By the numbers, R.A. Dickey (above) is the sort of person known mostly to either dorks (so, you know guilty as charged) or fans of the teams he’s played for. Who in turn know him as a guy who delivers a marginally effective long-relief stint here and there. And while his Baseball Reference page suggests that he is indeed that dude, an article from yesterday’s New York Times explains that Dickey is 1) an unlikely medical oddity and 2) now a knuckleballer, tossing a strange, 77-MPH version of the pitch. Your knuckleball cultists of the world — the faculty at the Candiotti Institute, Rob Neyer — will be interested to hear about the second part, but I’m kind of struck by this, from early in Allan Schwarz’s piece:

In an age when more and more pitchers have ugly scars crawling up their elbows, where surgeons™ scalpels have replaced their ulnar collateral ligaments in what is known as Tommy John surgery, Dickey does not need to worry about strains or painful pops.

He does not have an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. None. Dickey either was born without one, or the tissue simply disintegrated when he was a teenager.

A dozen years after discovery of his situation cost him a virtual million-dollar payday, when he was told to give up his dreams of becoming a major league pitcher, Dickey today is one of the most intriguing players in any spring training camp. He did not just prove skeptics wrong by building a career that has included brief stays in the big leagues. Now 33, Dickey has reinvented himself as a knuckleballer, one promising enough that he could prove quite valuable in 2008 and beyond.

œFor him to be able to throw at all is pretty phenomenal in itself, said Rick Griffin, the Mariners™ head athletic trainer. œBut he™s doing it in the major leagues. People in sports amaze you physically, but this is something you™d never suspect. It™s like a running back in the N.F.L. having no anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. It™s amazing.

…œIt™s a real blessing now, Dickey said. œI™m real resilient, simply because I don™t have to worry about that ligament being sore, or tearing it. There™s nothing to tear.