TORONTO — Forget what’s on the line as far as the outcome of the American League Championship Series and who advances to the World Series. Tuesday’s Game 4 pitching matchup between Toronto Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey and Kansas City Royals starter Chris Young is one of the most interesting you’ll see in any postseason game.
Young, one of the tallest players in the game’s history at 6-foot-10, has a degree in politics from Princeton, where he excelled in basketball as well as baseball. Dickey was an academic All-American while majoring in English literature at Tennessee. He also wrote a New York Times bestseller (along with co-author Wayne Coffey), “Wherever I Wind Up.” Young and Dickey also were teammates with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets.
So which one is more well-read?
“Chris is a pretty bright guy. We had some great conversations when we were together in New York,” Dickey said. “I enjoyed being around him. I enjoyed talking to him. He’s got a great mind. It’s fun to be around guys like that who are well-read and who you can have deeper conversations with. But I’m not sure who’s more well-read.”
Young couldn’t answer that, either. “We’ve never sat down and compared reading lists or book-club lists,” he said. “I think we both appreciate our education and the intellectual aspects of the game of baseball. It’s a great game — the thinking-man’s game, everything that you have to process in a short period of time.
“Most nights after I pitch I leave with a headache because there’s so much information being processed in a short period of time. And I don’t sleep well after I pitch, either. And I’m sure R.A. is probably the same way.”
The right-handers both have impressive backstories. Dickey, who celebrates his 41st birthday later this month, was a 1996 Olympian and first-round draft pick. He saw his signing bonus reduced from $810,000 to $75,000, however, when the Rangers discovered that he was missing his ulnar collateral ligament after a doctor saw his arm angled oddly in a Baseball America cover photo. Dickey made the majors anyway, then resurrected his career by learning the knuckleball. He won the Cy Young Award in 2012.
Dickey prepared for that Cy Young season, in part, by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro the previous winter, a quest whose seed was planted when Dickey read Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in seventh grade.
Young was offered a two-year contract to play basketball for the Sacramento Kings but turned it down to play baseball. He was an All-Star in 2007 but was hit in the face by a line drive by Albert Pujols the next year. Young recovered, but saw his career derailed again due to thoracic outlet syndrome. He overcame that obstacle to go 23-15 with a 3.40 ERA the past two seasons with Seattle and Kansas City.
Now 36, Young attributes his late-career comeback to stubbornness.
“I love the game. It’s just the element of competition, being out there,” he said. “There’s nothing that I found that I love more to do for a living than playing baseball. And I’m just grateful for everything the game has given me and the opportunity to continue to play.”
Clearly, Young and Dickey are two of the most interesting players you will ever meet in baseball — as well as among the nicest. But they aren’t the only smart ones. Not by a long shot. After all, Toronto Game 3 starter Marcus Stroman spent the nearly season-long rehab on his knee earning his degree from Duke.
“You know, I constantly feel like I’m fighting against a stereotype a lot, that Major League Baseball players, athletes in general, can’t be educated, can’t be well-read, can’t have thoughtful conversations. The dumb-jock syndrome is what I call it,” Dickey said. “But Marcus having got his degree from Duke is a great example of a person that’s an athlete, professionally, that this is his life, but it’s not all his life. He has other desires outside of baseball.
“And I think that’s great for the game. It’s great to exemplify that for kids coming up. I think it’s a great thing to do to show kids in general that it’s OK to have other interests outside the game. This game can be really toxic at times. And so being well rounded is always a benefit, I think.”