Jamie Moyer: History (and Trivia) in the Making

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Jamie Moyer: History (and Trivia) in the Making
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Philadelphia Phillies fans are currently being treated to one of the great phenomena of Major League Baseball history.

I’m not talking about Jayson Werth’s 20 doubles, what could be the greatest 6-4-3 combination in baseball history , or the early season dominance of Roy Halladay. 

No, I’m talking about the continued career of Jamie Moyer, baseball’s ageless wonder.

I started watching baseball when I was nine years old, during the Reagan Administration.  That first year as a baseball fan, I fell in love with the 1987 Chicago Cubs, and thus began a lifetime of watching baseball.

I have followed the game through the competitive balance of the late 1980s, two expansions in 1993 and 1998, the 1994 baseball strike, the 1998 Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa saga, the Barry Bonds years, and the dawn of the post-steroid era. It has been a lifetime of baseball watching.

Jamie Moyer has been there the entire time.

The more I see Jamie Moyer, the more he reminds me of Eddie Harris, the Vaseline-wearing junk-ball pitcher played by Chelcie Ross in the movie Major League . Of course, the producers of Major League intentionally cast an older actor to exaggerate what a veteran pitcher he was—Chelcie Ross was meant to be a satirical punch line, a goof on ragged baseball players.

That “punch line” was 46 years old at the time, a year younger than Moyer is now.

Moyer hasn’t always been perceived as a major league-caliber pitcher. If you look at Moyer’s stat sheet, you’ll notice a conspicuous absence in the early 1990s. Moyer missed most of 1991 and almost all of 1992, not due to injury or Tommy John surgery, but due to the fact that he wasn’t very good.

Over the course of those two seasons, he logged over 260 innings for the Cardinals' and Tigers' Triple-A teams; he never even threw a major league pitch for the Tigers.

Moyer was 28 and 29, what should have been his prime, during those Triple-A seasons. Guys don’t usually come back from that. But a funny thing happened to Moyer during that time: He learned how to pitch.

His major league ERA in the three seasons before his demotion was 4.07 (93 ERA+). In the three seasons after returning to the majors, his ERA was 4.41 (108 ERA+). (It is important to not get hung up on the fact that his raw ERA went up. Look at his ERA+, and remember that Major League Baseball from 1988 to 1990 was fundamentally different from Major League Baseball from 1993 to 1995).

Since his return to the majors in 1993, Moyer has gone 229-143 with a 4.15 ERA (109 ERA+) in 533 games, while finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young Award voting three times, winning 20 games twice, being a member of the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners, and going to two World Series with the Phillies.

If the phenomenon of Jamie Moyer were limited to the fact that he is 47 years old, that alone would be enough to be “gotta-go-see-him-when-he-comes-to-my-town” significant. Indeed, we’ve only seen six players Moyer’s age in the majors since World War II: Moyer, Julio Franco, Phil Niekro, Minnie Minoso, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Satchel Paige.

Nolan Ryan never made it to 47, nor did Jesse Orosco, Tommy John, Warren Spahn, or Gaylord Perry. Seeing a guy Moyer’s age play in the majors is, almost literally, a once in a lifetime event.

But Moyer isn’t just an old man playing baseball; he is an old man playing baseball effectively. The guy is the third starter on the prohibitive favorite for the NL pennant. Of the other five guys to make it to the age of 47, only Wilhelm and Niekro did it as actual contributors to their team.

At the age of 47, Franco appeared in 95 games, mostly as a pinch hitter, for the New York Mets. Satchel Paige and Minnie Minoso didn’t actually play until the age of 47—Paige retired at the age of 46 and made one relief appearance at the age of 58 as a novelty, and Minoso retired at the age of 38 before making brief novelty “comebacks” at the age of 50 and 54.

So, basically, three guys have played through the age of 47 in a meaningful way since World War II. That makes Moyer all the more significant.

The flip side to Jamie Moyer is that it seems like every time he pitches, he makes history, or more appropriately, he makes trivia. For example, in his first game of the season, he became one of a handful of players in major league history to play in four different decades. The others to join that club this year are Ken Griffey, Jr., and Omar Vizquel; again, not exactly contributors to their teams.

In Moyer’s most recent start, against the Milwaukee Brewers, the teams had a “turn-back-the-clock” style game in which they wore old throwback uniforms. Except...the uniform that Moyer was wearing, the “throwback,” was a replica of the very same uniforms the Phillies were wearing on the day he made his major league debut against them in 1986 against Steve Carlton.

How many players can say they wore a uniform that was a throwback to an earlier point in their own career?

Moyer is also now constantly facing batters who weren’t born yet when he made his major league debut. Last year, he faced off against Graham Taylor, Cameron Maybin, Justin Upton, Chris Volstad, Ryan Tucker, Jay Bruce, and Clayton Kershaw. This season, Moyer has struck out Braves super-phenom Jason Heyward, who was born in 1989, Moyer’s fourth year in the league.

And then, of course, there was May 7, 2010, the day that Moyer became the oldest player ever to pitch a major league shutout. He didn’t just shut out the Atlanta Braves that day; he faced only one more batter than the minimum 27 batters, he threw only 101 pitches, and his game was strikingly similar to the one pitched by Dallas Braden two days later , except that was a perfect game.

Of course, when you’ve been pitching as long as Moyer has, not all of your accomplishments are special. I n his most recent ball game, that throwback game against the Brewers, he gave up three home runs to join former Phillies legend Robin Roberts as one of only two players ever to give up 500 home runs in a career.

At this point, Moyer leads the league in home runs allowed and is only four away from taking sole possession of first place from Roberts. But as far as “bad” records go, even that is a fun one.

Here's another Moyer Fun Fact: On Sept. 2, 1986, Moyer was matched up against Nolan Ryan, still a tender 39 years old, at Wrigley Field. That game went 17 innings, and the Cubs were forced to use a rookie pitcher as a pinch runner in the 17th. After the pinch runner failed to score, he stayed in to pitch the 18th inning—his major league pitching debut—and took the loss. That pitcher was Greg Maddux.

Maddux, of course, has been out of the league for two years and is on his way to the Hall of Fame. Moyer is still pitching. 

At the end of the day, the Philadelphia Phillies are one of the best teams in baseball, and Jamie Moyer plays, frankly, a way-too-important role on this team. At the same time, though, Moyer is a baseball specimen at this point, and every game he pitches in should be cherished by baseball fans.

Maybe someday someone will make a movie about Jamie Moyer; I think Chelcie Ross would be perfect for the role.

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