"If he throws so slow," asks an older woman whose husband has been trying, and failing, to explain the curiosity that is Moyer, "how does he get anyone out?"

*****

The list of pitchers who've kept playing well and well into their forties is short. It's also easily split into two different groups. In the first are the hard-throwers who enjoyed long careers because they were able to avoid injury while maintaining most of the velocity that first brought them success. In this group are players whose names might be familiar even to non-baseball fans: Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.

Jamie Moyer with wife Karen (center) and their eight children. Infographic: Pitcher Jamie Moyer has shut down the Rockies' best hitters
Jamie Moyer with wife Karen (center) and their eight children. Infographic: Pitcher Jamie Moyer has shut down the Rockies' best hitters
Jamie Moyer talks with girls at Camp Mariposa, a project of the Moyer Foundation. Infographic: Pitcher Jamie Moyer has shut down the Rockies' best hitters
Jamie Moyer talks with girls at Camp Mariposa, a project of the Moyer Foundation. Infographic: Pitcher Jamie Moyer has shut down the Rockies' best hitters

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How Moyer stacks up against current Rockies and MLB managers he faced:





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The second group includes athletes like Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and Jack Quinn, who are less recognizable in part because they didn't win as many games, but also because they rarely used what's commonly referred to as "the king of pitches": the fastball. Niekro and Hough were both knuckleballers; what they threw fluttered rather than rushed to the plate. Quinn was one of the game's last spitballers — someone who actually applied a liberal amount of his own mucus to the ball in order to make it spin in unnatural ways. Although the pitch was banned in 1920, Quinn and fifteen other players who primarily relied on spitballs were grandfathered in and allowed to use the illegal pitch until they retired. Quinn rode that exemption for another thirteen years, becoming the oldest pitcher ever to win a major-league baseball game and Moyer's foil in his current chase for the record.

Collectively, these men and those like them live under a label — "junkballers" — that tells you a lot about what those inside the game think of pitchers who rarely throw fastballs. "Baseball people call them 'trick pitches,'" says Rob Neyer, who, as co-author of the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, literally wrote the book on the subject. In baseball, if it's thrown relatively straight and very hard, it's considered a fair fight; if it's not, it's a sucker punch.

Jamie Moyer doesn't belong to either group. "Moyer found a different way to win at an advanced age than anyone else has ever found," says Neyer. "That's what makes him unique."

Unlike Niekro, Hough and Quinn, Moyer throws his fastball often. According to the website Fangraphs, in 2010, the last year in which Moyer pitched (he missed all of last year after tearing two ligaments in his throwing elbow), he threw his fastball roughly half the time. But unlike Ryan, Clemens and Johnson, Moyer doesn't actually throw the ball fast — at least relative to the tiny subset of physical freaks who are able to toss a tightly wound sphere of yarn and twine hard enough to kill a human being. Two years ago, Moyer's fastball averaged 80.9 miles per hour. That same year, Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman threw a pitch clocked at 105 miles per hour. Most decent high-school pitchers throw harder than Moyer — some a lot harder — a fact that still amazes the man credited with discovering him.

"How does a guy not throw a pitch above 80 miles per hour and get a guy out?" asks Billy Blitzer, the Chicago Cubs scout who signed Moyer. "If I were to go see a high-school kid today who threw like Jamie, I'd probably never go see him again. Now, doesn't that sound crazy?"

Here we have a baseball mystery: A player is widely understood not to have the skills necessary to succeed in the sport, and yet he's not only succeeded, he's done so in a way completely unique to the game.

Solving that mystery first requires seeing what Blitzer saw in Moyer some thirty years ago. The Brooklyn-born scout had earned his job by identifying and nurturing a wiry twelve-year-old named Shawon Dunston, who would go on to become the Cubs' shortstop for more than a decade. On Labor Day weekend 1983, at an off-season tournament in York, Pennsylvania, Blitzer got his first look at the then-twenty-year-old Moyer, who was playing with a handful of other major-league hopefuls.

Moyer had been raised in nearby Souderton, a small town an hour north of Philadelphia where his mother and father had also grown up and run a dry-cleaning business that had been in the family for two generations. Like a lot of boys, Moyer played catch with his father, Jim. But unlike a lot of boys' fathers, his had been invited to two tryouts with major-league teams. And though he had never made a roster, Jim Moyer had inadvertently taught Jamie early on how to practice like a pro by aiming for a small target. "He had this catcher's mitt from his Army days," says Moyer. "It was so small, it was like a mitten. It had no webbing, no thumb. Just this one spot where you could catch the ball. But when you hit the spot right it would, like, POW! It would get my juices going."

Despite throwing three straight no-hitters at Souderton High School, Moyer was only recruited by two schools: Temple and St. Joseph's, two basketball-mad universities that didn't have home fields for their baseball teams. Moyer chose St. Joe's, in large part because when Temple's coach came by for a home visit, he made the mistake of not wearing socks. "My parents are very traditional," Moyer explains. "As soon as he left, my mom turned to my dad and said, 'Well, he's not going there....' Even when we lived in Seattle, where it rained every day, the family rule was still that you didn't show your feet; you always had to wear shoes or slippers in the house."

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3 comments
TruthHonorCourage
TruthHonorCourage

Caleb, that was a fantastically-written article.

Enjoyed it greatly.

Colorado Rockies' Prospects Report (google)

Rockies' Analyst (google)

Lisa
Lisa

Great article. Go Jamie!!!!! You are an inspiration!

Go the Distance
Go the Distance

Good story and thanks for writing it. I love this guy. Perseverance is is a powerful thing.

 
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