Moyer had to give big leagues one last try
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If Jamie Moyer hadn't given baseball one more shot, he would have always wondered what might have been.
"There was something in me saying, 'Let's try this,'" Moyer said. "I didn't want to question myself for the rest of my life. Now if I try it and succeed, OK, good. If I don't succeed, OK, good."
Moyer taps his head.
"Up here still thinks you can do it," Moyer said. "Part of the reason for coming here is to find out if I really can."
For sure, Moyer's is a baseball story. He signed with the Rockies because they appear to have an opening for a starting pitcher. But the really sweet part of this story is that Moyer is here at all, that at 49 he decided to challenge himself one more time.
"I think that's kind of what it has turned into it," he said. "I'm OK with it. Really, that's what my life has been about. If it's a positive example, I think it's OK. It's actually good, because I think there's a lot of people who go through life and go through the doldrums of life and think, 'Everything's against me, and I can't do this and I can't do that.'
"If you allow that to happen, it happens. If you think it and act it, you allow it to happen. But if you don't let it happen, and if you take each day and try to make the best of it, you never know what can happen. That's how I'm kind of living my career as a baseball player."
Moyer has eight kids, ranging in age from 5 to 20. He has a beautiful wife. He has money. He has had a remarkable career, too.
Moyer pitched his first Major League game on June 16, 1986. In 24 seasons since, he has won 267 times. Moyer has won 20 games twice, and at least 12 games in 14 different seasons. He has pitched at least 180 innings 13 times.
Moyer has pitched for seven different teams and been to the postseason four times. When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, he went 16-7 and turned 46 a few days after the season.
(Moyer has allowed 511 home runs, the most in history. He's OK with that because the next four guys on the list -- Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro and Don Sutton -- are in the Hall of Fame.)
Two summers ago, Moyer was 9-6 with a 4.30 ERA for the Phils when his left elbow began to scream. He lost his final three starts when the pain became overwhelming. He underwent Tommy John surgery and spent the next 18 months recovering.
Moyer settled into life with his family, did some work for ESPN and tried really hard to move on. But as he worked through rehab, he began to realize his left arm felt sound.
Moyer just had to give it one more try, and when he held a tryout for scouts last fall, they were amazed that he seemed to be the same Jamie Moyer they'd always known. His delivery was smooth, his location pinpoint.
So here he is, pushing himself through another Spring Training, spending hours in the weight room, going through all the routines he has come to love over the years. In the end, it's opposing hitters who'll let him know when it's time to go.
The Rockies want Moyer, in part, to set an example. General manager Dan O'Dowd spent this offseason attempting to infuse talent and a more mature attitude onto his roster.
Who better than a 49-year-old pitcher who teaches a graduate school course on pitching every time he goes to the mound.
Moyer, who skipped his scheduled Minor League start Friday as a precaution due to stiffness and soreness in his left leg, has been blown away by the young pitching talent the Rockies have accumulated, but those kids seem pretty impressed with the old guy, too.
"Yeah, they're asking a lot of questions," Moyer said. "Against the White Sox, a couple of the kids the next day said something about the importance of changing speeds. That's how I have to pitch. When I'm right, that's what happens."
At 49, Moyer is not throwing the ball much differently than he did at 39 or 29. He has always gotten by on location and changing speeds rather than sheer velocity. When Moyer struck out A.J. Pierzynski on a 75 mph fastball in his first start, it was because he'd set him up with a 65 mph curveball.
Yes, Moyer's velocity is down, but the idea of keeping hitters off balance and getting them guessing hasn't changed much over 24 Major League seasons.
"My velocity has never been even average," he said. "Back in the '80s, I was below average then. Now I'm way below average. But for a guy with less velocity, it's how you use the fastball and when you use it. For guys with minimal velocity, it's how you locate it. If you've never thrown hard, slower is easier.
"The only thing I didn't know is how my body was going to react after I pitched. I needed to see how my stuff was going to be. That's the ultimate test. For me, it's the every-five-day test. I've got to reprove it every five days, not only to myself, but to my teammates and fans. I think that's good. I think that's healthy. I shouldn't be walking in thinking, 'Hey, this game owes me.' This game owes me nothing. Just the opposite -- I owe the game."
If there's a single lesson Moyer would teach the youngsters, it would be one he got from the late sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman 20 years ago.
"He got me to understand a little bit about taking on more responsibility for myself -- what I do, how I act, how I think, how I react," he said. "I had to retrain myself on how to think and how to act. He helped me to understand who I am and what it takes -- creating positive thoughts, thinking about doing things in a positive way, taking the negativity out of your mind, how you act. I think it really makes a difference."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.