Respect Your Elders: The Phillies' Jamie Moyer Defying Age with Every Start

Cody Swartz@cbswartz5Senior Writer IApril 3, 2009

At an age where most professional athletes are long retired and living off the millions of dollars from endorsement deals and autograph shows, the Phillies' Jamie Moyer is still pitching.

And pitching well.

At this point in his career—entering his 24th major league season—the 46-year old Moyer is more of a player-coach out there on the field, but there's no underestimating the importance of his leadership and experience to a young Phillies team.

Moyer's 16 wins topped last year's club and his quality start in Game Three of the World Series—his first-ever start in the Fall Classic—helped the Phillies capture the first World Championship by a major Philadelphia sports team in 25 years.

Moyer's selection of pitches is unique. A finesse pitcher, he prefers to win ball games on guile and smarts, rather than overwhelming power and speed.

His fastball—topping out at 82 miles per hour on a good day—wouldn't scare a Rookie League player, but his devastating changeup and curve are what gets him the wins and still a fair amount of strikeouts (123 in 196.1 innings pitched last season).

Moyer's real success comes from his intense training regimen. He is what you would call a physical freak (in a good way). Last season, including the playoffs, Moyer tossed 208 innings—the eighth straight year Moyer has thrown more than 199.

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If Moyer can stay healthy this season, and there's no reason he shouldn't, considering he has started more than 30 games in 12 of the last 13 years, Moyer will be the oldest full-time non-knuckleball starting pitcher in baseball history.

He won't stop there though.

Moyer plans to pitch until he's 50.

At the level at which he's pitching, that sure seems possible. Right now, Moyer's presence on the Phillies is enormous. With all due respect to Rich Dubee, the Phillies' pitching coach, there are two pitching coaches on the team.

I remember when the Phillies first acquired Moyer in August of 2006. I was ecstatic. Moyer had always been one of my favorite major league players—he went to high school just five minutes from my house—and I wanted to see what he could do in a Phillies uniform.

Moyer didn't disappoint, winning his first start with the team and ending the season riding a three-start winning streak. He finished 5-2 with a 4.03 ERA, stats well worth the two minor league pitchers the Phillies had swapped in exchange for Moyer.

Moyer struggled in 2007 for the team. He posted a 14-12 record, but his 5.01 ERA was above the league average and Moyer's highest in seven years.

Moyer did have a part in the Phillies' first postseason appearance in 14 years, as he hurled five strong innings, allowing just one unearned run, while striking out six batters, in the team's 6-1 victory to clinch the NL East title.

And in his only postseason start, he threw six quality innings while allowing just one run, but his team couldn't score for him, and the Phillies were subsequently eliminated from playoff contention in one of the most miserable playoff sweeps I have ever had to watch.

A lot of Phillies fans—including myself—wondered aloud if it was time for the 44-year old Moyer to hang up his cleats.

I can't tell you how glad I am that he continued pitching.

Moyer rebounded in 2008, shocking the world. His season was a masterpiece for the pitcher twice as old as many of his opponents. Moyer posted a 16-7 record with a 3.71 ERA, his best mark in five seasons, including another big division-clinching win over the Nationals.

More than his numbers, Moyer helped to develop Cole Hamels.

Having Moyer, a student of the game if there ever was one, to tutor the younger pitchers has been particularly instrumental, none more so than in the development of 24-year old All-Star pitcher Cole Hamels, the team's NLCS and World Series MVP last year.

Like Moyer, Hamels is a master of the changeup, and while much of Hamels' success stems as a result of his natural abilities, his mentor, Jamie Moyer, deserves a lot of that credit.

Moyer, who was offered a coaching position back in 1992, is a future big-league manager, or at the very least, a pitching coach.

No one knows how much longer Moyer will continue to pitch. It's unlikely he will still be pitching when he is 50 years old because, well, that would be insane. The human body isn't supposed to be able to compete with the best in the world at that age.

I wouldn't be surprised if Moyer calls it quits after this season.

Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if he keeps pitching into 2010, 2011, and so on. He's had some rough patches in his career before, and he just kept pitching.

In the '91 season, when Moyer was still trying to establish himself as a major-league pitcher, he posted an 0-5 record with a 5.74 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. That is when he was offered the pitching coach job, but he turned it down and kept pitching.

After several quality years with the Baltimore Orioles and a brief stint with the Boston Red Sox, Moyer peaked with the Seattle Mariners.

From 1997-2003, he consistently was one of the top pitchers in the game. He averaged 16 wins per season during that span, twice topping 20, and winning more than 13 in every year. Except for one rough season (2000) when his ERA ballooned to 5.49, Moyer kept his earned run average below 3.87 in every year.

He was hit hard in '04, posting a dismal 7-13 record and 5.21 ERA. It was Moyer's first losing record in ten seasons, and at 42 years old, people thought it might be time to retire.

Not Moyer.

He rebounded in '05, switching his record to 13-7, with a solid 4.28 ERA. During the season, he passed Randy Johnson to become the Mariners' franchise leader in career wins, and he became the 25th left-handed pitcher to win 200 games.

He continued breaking records and establishing his legacy, as he became the became the oldest player in all of major league baseball, the oldest Phillie to get a hit, and the oldest National League pitcher to start a World Series game.

As of now, I just want to enjoy what Moyer brings to the Phillies. A 46-year old player pitching coach is something pretty special.

Moyer's numbers won't get him into the Hall simply because he wasn't dominant enough during his prime, but 246 wins and over 2,000 strikeouts during the steroids era amounts to a pretty impressive legacy on the game of baseball.

He won't win 300 games for his career, a mark that would really boost his Hall of Fame chances—he would have to win 14 a year for four more years—but I still could see Moyer accumulating 270 or so before he retires.

He doesn't have a lot of hardware in his collection, as he's garnered just one All-Star selection in all his years, but he's consistently been one of the most underrated pitchers in the game.

He's won 20 games twice and finished in the top six in the American League in Cy Young award voting three separate times. And he's defeated every team in the major leagues at least once.

He's been a part of some impressive teams. The 2001 Seattle Mariners, for which Moyer won 20 games, set a major-league team record with 116 wins on the season. And Moyer had the honor of winning the division-clinching game for the Phillies in both their '07 and '08 seasons.

He became the second-oldest pitcher in history to earn a World Series ring.

Years from now, when we as fans look back on that glorious 2008 World Champion Phillies squad, the first names we'll remember will be one of the big three hitters—Rollins, Utley, and Howard—or maybe Hamels and that changeup of his or Lidge and that slider.

Moyer won't be the first guy you remember, but the Phillies would not have emerged as World Champions without the major leagues' oldest pitcher.

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