Will Jamie Moyer Pitch Forever?
Okay, I semi-appropriated the title of this post from the 1962 autobiography of Satchel Paige, who pitched for an astonishing 40 years for various professional teams in the Negro League, the majors, the minors and in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Paige got his final major league start at age 59 for the then-Kansas City Athletics in 1965, when he signed a one-game contract and gave up just one hit in three scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox, just to show that he still had it. That stunt also made Paige technically the oldest player ever to appear in a major league game, even though for practical purposes his major league career actually ended with the St. Louis Browns in 1953, when he was 47.
I bring this up because it puts into perspective the stoic will of Jamie Moyer, the former Phillies pitcher-turned-ESPN analyst who still is hoping to make a comeback from elbow surgery and pitch again in 2012 at age 49. Think of it this way: As a major leaguer, he's already essentially matched the iconic Paige, whose name is synonymous with athletic longevity.
If Moyer, now 48, never takes the mound again, he still has had a career for the ages. He spent nearly a quarter of a century in the majors, pitching at various times for the Phils, Mariners, Red Sox, Orioles, Cardinals, Rangers and Cubs. Along the way, he's pitched 4,020 and 1/3 innings and amassed 2,045 strikeouts, which at the end of last season were both tops among active MLB pitchers. He had 20-win seasons for the Mariners in 2001 and 2003. In 2010, before an injury ended his season for the Phillies in July, he became the third pitcher to win 100 games after the age of 40.
The spirit is willing, but the elbow ligaments are not, which is why Moyer underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in December and will be spending the 2011 season in the broadcasting booth, sharing his accumulated wisdom on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. That's a second act a lot of guys would kill for, but Moyer isn't quite ready to fully embrace the transition from doer to talker. "It's a new challenge, and I look forward to this forum as a chance to elaborate on the art of pitching as I rehab from injury this season," he says at the ESPN website. Nevertheless, "I hope to get back on the diamond in the future."
You might wonder why Moyer still wants another shot at baseball so badly. He's got the ESPN job and has made nearly $90 million playing baseball, so you've got to figure he could afford to spend some time exploring other options. He and his wife, Karen, probably could spend all their time running the Moyer Foundation, which started in 2000 and has since raised $20 million to help children who are trying to cope with a parent's drug addiction or other family crisis.
Beyond that, there's the calendar thing. A lot of players have made comebacks after having their elbows surgically reconstructed with the graft of a tendon from their own forearms or ankles. But nobody's tried to do it at Moyer's age.
Still, he persists. Even Moyer himself, in a Seattle Times interview, struggled a bit to articulate his motivation. "In all honesty, I just don't feel like I'm ready to give it up," he said, simply.
It could be that Moyer has the bug that's infected a lot of other boomer athletes, both pros and weekend warriors. It's not that we can't accept getting old. It's that we're not ready to accept it just yet. Deep down, we feel what the Greek warrior Ulysses explains in Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous poem: No matter what laurels we've won (or tried and fallen short), we can't bear the thought of being idle, of going to rust. And so we go out once again and seek that newer world, even if it means working out more diligently than we did when we were in our twenties, relying more on our brains and less on speed and power, and resorting to more ice packs afterward than we'd care to admit.
Remember NBA superstar Michael Jordan, who, in his second comeback stint, scored 43 points against the New Jersey Nets, four days after turning 40? When asked why he was willing to put his body through one more season, he explained: "I'm going down with no bullets." There's a certain exhilaration, irrational as it may be, in that stubborn belief in ourselves, that faith that we can do it one more time. And that's what keeps Moyer and the rest of us going.
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