At 49 years and four months, Moyer not only is older than Robert Redford was when he played Roy Hobbs in “The Natural” (46 when filming began), he’s older than was Wilford Brimley (48 at start of filming), who portrayed old manager Pop Fisher. “That doesn’t surprise me — he’s older than everyone in this clubhouse,” Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez said. “But I tell you what, his heart is still young and he’s still hungry and the body is game.”
Hobbs is 35 years old in “The Natural” when Pop Fisher tells him, “People don’t start playing baseball at your age, they retire!” Since turning 35, Moyer has won 178 games, two-thirds of his career total.
Moyer also is older than Mr. Met. He looks better, too.
This is the 28th spring training for Moyer, who is with the Rockies on a minor league contract with an invite to major league camp. “I’ve kind of looked at my whole career as a spring training invite,” Moyer said. “I’ve always approached spring training as I have something to prove.”
Moyer missed last season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the only summer he hasn’t played baseball at some level (including Little League) in 40 years. “The coolest thing was I was able to be at home and cook on the grill and be a part of our family home life a little more,” he said. “I greatly enjoyed that and at some point I look forward to doing that on a full-time basis. But not now.”
Tommy John was still a major league pitcher, and not just a surgical procedure, when Moyer started in the big leagues.
After the surgery, Moyer said, doctors told him, “You can go through a rehab and just live your normal life, or you can aggressively rehab and try to pitch again. And I tried the aggressive rehab to try to pitch. The way I looked at it, I wanted the aggressive rehab because if I want to play catch or play in an alumni game or hit a golf ball, I didn’t want to think, ‘I hope my arm is OK.”’
Moyer is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA and seven strikeouts in nine Cactus League innings this spring. Batters are hitting .133 against him. “If my body allow me to do this, why not? Because when I’m done, I’m done,” Moyer said. Plus, “If I hadn’t come to spring training in 2012, I would have asked myself ‘What if I had?’ until I died.”
If Moyer makes the roster and wins a game this season he would be the oldest man to ever do so in the majors. “Even in the last couple years people come up to me and say, ‘It’s really cool what you’re doing at your age,”’ Moyer said. “And I’m like, the age thing really doesn’t matter.”
The current record is held by Jack Quinn, who was 49 years, two months in September 1932 when he pitched five scoreless innings in relief for a victory with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Moyer made his major league debut at Wrigley Field on June 16, 1986, five days after “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” opened in theaters. “He may have (still been there),” Moyer says of the movie’s title character, who attends a Cubs game at Wrigley. “Funny you say that, because that’s one of my favorite movies. I love watching that movie and I love the creativity of the movie. Actually, I should be in the second or the third or the fourth Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there were 263 major leaguers last season who had not yet been born when Moyer made his debut.
Moyer gave up five runs to the Phillies in his major league debut but got the win over his boyhood hero, Steve Carlton, who was 41 and would be released by Philadelphia a week later. Carlton’s big league debut was in 1965, which means the two have spanned 47 major league seasons.
A pair of club-level season tickets to the Cubs in Moyer’s rookie season would have cost about $1,400. If a season-ticket holder had instead invested the same amount in Apple stock, that stake would be worth approximately $185,000 today. But then, he/she wouldn’t have seen Moyer’s debut or the Cubs lose 38 games at Wrigley Field.
When Moyer started his career, there were no lights at Wrigley. He was Chicago’s starting pitcher the last afternoon at Wrigley before the Cubs started playing night games in 1988. “That was a big thing going on in Chicago at that time,” he said. “Wrigley Field itself is its own institution. You look back, there were no bleachers out on the rooftops across the street on top of the apartment houses. There might have been someone who sat on the ledge of a house back then, but that was kind of taboo. For me it’s an honor to have had just a minute opportunity to have played in a place with such great history.”
Because he pitched in both leagues before the wave of new stadiums and in both leagues after the new stadiums, Moyer has pitched in a record 49 big league ballparks (plus three more in Japan during an MLB tour). The only ballparks in use during his career he missed are Exhibition Park in Toronto, Mile High Stadium in Denver and Target Field in Minnesota. If he makes the team, Miami’s new stadium could be his 50th.
Win yourself some barroom money by betting people they can’t name who is second with 47 parks (ex-reliever Rudy Seanez).
The Cubs traded Moyer and Rafael Palmeiro in 1989 for Mitch Williams and assorted prospects, thereby giving up 544 future home runs from Palmeiro and 239 future wins from Moyer in exchange for 52 saves and five wins from Williams. And you wonder why the Cubs haven’t reached the World Series since well before Moyer was born.
Moyer was out of a major league job in 1992. He vividly recalls driving across the Ohio Turnpike to join the Toledo Mud Hens. “I remember telling myself, ‘This potentially could be your last opportunity. So approach this in a way that you have fun with it. Just be yourself and go throw whatever you want to throw, when you want to throw it, where you want to throw it.’ I honestly did that. And things just started to turn around. I really took pressure off myself. I relaxed a little bit. It wasn’t like every time I pitched I was pitching for my career and my career was on the line. Things just started to fall in line.”
Moyer was 34-54 with a 4.56 ERA in his 20s. He was 130-71 with a 3.97 ERA in his 30s. He’s 103-79 with a 4.40 ERA in his 40s. “A lot of it was my mindset,” he said of his turnaround.
Moyer has worn No. 50 since 1996, when he was with the Red Sox. He says seeing the number on his jersey gives him a little pause now. “I’ve thought about it a couple times, like, ‘Wow, I’m getting close to that number on my back,”’ he said. “Ask me at the end of the season. If I make the team and make it to the end of the season, I’ll say, I’m going to play for that 50th year.”
Based on the experience of others nearing 50, Moyer can expect to receive his AARP application soon, but he has been hearing jokes about his AARP card for the past five or six years. “By now I’ve pretty much heard all the old knocks or jokes,” he said. “I don’t know whether I’ve gotten to have thick skin or I’ve just heard them all and you can’t really offend me. Most of them I just laugh at and move on. I think for some people, they’re just jealous.”
Three Great Things About Pitching at Age 49:
The scouts no longer point the radar gun at you, they just count “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi.”
Opposing batters can’t study your old game films because they’re on Betamax.
There are plenty of young players around to explain the new-fangled technology, like the Sony Walkman.
The most amazing thing about Moyer’s career may be this: Harry Caray set him up with his eventual wife, Karen. “She was an intern with WGN, working for Harry, Steve Stone and Arne Harris in the truck,” Moyer said. “It was kind of a joke between Harry and Steve all summer that they would introduce her to a player and her last day of work they introduced us.”
Karen Moyer is the daughter of former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. Jamie vividly recalls asking Phelps for permission to marry Karen. “He was eating a piece of pie. As he was eating his pie, he looked at me and without hesitation, he said, ‘So are you going to get your degree?’ I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I just asked if I could marry your daughter and you’re asking if I’m going to get my degree?'”
Although 65 credits short when Phelps asked the question, Moyer earned his B.A. in general studies. When speaking to young students about the importance of getting a degree, “I was always worried there would be a sharp kid who raises his hand and asks, ‘Do you have your degree?”’
The Moyers have eight children, ranging in age from 20 to five. The oldest, Dillon, was picked by the Twins in the 2010 draft. Dillon didn’t sign and currently is a sophomore infielder at UC Irvine. Asked recently by writer Michael Martinez why he didn’t become a pitcher like his father, Dillon joked, “I guess I wasn’t blessed with the genes to throw very hard.”
Moyer never threw much harder than 82 or 83 mph, and according to fangraphs.com, his average fastball was 80.2 mph in 2010. “I came to realize in my late 20s that my velocity is not going to grow so I had to learn to utilize what I had.”
His changeups have been clocked in the mid-60s. A player once described Moyer’s repertoire as “throwing feathers” while Colorado’s Jason Giambi says, “You don’t think the ball can stay in the air that long.”
Not surprisingly, Moyer thinks there is too much reliance on radar gun readings. “I’m not saying it’s inaccurate, but I wonder if it is. I think a lot of that is for fans.”
The major league minimum was $60,000 when Moyer made his debut. Alex Rodriguez made more than that every time he stepped up to the plate last season ($74,000).
When Moyer spent the entire 1992 season in the minors, he was 34-54 with a 4.56 ERA for his career. His career earnings were just over $1 million after six major league seasons. He has won 233 games and earned nearly $82 million since.
According to baseball-reference.com, Moyer has had approximately 600 teammates, including Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr., Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson. He singles out Ryan, Ripken and Dawson as his favorites for the examples they set on the field and off. “I’ve had some great examples in my career of how to do things the right way.”
Moyer saw Ryan strike out his 5,000th batter when Nolan was 42 and throw a no-hitter and win his 300th game at age 43. “I was probably like, ‘Wow, it would be pretty cool to play at his age,”’ Moyer said. “But I was 29 and kind of floundering. Now, 20 years later, I’m 49 and kind of floundering.”
Six Degrees of World Champions: Nolan Ryan was a teammate with Bob Friend, who was a teammate with Murry Dickson, who was a teammate with Pepper Martin, who was a teammate with Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was a teammate with Pat Moran, who played for the last Cubs world championship team in 1908.
The Red Sox traded Moyer to the Mariners for Darren Bragg in 1996, which is when Seattle manager Lou Piniella gave him a regular spot in the rotation and his career took off. That trade almost made up for Seattle trading Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb in 1997.
Moyer won 20 games for the first time at age 38 for the 2001 Mariners, who won a league record 116 games. “That was quite a special regular season,” said Moyer, who was 3-0 in the postseason. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get very deep into the playoffs, which would have made that a magical season people would have talked about for many, many years. It’s kind of faded away a little bit.”
Moyer finally reached the World Series a month short of his 46th birthday in 2008 when he pitched for his boyhood team, the Phillies. He dug out the pitching rubber as a souvenir the night Philadelphia won the series. “Being in the parade was pretty cool because in 1980 I went to the parade the last time they won the World Series.”
When Moyer was 46, the world champion Phillies signed him to a two-year contract.
When Moyer two-hit Atlanta in May 2010 at age 47, he became the oldest major leaguer to ever throw a shutout. “We knew it was Eighth Wonder of the World-type stuff,” reliever Chad Durbin told reporters that night.
Moyer’s bosses have included a Japanese video game tycoon (Nintendo founder and Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi) and a future president of the United States (ex-Rangers minority owner George W. Bush).
Or maybe not. Moyer has never hit a home run. He has allowed a record 511, however.
Stirrup socks were in fashion when Moyer began his career. He still wears them. “I’m keeping them in fashion,” he said.
One thing Moyer would like to do before he retires? “If I could hang on long enough to play against one of my sons, but I don’t know if that will happen.”
One more thing he would like to do? “After having the surgery, to come back and pitch a complete season healthy and really contribute, pitching 180 or 190 or 200 innings, I would really relish that,” he said. “That would be really cool at age of 49. People might say that’s soooo farfetched, and maybe it is. But the way I look at it, sitting here right now, it could happen.”
The next oldest player in spring training? Omar Vizquel, who turns 44 next month.
Satchel Paige had “Six Rules for a Long Life,” including, “Don’t look back — something may be gaining on you.” Moyer’s seven rules are: “Work hard. Stay focused. Play the game with passion. Respect your teammates. Respect the team across the field. Respect the umpires. And have fun.”
The record for the oldest person to pitch in the major leagues is held by Satchel, who threw three scoreless innings for Kansas City at the age of 59 in 1965. That record appears safe, but you never know with Moyer.
“I just believe you’re never too old to be active,” Moyer says. “In doing this, it makes me feel pretty good — to keep myself in shape, physically and mentally. When you’re in shape in those regards, your life goes a little nicer and easier. You get out of shape and mentally you start thinking you’re old and it slows you down a little bit.”
Caple: The Jamie Moyer 49
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