By now, of course, the glory that is R.A. Dickey has spread from Amazin' Avenue to all baseball fans. But it is interesting to remember that exactly 25 years ago, another unheralded Mets pitcher was writing his own story -- a story that parallels the Dickey saga on many levels.
Like Dickey, Terry Leach pitched in the SEC. It was while at Auburn that, after hurting his elbow, he would learn to pitch sidearm in order to keep his career going. He was signed by the Braves in 1977, but would be released three years later without making it to the majors. The Mets promptly signed him, and one year later he would make his debut when play resumed after the strike. His number? Forty-three, of course. (And appropriately enough for a franchise that once had two Bob Millers and two Bobby Joneses, Terry Leach would make his MLB debut in relief of Ed Lynch.)
Leach would finish the year in New York, making all of his appearances but one out of the bullpen. He split the next year between Tidewater and Flushing. It was near the end of the 1982 season that Leach would make his second big league start. Rick (traded for Keith) Ownbey had developed a blister, and Leach would be called upon to make the emergency start against the Phillies. The result? A one-hit, complete game win. But Leach outdid Dickey this time: the game was 10 innings. Leach would be rewarded by spending the entire 1983 season in Tidewater, followed by getting traded to the Cubs. The Cubs traded him back to Atlanta, which would release him again. The Mets would then pick him up again, and he finally found his way back to the majors in 1985 (this time wearing number 26 instead), where he pitched in 22 games (four starts). The following year, Terry pitched a grand total of 6.2 innings for the World Champions, while otherwise once again toiling in Tidewater. (He was so little thought of that he was not even given a championship ring the next year; it would eventually arrive several years later.)
A number of circumstances (notably Dwight Gooden's drug suspension) resulted in Leach making the team out of spring training. In the meantime, every other regular starter would be on the DL at one time or another as the team fell behind the Cardinals. On 19 occasions, John Mitchell (not the Attorney General of Watergate infamy) was called upon to start. Starting assignments were also given to Tom Edens, Jeff Innis, Don Schulze and an over the hill John Candelaria. In desperation, even Tom Seaver was called upon to see if there was any magic left in his right arm. (A series of simulated games proved otherwise and Tom went back to his vineyards.)
It was in this environment that Terry Leach was put into the starting rotation. Upon which he proceeded to win, and win, and then win some more. Until all of a sudden Terry Leach was 10-0, and a groundswell of support began for a 33 year old journeyman who had not even spent a full season the majors to not just be an All Star, but to start for the National League. Alas, that dream ended when Leach hurt his knee on the Astrodome mound. Instead of being in the All Star Game, he would be join a long line of pitchers on the DL. Although he came back 15 days later and he continued to pitch well, the magic was gone, and the winning streak ended at 10. He won one more game before returning to the bullpen as the regulars began to heal, but not before almost single handedly keeping the team's pennant hopes alive with his 11-1 mark. (The Mets got back into it until Ron Darling hurt his thumb. I don't remember the rest of it. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.)
The 1988 season had good news for Leach: for the first time in his life, he did not have to worry about making a team out of spring training. As it turned out, the 1988 rotation's health was the flip side of 1987: out of 160 games played (two rainouts were not made up). Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez would start a total of 156. Rick Aguilera started three, and Dave West would get a start on the final weekend after the division had already been clinched. Leach spent the entire year in the bullpen, where his 92 innings would lead all Met relievers, and he would follow his 11-1 season with a record of 7-2 and three saves. He also pitched five scoreless innings in the NLCS before the Mets were eventually Herhisered.
Alas, all good things come to an end, and in 1989 Terry Leach was traded to the Royals to make room for the aforementioned West (who himself would be traded later that year to the Twins as part payment for Frank Viola). Two years later, he got a second ring as a ROOGY for the 1991 Twins, where Dave West was once again a (less effective) teammate. Of course, by this time the Dickey parallels had already ended, since as we all know R.A. is in the first of his 15 consecutive Cy Young seasons. But Terry Leach was a fun pitcher to watch with his sidearm motion, the kind scouts paid no attention to, but still got batters out. Like Dickey's knuckleball, Leach's sidearm motion had one other great asset: the ability to pitch without worrying about wear and tear on the arm. Leach retired at 37, but other sidearm pitchers have gone longer: Kent Tekulve had held the record for games pitched in a career until Jesse Orosco broke it.
And Terry Leach had one other thing in common with R.A. Dickey: authorship. After his career ended, Leach wrote Things Happen For A Reason, in which he detailed his own baseball odyssey.