Friday, October 24, 2008
Moyer, 45, appreciates his World Series moment
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
Nothing against the Tampa Bay Rays, but I have no choice but to root for Philadelphia Phillies starter Jamie Moyer in Game 3. I can't help it. In fact, I think the Rays would root for him, too, if they could.
Every knuckleheaded player in pro sports -- Elijah Dukes, Milton Bradley, Scott Olsen, John Daly, Larry Johnson, Adam Jones the list, sadly, is endless -- ought to be required to spend 10 minutes with the 45-year-old Moyer (46 in less than a month). Check that -- in a perfect world, every pro athlete ought to seek out the oldest, humblest and maybe wisest player in the big leagues.
How can you not fall head over cleats for a guy who, after more than 20 seasons in the majors, still sits on the dugout bench and contemplates the simple beauty of a baseball game? Yeah, it's corny. That's what makes it so great. He doesn't care that it's corny.
"When I was 8 years old, I started playing baseball," Moyer says. "And I'm 45 and I'm still playing, at a different level, but it's still the same game. That you can never take away. That is never going to leave, this part of the game.
"Six outs to a full inning. In a major league game, you're going to play 8½ or 9 innings. That is never going to change. The money changes. People change. But the game itself is never going to change. The people who designed this thing are brilliant."
Moyer says this with wonder in his voice, as if he's 8 years old again. But he isn't. He's old, ancient, actually, by baseball standards. And yet he led the Phillies in regular-season wins (16), has thrown more than 3,746 innings in his career and has more career victories (246) than all but four other active pitchers.
"At 45, I want to be watching my son play," says Rays starter Matt Garza, 24. "He's doing it with will and guts. Pitching at 45 is amazing. That's a feat. It's undeniably amazing the way he does it, successful still and compete at the highest level you can in baseball. It's absolutely amazing."
Moyer was born in Sellersville, Pa. He was 18 when he made his way to old JFK Stadium to watch the end of the parade for the 1980 World Series champion Phillies.
"And literally, at that parade at JFK, [I'm] thinking, 'It'd be so cool someday to be on that side,'" Moyer says. "And I'm not trying to put the cart before the horse, but we're three [wins] away. You look at 28 years ago to how many games I've been a part of in that period of time, and you're three games away. Those three games now seem like eons."
When Moyer signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1984 as a sixth-round pick, he earned exactly $13,000. These days, that's a season's worth of big league per diem money.
But the money didn't matter to Moyer. It still doesn't, not even when he's making $6 million in the final year of his Phillies deal. Instead, he remembers the words of a roving Cubs pitching instructor named Erskine Thomason, who pitched exactly one big league inning in his career -- for the Phillies.
Thomason would tell the minor leaguers: "You know what, boys, there's a pot of gold out there. And they want to give it to you. But you have to earn it."
"And that really made me think about, you know what, how about just going out and earning the opportunity to pitch," Moyer says. "And I've always believed the rest takes care of itself. I've tried to never let money get in the way of the opportunity of playing."
All-Star outfielder Gary Matthews was in his next-to-last season with the Cubs when Moyer and another rookie, Dave Martinez (now a Rays bench coach), were called up in 1986. Matthews rarely paid attention to rookies, but this was different.
"They were outside the [Wrigley Field] clubhouse, and the security guards weren't even going to let them in because they thought they looked like bat boys," Matthews says. "Jamie even to this day looks really, really young, so you can imagine back in '86."
Moyer was traded to the Texas Rangers in 1988 for, among others, a left-handed pitcher named Mitch Williams. Five years and a trade to the Phillies later, Williams would give up the crushing, World Series-winning home run to the Toronto Blue Jays' Joe Carter.
Anyway, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan was on that Rangers team with Moyer. So was another older veteran, knuckleballer Charlie Hough.
"I really felt like I took a lot away from the experience I had with both of those guys because I watched how hard they worked and what the game still meant to them at their age," Moyer says. "And I would say, 'Boy, I hope I can play to their age,' not knowing that I would."
So here he is, old enough for carbon dating. During his career, he has pitched in an All-Star Game, division series, league championship series. But Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, he will make his first World Series appearance.
Moyer hasn't pitched well this postseason. He gave up six runs in 1 1/3 innings in an NLCS loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He lasted just four innings in a division series loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
"What's going to happen when I go out and pitch?" Moyer says. "I have no idea."
That's OK, I'm still pulling for the old man. The Rays will just have to understand.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.