From The New York Times
At 49, Jamie Moyer Is Slower, but Not Stopping
By TYLER KEPNER
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On Sept. 13, 1932, in the first game of a doubleheader at Ebbets Field, a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher named Jack Quinn threw five shutout innings to beat the St. Louis Cardinals. Quinn was 49 years 74 days old, the oldest pitcher to win a major league game.
Jamie Moyer is two months older than Quinn was then. He is fighting for a job in the Colorado Rockies’ starting rotation, competing with several pitchers who were not born when he pitched his first major league game, in 1986.
“At 33, when I couldn’t play anymore, I had trouble physically,” said Milwaukee Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke, the first batter Moyer faced in the majors. “So I don’t get it. I don’t get how a guy can do that for that long.”
Moyer is a father of eight who wears old-fashioned stirrups and thanks the plate umpire whenever he leaves a game. He is older than 8 current managers and 16 current general managers. He has pitched in 49 major league ballparks, and started the last game at Wrigley Field before lights were installed there.
On Monday, on a back field at the Rockies’ spring training complex, minor leaguers for the Arizona Diamondbacks shelled Moyer for six hits and four runs in less than two innings. The performance included home runs on consecutive pitches.
For another player trying to make a team, it might have been troubling. If the Rockies cut Moyer, he will be forced to confront retirement for the first time in decades. But he is not easily discouraged.
“I could use this year as a steppingstone,” Moyer said. “Either I’m going to take a step forward, or take a step out.”
Moyer holds the major league record for home runs allowed, with 511. But he also has 267 career victories, more than Hall of Famers like Whitey Ford and Bob Gibson. Not bad for a man who led the National League in earned runs allowed in his first full season, and who was offered a coaching job by the Chicago Cubs when they released him at age 29.
That was two decades ago this month, and Moyer’s wife, Karen, remembers returning to their home in South Bend, Ind., with an infant son and an uncertain future. She had worked in retail in the off-seasons to help pay their grocery bills, and Jamie had not yet completed his college degree.
“Should we be looking at taking classes, or going to summer school?” she said. “It was a ‘What do we do with our day?’ kind of thing. But I don’t think Jamie thought about anything other than baseball. He always believed in himself.”
Even at St. Joseph’s University, the left-handed Moyer did not throw a fastball at 90 miles an hour. He has evidence to prove it. In a zippered compartment of his shaving kit, Moyer keeps a copy of his original Cubs scouting report. Dated March 7, 1984, it notes his tepid fastball — 81 to 84 miles an hour — and his tendency to push the ball.
Yet the report also praises Moyer for pitching “with heart, guts and head,” and marks him excellent in the categories of work habits and dedication. The Cubs drafted him in the sixth round and signed him for $13,000.
Moyer reached the majors at 23, but struggled to compete without throwing hard. Before his 30th birthday, he had pitched for four organizations, and his record was 20 games below .500, at 34-54. He said he felt as if he were pitching for his career from start to start.
Moyer did find work after his release from the Cubs, logging a season with the Class AAA Toledo Mud Hens in 1992. He surfaced with Baltimore the next season, and a 1996 trade to the Seattle Mariners, a team that always seemed to lack pitching depth, became his big break.
“He learned to master slow-slower-slowest,” said Charles Nagy, a top starter for the powerful Cleveland Indians teams of that era. “It’s frustrating to hitters, and once he figured that out, his career took off. I remember our hitters would swing at it and swing at it and swing at it, and they just couldn’t hit it.”
In a practice before the 2000 American League Championship Series, Moyer was struck by a ground ball and broke his kneecap. He was forced to miss the series — the Mariners lost to the Yankees — and to find a new routine to keep his legs strong. An avid runner, Moyer eventually began arriving six hours early on game days to exercise on an underwater treadmill.
“A lot of people wait until their body starts to tell them what to do,” said Bryan Price, Moyer’s pitching coach for six years in Seattle. “He’s been aware enough to do the right thing for his body before it started to create problems.”
Moyer was sturdy enough to make at least 25 starts each season from ages 34 through 46, earning an All-Star selection and a World Series ring along the way. His elbow finally snapped while pitching in the Dominican Republic after the 2010 season, which he had spent with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Moyer completely tore his ulnar collateral ligament, and his flexor pronator muscle detached from the bone. He underwent reconstructive surgery, with a tendon from his wrist replacing the damaged elbow ligament. He could have restored the elbow for simple, everyday use, but chose a more exhaustive program.
“I figured my daily life is going to incorporate playing catch, throwing batting practice, playing golf and some physical activity, so why not rehab it all the way and just see how I feel?” said Moyer, whose children range in age from 5 to 20. “And why not pitch?”
For the first time, Moyer spent a summer at home with his children, immersing himself in chores and preparing to move the family from Seattle to San Diego. He discovered yoga on the advice of the former pitcher Trevor Hoffman, and had no setbacks with his arm.
While other pitchers, like Andy Pettitte, have declared their retirement only to change their minds, Moyer made no such announcements. His wife encouraged him to keep pitching.
“If he’s happy, that trickles down to the rest of us,” she said. “All of our friends in the game who are retired have backed us, big time, because that transition into retirement is really hard. This is all we’ve ever known as a couple. It’s all the kids have ever known.”
The Rockies have only two starters assured of a spot in their rotation, with a deep list of candidates for the other three spots. Moyer was already in the majors by the time four of them were born — Tyler Chatwood, Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. The team’s best player, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, was 20 months old when Moyer made his debut.
“We were talking amongst ourselves about it in here,” Michael Cuddyer, 32, a gray-haired outfielder, said in the Rockies’ clubhouse this week. “For me, I’d have to play another 16 or 17 years to get to that age. It’s amazing.”
Cuddyer explained, in a complimentary way, that high school players might be more comfortable facing Moyer than major leaguers, because nobody else in the majors throws a fastball so slow. According to FanGraphs, Moyer’s average fastball in 2010 was 80.2 miles per hour.
If Moyer leaves pitches up and over the middle, as he did on Monday, he can be hit very hard. But if he works the corners and keeps the ball down, he should be as competitive as he was before the injury, when he became the oldest pitcher in history to throw a shutout. Moyer said he did not know why no others have done what he hopes to do.
“That’s a great question, and I don’t know if I have an answer for you,” he said. “I think, for a lot of people, they hear at some point in their career, ‘You’re too old,’ and they start to believe that. Or they’re just mentally exhausted, and they move on.”
Moyer retains a youthful curiosity about his craft; he was close to the sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, and is writing a memoir about their relationship. Chances are his body will wear out before his mind.
Last week Moyer missed a start with a groin injury. But his first two spring training games had gone well, and he felt fine Monday, recovering after the rough first inning for two strikeouts on vintage Moyer changeups.
He said he had not thought much about what to do if the audition fails. But he owes it to himself to make the effort.
“If I came here and found out I really didn’t have the desire or I didn’t have the stuff, then I’d know,” Moyer said. “But if I didn’t try it, I think I’d always be wondering. And I don’t like living my life that way.”