It's Moyer Time

Just when it looked like Jamie Moyer might be written off as part of the Phillies rotation, he turned in a two-hit, complete game shutout against Atlanta. The Philadelphia Phillies need Moyer to keep up his resurgence.

Yes, it's that's time again. Time for another Jamie Moyer column, despite the impression that, by the standard rules of logic and baseball, the time is long since past when the sport's foremost Pennsylvania Dutchman should be the subject of an annual story in these annals.  

Maybe the last Moyer news should have been in 2006, when the Phillies, in an effort to make the postseason, traded two minor league pitchers to Seattle for the long-coveted left-handed control expert from Souderton High School and St. Joe's. More likely, the 2007 season should have provided the last Moyer news, when he closed out the most improbable pennant race of the 21st Century (if not the centuries preceding the 21st as well) by pitching the Phillies to the NL East pennant with a 6-1 win over the Nationals on the last day of the season, as the Mets completed the most spectacular collapse in baseball history, blowing a seven game lead with 17 games to go. Maybe, if Wilfred McCormick or Bert Standish were writing the script, it could have been at the conclusion of the 2008 season, when Moyer led his hometown team in victories and dug up the pitcher's rubber at Citizen's Bank Park after the Phillies won their first World Series in 28 years. Still, there was no reason to think Moyer could keep generating headlines after he again led the Phillies in wins in 2009, and the team again went to the World Series, though this time without him, due to a disabling groin injury that required surgery.

Guess again. Unless you were on vacation in Kazakhstan this past weekend (and they do have the international version of ESPN there on cable), you probably heard that Moyer has done it again. This time, by throwing a two-hit shutout at the Atlanta Braves... admittedly an offensively-challenged team missing three regulars, but still, at last glimpse, a team whose games did count in the National League standings. In other words, a major league baseball team. And, the game took place in the little wind tunnel in South Philly, a park so notorious for being a pitcher's graveyard that former Brave John Smoltz, among others, has roundly condemned (or maybe whined) that it's unfair to pitchers.

To briefly re-cap the game of May 7, 2010... the Braves offense for the night was Troy Glaus, who singled in the second inning and the eighth inning. That was it. Two singles, no walks, no nothing else over the course of just 105 pitches. And Glaus didn't stay on first long after his first hit. The next batter, Matt Diaz, hit into a double play on the very next pitch. The next batter, David Ross, also grounded out on the next pitch after that -- a three pitch inning. In the eighth, Diaz forced Glaus at second, and then Moyer quickly disposed of Ross and Melky Cabrera. Moyer faced just 28 hitters on the night, in a performance worthy of the best pitcher in baseball, who was suitably impressed in part because he happened to be watching from the dugout after shutting down the Cardinals the night before.

As fine a performance as Moyer turned in, the big story wasn't the 105 pitches, but the age of the man who threw them. For the past eight seasons, "19 to 21" has been based on the premise that nothing new happens in baseball -- it's all happened before. But not this time. At the age of 47 years, 170 days, Jamie Moyer became, not just the first 47 year old to throw a shutout in the major leagues, but, by almost a year, the oldest pitcher to throw a major league shutout. The rest of the list of 45+ shutout pitchers is a revealing one...

Jamie Moyer, Phillies, 47 years, 170 days, 2010
Phil Niekro, Yankees, 46 years, 188 days, 1985
Charlie Hough, Marlins, 46 years, 160 days, 1994
Satchel Paige, Browns, 46 years, 75 days, 1952
Satchel Paige, Browns, 46 years, 30 days, 1952
Jack Quinn, A's, 45 years, 76 days, 1928
Jack Quinn, A's, 45 years, 40 days, 1928
Phil Niekro, Yankees, 45 years, 23 days, 1984
Gaylord Perry, Royals, 44 years, 353 days, 1983

An intriguing list, in that every other pitcher who has thrown a shutout after or near their 45th birthdays has been either the purveyor of a trick pitch, or one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Niekro and Hough threw knuckleballs, Quinn and Perry were spitballlers, and if not for the Color Line, the debate over the greatest pitcher of all time might well be extended beyond Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove.

Niekro's record, set in a meaningless game on the last day of the 1985 season (the Blue Jays had already wrapped up the pennant, and the Yankees were going to finish second), is worth remarking upon further. While the game may not have meant much to the Yankees or the Jays, it meant a lot to Niekro, who was going for his 300th win that day. In honor of the occasion, Niekro eschewed his trademark knuckleball for the entire game, until a former teammate, Jeff Burroughs, came to bat for the final out. Out came the knuckleball, Burroughs struck out, and Niekro went into the record books, at least until Friday. Niekro's record-setter was thus actually quite similar to Moyer's gem -- a win without trick pitches, crafted on guile, changing speeds, control and keeping hitters off balance.

Except in very rare cases -- the name Don Larsen comes to mind -- a single game, no matter how good, does not make a pitcher famous, nor does it make a statement about the overall body of his work. Moyer's shutout record is literally extraordinary, but it's just a single game and doesn't say that much about his career, even if it did come 24 years after his first major league two-hitter. Of more significance to judging Jamie Moyer is a record almost no one knows he holds, ultimately a much more significant, though no less amazing, record. This was first suggested by that eminent baseball scholar, Matthew J. Coyne, who asked how many times a pitcher who had passed his 40th birthday had led a World Series participant in wins over the course of a regular season. Without looking it up, Coyne suggested that it probably hasn't been very common, and that Moyer's doing it over the course of back-to-back seasons in 2008 and 2009 was probably something pretty rare. Well, it's a lot more than rare, it's unprecedented, and unprecedented by a long way.

Starting with the 1903 Series between Boston and Pittsburgh , and up until the late 20th Century, a 40-something pitcher had led a World Series team in wins exactly ZERO times. Never. Not once. Hadn't been done. In fact, before revealing the name of the pitcher who first turned the trick, it should be stated that only one pitcher even came close. That would have been Early Wynn, who led the 1959 Go-Go Sox in Ws with 22 at the age of 39.

Just how rare is it for an elderly pitcher to be the top winner on a World Series team? From 1903 to 2004, only 19 times (by 15 different people) did pitchers between the ages of just 35 and 39 accomplish this feat. Here's the entire list (and an impressive one it is)...

Name, Season(s), Age

Cy Young (1903, 1904) 36, 37

Eddie Cicotte (1919) 35

Walter Johnson (1924, 1925) 36, 37

Stan Coveleski (1925) 36

Red Ruffing (1939, 1941) 35, 37

Spud Chandler (1943) 35

Allie Reynolds (1952) 37

Warren Spahn (1957, 1958) 36, 37

Early Wynn (1959) 39

Steve Carlton (1980) 35

Bob Forsch (1987) 37

Jack Morris (1992) 37

David Cone (1998) 35

Roger Clemens (2001) 38

Curt Schilling (2004) 37

In 1989, the Whopper, Rick Reuschel, won 17 games in leading the Giants to a World Series ritual execution by the Athletics. Reuschel was 40 years old, and this was the first time in baseball history that a pitcher of those long years had led a World Series team in wins. Then, in 2006, Kenny Rogers won 17 games at the age of 41 -- he was the top winner on a Tigers team that was wiped out by an inferior Cardinals squad in the Series. And that was it for all of baseball history, until the 2008 World Series when the then-45 year old Jamie Moyer went 16-7, leading the Phillies in wins. He did it again in 2009, with 12 wins at the age of 46. No one on that World Series team had more (J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton also had 12.) Back-to-back years leading a World Series team in wins, not at the age of 35, not at the age of 40, but at the ages of 45 and 46. Like the 47 year old shutout, it had never been done before.

What does this all mean? For one thing, there are comments now being made in the media that Jamie Moyer isn't a Hall of Famer. Despite his current total of 262 wins, 40th all-time, ahead of Hall of Famers Gomez, Waddell, Walsh, Vance, Chesbro, Marquard, Newhouser, Lemon, Drysdale, Haines, Bender, Coveleski, Hunter, Bunning, Ford, Hoyt, Brown, Pennock, Marichal, Gibson, Hubbell, Faber and Lyons (not to mention a few others.) Despite his 24 years in the major leagues as a starting pitcher. Despite his now undeniable fame. Of course, up until a few years ago, a Hall of Fame discussion that even mentioned Moyer's name would have been unthinkable. But now? Better think it.

The Veterans Committee has voted in a LOT of pitchers with fewer wins than Moyer. True, Jim Kaat (283) and Bert Blyleven (287) and Tommy John (288) are still outside the Hall, and they all have more wins than Moyer. But, they all get votes, and they're all in the discussion. For that matter, who's to say Moyer won't top 270? At this point, given his 2010 season to date, and given the team he has behind him, it's not out of the question to expect another eight or 10 wins this year, thus putting Moyer ahead of Eppa Rixey (266), Bob Feller (266) and Jim Palmer (268). Burleigh Grimes (270) and Red Ruffing (273, and 32nd overall in wins) are also within reach.

Who's to say he won't keep winning after his current contract runs out at the end of this year? Who's to say Jamie Moyer, whose record continues to grow, won't join the ranks of pitchers who have been immortalized in part due to their longevity... their record of being good for a very long time. That was a factor in how Waite Hoyt (237), Ted Lyons (260), Rixey and Grimes got in the Hall. And, it will get Jamie Moyer some votes some day. Better think it, until time proves otherwise.

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