If there’s a baseball autobiography I want to read that hasn’t been written yet, that one would belong without a doubt to Jamie Moyer of the Phillies. I just want to read him talking about all the stuff he’s seen and the weird, astonishing career path he’s taken, winding his way through 4 decades of baseball.
Jamie is 49 years old. He originally came up to the majors in 1986 as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Ronald Reagan was president. Harry Caray was calling games on WGN. Iran Contra was a few months away from being discovered.
His first game in the bigs, he went up against Steve Carlton. Carlton was a teammate of Lou Brock and Kenny Boyer. He pitched to Mike Schmidt that day. In that era, Moyer faced Andre Dawson and Tim Raines. He faced current broadcaster Orel Hershiser when they both were young pitchers. Angels manager Mike Scoscia had claimed the Dodgers starting catching job as a 27-year-old when Jamie Moyer faced him in 1986.
Jamie’s Cub teammates that year included Dennis Eckersley; Eck was a starter then. When Moyer first arrived in the big leagues, Eckersley–now a Hall of Famer–had zero career MLB saves. Eckersley retired with 390 saves…Eckersley recorded all 390 saves during Moyer’s career, and since Eckersley’s retirement, Jamie Moyer has won 154 games.
When Moyer pitched for the Cubs, they made a September call-up of a kid 3 years younger than Jamie Moyer. That kid’s name was Greg Maddux. Greg Maddux won 355 major league games, all during Moyer’s career. Maddux retired 2 years ago.
When Jamie Moyer joined the Cubs, Ryne Sandberg–one of the top five second basemen of all time–was 26 years old. He is in the Hall Of Fame now. Rick Sutcliffe, now an ESPN commentator, was a teammate. Another Cub rookie called up the same year as Jamie Moyer was Rafael Palmiero.
Jamie has had a fascinating career. He had a few decent years in his 20′s with the Cubs…and then he and Palmiero were traded to Texas. Moyer got hit pretty hard as a Ranger and never was as good as he was as a Cub, and the Rangers ended up releasing him outright after the 1990 season. No blame to the Rangers at all–Moyer himself would likely tell you he stunk up the joint.
George Herbert Walker Bush was president when this happened.
Moyer then signed on with the Cardinals and spent a season shuttling back and forth from the big club to their AAA team, all the while pitching mostly out of the bullpen. At the end of the year, the Cardinals released Moyer outright, and with reason: Moyer didn’t pitch very well at all.
Jamie signed a deal with the Cubs for the ’92 season, but couldn’t recapture the magic of his early career with them. When he didn’t make the team out of spring training that year, they cut him. Moyer signed on as a minor leaguer in the Detroit system, but at the end of that year in AAA ball, the Tigers declined to offer Jamie a contract for ’93.
Bill Clinton was president by then.
Moyer signed a deal with the Orioles, made the team, and had his best season since 1988. He worked three seasons with the Orioles, but by the end of the 1995 season–yep, 17 years ago–Baltimore decided the 33-year-old Moyer was in the twilight of his career and declined to offer him a new contract. Moyer got a minor league deal with the Red Sox for ’96, made the team in spring training, and spent the first half of the season pitching mainly as a reliever. That year–powered by Randy Johnson and a young Ken Griffey Jr, the Mariners were in the hunt for the playoffs and decided to send utility outfielder Darren Bragg to Boston for Moyer. The Mariners put Moyer in the rotation, and Jamie got 11 starts going 6-2 with Seattle and posted a 3.31 ERA.
Something had clicked on for Moyer bigtime. For the next 9 years he was a mainstay of the Mariner rotation, winning 20 games twice. In 2005 the Mariners–in full rebuilding mode–traded Jamie to the Phillies. By now George W. Bush was president. The Mariners and Phillies both probably figured the 43-year-old Moyer was in the twilight of his career.
Moyer went 5-2 after joining Philadelphia, and then won 14, 16, and 12 games respectively for them in the next 3 seasons. Moyer also finally got himself a World Series ring when the Phils won the title in 2008.
In 2009 Moyer started off fine, but then leveled off and eventually started getting hit hard–harder than he’d been hit in years, maybe decades. A lot of folks, myself included, wondered if maybe 46-year-old Jamie Moyer might finally be arriving at the end of the road. 2010 went better for him for a while; at one point he was 9-6 with two complete games, including a 2-hit shutout. In July of that year it was apparent though–something was wrong with Moyer’s 47-year-old left arm. After pitching the first inning of a game against St. Louis, Moyer came out of the game. A few days later a diagnosis confirmed: Jamie needed major elbow reconstructive surgery. It seemed as if his career was over. For young men in their teens and twenties, that surgery can take over a year to recover from, with no guarantees of ever being able to make it back.
And so here we are in the Spring of 2012, a time when even an old man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of baseball love. Jamie Moyer is in the spring training camp of the Colorado Rockies in Arizona, trying to make that ballclub as a non-roster invitee. The Rockies became a team 18 years ago; Moyer was already a 7-year veteran of the major leagues. Jamie will be 50 in November. If he sticks with the Rockies, he’ll have a chance to break one of the oddest of baseball records. In 1932, a 49-year old Cincinnati pitcher named Jack Quinn won a ballgame. Moyer is already older than Quinn was when he won that game, so if Moyer can make the Rox, and wins at least one game this year, he’ll be the oldest player in major league history to have done so.
Last night in the warm desert air of a Cactus League game facing the San Francisco Giants, Jamie Moyer pitched 4 innings, giving up no hits or walks and striking out 4 with a fastball that never registered faster than 78 mph on a radar gun.
On behalf of forty-something old guys everywhere, Jamie Moyer, we’re rooting for you.