lining the halls of our gym, are images as indelible and familiar to my growing up as my own back yard. Naturally, I was excited when he signed on with the Mets and then firmly entrenched himself in the top-half of the team's rotation with his stellar play.

Mr. Dickey was kind enough to let me into his home during the holiday weekend, so we could speak in person. Different segments of our conversation will run throughout this week. Today's portion is more generally about the current Mets team. Check back in the coming days for more about his career, the intricacies of the knuckleball, what he's thinking on the mound, and his message to Mets fans. 

Sam Page: What's your impression of the new front office?

R.A. Dickey: My impression, which is a lot of times very different then the reality of things, is good. I think it's a good bunch, a thoughtful bunch, that's going to take us in a direction where you might not see immediate results, but you're going to see very deliberate, intentional moves with purpose behind them, instead of just taking fliers on guys and hoping it works out. I think that's a good place to start--having a very prepared, plan-oriented front office and I think that's what we have.

SP: I read your comments in the Post about Terry Collins and intensity being good or bad. Who are some managers you played under that you liked?

RD: I played under Buck Showalter. He's intense, but at the same time, he lets the players police themselves to a certain degree. I think the best managers that I've played for have struck a very good balance between knowing when to get in your face and what for, and treating you like a man and letting you do your work and letting you be a professional, letting you take care of the business. When you neglect to take care of business, they get after you. But when you take care of business, they leave you alone. I think what our team needs is a guy that Terry seems to bring to the table. It doesn't matter who's on the team, doesn't matter the contract status, doesn't matter the superstar persona. He's going to tell you what he thinks and he's going to motivate you to be better. I think that's something that we all need.

SP: Can you talk a little more about why he would be good for the Mets specifically? I asked the readers for questions and people want to know about the clubhouse dynamic, as we don't have any insight into that.

RD: In the clubhouse, it's been a situation, where this past year, you have a lot of good guys in the clubhouse. When you're in the clubhouse, you can't ever pick your friends. For seven months of the year, you've got to get along and find the best way to do that, find the best way to have the common ground that you need to succeed, where guys are pulling for one another, where guys don't have hidden agendas, guys aren't selfish. They put each other in a good position to win and do their job well. I think that's what we need. I think we're going to have a little bit better leadership from top to bottom this year, which is going to be great. And then, of course, they've been pretty public about not being able to make a lot of moves, because of their financial situation. So you're going to be looking at a lot of the same faces, which isn't all bad either. Guys will start to really be familiar with other guys and how they act, respond, what they need, what they don't need. From my point of view, there's not a lot you can do from a leadership standpoint, outside of just play your but off. That's all I can do.

As far as a dynamic...from a problem standpoint, we've had some issues. We had our K-Rod thing. We had our Johan thing. We've had a Charlie Samuels thing. The Mets are no strangers to clubhouse drama. I think one good thing this front office will do, Terry Collins in particular, is give us some real stability.

SP: Next year, do you think competing is realistic? What's your outlook going into spring training?

RD: That's a tough question, because most teams, going into the season, are never real honest about what they think. For me, at least for the last half of my career, I've always tried to be really honest with whoever's asking me anything. And to be honest, I think we have presently potentially four all-stars. So there's no reason why we shouldn't compete. Now, competing can look like all kinds of things. You compete when you lose 2-1, when you lose 80 or 90 games. You still compete hard. But if you mean win a championship, I think that we have a shot, because that's the beauty of the game. The San Diego Padres had a shot and they almost did it. And they hit what, .240 as a team? They just pitched well. We pitch well.

It's all about the culture of the clubhouse. Are the guys pulling for each other? There's so much that has to do with that. Really. It's not just an idiom. The clubhouse matters. If you've got a good work environment, where you can be honest, be yourself, not feel judged, where there's not all these little cliques that are back-biting each other, calling each other out, but are really being honest with each other, supporting each other, then you can do anything, regardless of who's on the team. At that level, you're not on the team because you stink. You're there because you can do it. So it's just a matter of getting the right mix of guys, at that point.

SP: I do want to press that a little. How does that manifest? What is the difference between a tight group or not?

RD: I don't know if there's one "the difference." There's a few differences, for instance, knowing when and how to confront a teammate on an issue. Knowing how to do it in a gentle way that doesn't alienate him, that doesn't cause him to go grab another guy and turn his back on somebody else. In a real healthy way, be honest with him, put your arms around him, embrace him, say, "Look, I know you screwed it up. We need to do it better. This isn't a way we do things." Having guys in the clubhouse that know how to do that well, who can tell the truth, who don't run out of the room when you have a bad game and stay in the room when you're 4-4 and answer every question there is. Guys who are willing to stand up with integrity and say, "Hey, I blew it today. And this is why I blew it. And I'll try to be better next time, but today I sucked." Guys who are honest about the way they perform and the way they play. That's two or three instances right there that can really help the dynamic in a clubhouse.

If you've got the majority of guys in the clubhouse, who behave in that manner, you're going to have a good team, because the other guys become the minority. And the majority always outweighs the minority, obviously. It's when the other guys are the minority that you have a lot of problems, when you have guys that aren't honest, who are contractually in a place where they're comfortable. And it doesn't matter from at bat to at bat or pitch to pitch what happens. And they play like that. Guys who are afraid to tell the truth, who are afraid for whatever reason to stand up and say, "Hey guys, we need to be better and this is how we can be better." All those things play into it. And you've got to have good leadership, you have to have a good manager to steer the boat. That will really help.

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