by Brian Walton
As the old line goes, "You never have a second chance to make a first impression."
In fantasy baseball, I have taken that advice too seriously.
Exhibit A: R.A. Dickey. Now, 37 years of age, the New York Met is someone I have avoided since he arrived in the majors in 2001. In all fairness, Dickey did nothing to earn my trust. He never once registered an ERA under five in his five partial seasons with Texas.
The reality is that the right-hander re-made himself as a knuckleballer, and as a result, he should be considered to be a completely different pitcher. For me, it wasn't that easy, though.
Not only did I dodge Dickey on draft day this season, I balked at acquiring him in trade, fearing he would perhaps reach his expiration date and return to the old R.A.
It proved to be shortsighted.
It is only a small bit of consolation that National League All-Star Team manager Tony La Russa apparently felt the same way. After ducking the question for multiple weeks, the retired manager of the 2011 World Champions passed over Dickey, naming Matt Cain as his All-Star Game starting pitcher instead.
While Cain was a safe pick and continues to perform well this season, he may not have been the best choice. Currently, the Giants' hurler is 13-5, 2.68. After Dickey's Friday night shutout win over Miami, his record is 17-4, 2.63.
Despite pitching on a club that has included Johan Santana, it is Dickey who has become the Mets' first 17-game winner since Al Leiter in 1998.
Still, my concerns weren't completely unfounded.
In one indication of how much better his season has been than his career to date, Dickey had two career shutouts in 106 starts prior to 2012. With a month to go, he already has three this year alone.
Dickey went all the way Friday night for his fifth complete game this season. Prior to this year, he had just four complete games in total.
ESPN's Cy Young Predictor has Dickey as the underdog in the race for the top NL pitching award to Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto, currently 17-6, 2.48.
It could be worse, however.
As much as Dickey could feel badly about not getting the All-Star start, Cueto wasn't even there. He was passed over for the midsummer classic entirely, while a partial-season phenom like St. Louis' Lance Lynn isn't even in his club's rotation anymore.
Unlike Lynn, Dickey has earned all the recognition he has received, and more.
Speaking of more, there may be more to Dickey's transformation than a new-old pitch.
Along with being a successful hurler, Dickey is the author of a book that came out this past off-season, "Wherever I Wind Up." It must have required a lot of courage to air his feelings about past trauma, specifically sexual abuse he suffered as a child.
Earlier this summer, MLB.com's Matthew Leach asked Dickey if getting that off his chest might be a contributor to his mound success this year.
The pitcher's response: "I don't think that's a stretch. I think that's good insight. I think any time you feel the freedom to be yourself, it's going to enhance the other aspects of your life. Whether it's how you are as a father, how you are as a baseball player. That was certainly one of the things that I was hoping for when I wrote it. And as far as the attention that it's gotten, I'm certainly flattered and my hope in that is that people will learn from my mistakes."
I was really wrong about Dickey in so many ways.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league's 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.