Time to give Jamie Moyer his due as he closes in on dubious record
Philadelphia's Jamie Moyer is about to set the record for most home runs allowed
The record of 505 is currently held by Hall of Famer Robin Roberts
Moyer, a 47-year-old lefty, has been pitching in the major leagues since 1986
Now that he's about to do it, now that Jamie Moyer will soon set the alltime record for home runs allowed, let's give the man the credit he's due. Moyer, the Phillies' ancient 47-year-old lefty, enters Tuesday's start against the Indians in Philadelphia having allowed 504 home runs in his career, just one shy of the record held by another Philadelphia legend, Robin Roberts. Do you know what kind of career you have to have to give up that many home runs? The longevity it requires? Moyer has been working toward this record since 1986. Right below him on the list are Ferguson Jenkins (484), Phil Niekro (482) and Don Sutton (472). Nice rotation.
But when you look at Moyer's home run totals, the man who should also come to mind is a more traditional home run king, another player who went on and on and on: Mr. Henry Aaron. Aaron never had a season with more than 47 home runs, and he had a bunch of years with totals like 22 and 27 and 33. When the whole thing was over, 23 seasons of it, the grand sum was 755.
That's how Moyer's done it, too. Sure, he had one big HRA year, his best season, in 2001, when he went 20-6 and guys went yard on him 44 times. But most years his numbers were less showy, years when he gave up 22 and 27 and 33. What he did was amass the innings and the years. "I never thought of the total," he said the other day. "I thought of the pitch, the inning, the game." And it added up to a number nobody's ever reached.
In Cooperstown now there's a special exhibit honoring Aaron called "Chasing the Dream." There's also a tribute to Moyer as the active pitcher with the most wins, 265. Moyer never gave up a homer to Aaron -- he missed him by a decade -- but he did allow home runs to a lineup of Hall of Famers, starting with the third baseman he grew up rooting for, Mike Schmidt. Schmidt's career HR total (548) includes two off Moyer.
Moyer, the pride of Souderton, Pa., gave up his first home run to Schmidt's teammate, Juan Samuel, on June 23, 1986, while pitching for the Chicago Cubs. The chase was on, not that Moyer was thinking about it then. Or, really, now, when he's pitching for Schmidt and Samuel's old team and Samuel is the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, one of the seven big league teams Moyer has played for.
"The only time you think about stuff like [the record] is when writers mention it," Moyer said. He's on the second year of a two-year contract and this year he's looked, at times, brilliantly crafty, ordinary and worse. As per usual. Meaning he'll still be pitching next year, and still adding to his HRA total. After every outing, some new record seems to fall. He's now one of three pitchers to win 100 or more games after turning 40. On May 7 he became the oldest pitcher in baseball history to pitch a complete-game shutout. He's also the oldest Phillie to ever get a hit. He's still looking for his first career home run with a bat in hand, not a ball.
"The home runs I've given up, I'm not proud of them, of course," Moyer said. "But if you're throwing strikes and you're at it for a long time, it's going to happen. You're going to give up home runs. Sometimes you make your pitch and the guy just beats you. You've got to tip your hat. Now sometimes the guy stands there and poses. Or does some slow trot around the bases. Then you have to deal with that. Back in the day, guy did that, next time up he got drilled. So I've been told." When Moyer starts talking "back in the day," he's usually got his old Texas Rangers teammate Nolan Ryan somewhere in the back of his mind. He loves the old guys, men who remember the draft and know the pain of the walk-off home run. Moyer knows the latter.
Many home runs are innocuous. "If nobody's on a home run is probably not going to ruin your outing," Moyer said. Nearly 60 percent of his home runs allowed are with the bases empty. "Sometimes a homer's good. It can be a rally-killer. Next guy up, at least the bases are clear.
"One thing I really didn't like to do is give up a home run to the first batter in the game. Wade Boggs hit a leadoff homer off me. Then I shut them down for the next seven or eight innings." That was in '95, when Moyer was pitching for Baltimore and Boggs was a Yankee. "Some guys could hit homers off me that weren't really noted for power. Bernie Williams. Early on, I got him out on a regular basis. Then he started getting me."
Bernie (seven total) has good company. Manny Ramirez is the leader the clubhouse, with 10 home runs against Moyer. Carlos Delgado has eight. Frank Thomas, Eric Chavez and Alex Rodriguez each have six.
Then there's another group of players who didn't have as much home-run success off Moyer, but players whose go-yard potential worried Moyer the most: Barry Bonds (5), Chili Davis (3) Schmidt, Dale Murphy (2), Darryl Strawberry (1), Dave Parker (0), Jack Clark (0), Steve Balboni (0).
"Barry Bonds, he stood on top of the plate and he wanted the ball away, so he could extend his arms for the most power," Moyer said. But Bonds was so strong, Moyer says he could hit it out of the park with balls practically on his wrists, too. A nightmare. What's a pitcher to do? Walk him.
But the ultimate nightmare is Wrigley during the day (when batters can see the ball better), with the wind blowing out. Moyer has allowed 36 home runs in Chicago. The ballpark where he has allowed the most home runs (89) is Safeco Field in Seattle, despite the fact that Safeco is a safe haven for a fly ball pitcher who works the paint and relies on a changeup. Wrigley's another matter. Some home runs there, Moyer said, can almost make a pitcher laugh. "You've got pop-ups there that wind up in the basket," Moyer said. "Guys swing up with the wind there and they sail. What can you do? Don't waste energy on things you can't control." Moyer himself hit balls almost to the ivy at Wrigley. His last home run -- that he hit himself -- came when he was playing in an adult league, during one of his college summers. "No fence and I just ran the bases hard," Moyer said.
According to baseball-reference.com, only one of the homers Moyer allowed was an inside-the-park job, by Kevin Seitzer of the Kansas City Royals on May 13, 1989. A lifetime ago, for some guys in the majors. Moyer doesn't remember most of the homers he's allowed. "You try to learn from your mistakes, but you don't want to dwell on it," he said. If you've been watching Moyer over the years, you know he's got at least a half-dozen moves after allowing a home run. His most common one is come off the mound looking for a new ball right away. "I want to turn the page," Moyer said. "I don't want it to smolder." Sometimes he'll watch the spot in the fence where the ball barely cleared. Or he'll look in his glove. Now and again, he'll glare at the batter if he thinks the trot's going too slowly. He'll nod grimly, tiny little east-west head shakes, if his thinks his manager is coming out with the hook.
Moyer and his wife, Karen, are noted for their philanthropic work. For years now, Moyer has given $100 for every strikeout he's recorded to two charities, his only family foundation, the Moyer Foundation (moyerfoundation.org), and another one called Touch'em All, a children's charity. He doesn't make special donations for allowing home runs. Of course not. Anyway, he has 2,381 strike outs, and nobody would call him a strikeout pitcher. All those K's are good for Moyer and for his causes, too. Every pitcher in the game would gladly give up a home run for every five strikeouts, if you could promise them Moyer's 4,000-inning (and counting) career. Well, he's not quite at 4,000 yet. But he's getting closer, with 10 more innings to go. There's always another milestone in the works for Moyer.
As for Robin Roberts, he logged 4,688 innings. Moyer saw Roberts, who died in May, often over the years. They'd talk about the 1950 Phillies, winners of the National League pennant. They'd talked about the 2008 Phillies, when Moyer got the final out that secured a Phillies World Series win over Tampa. They didn't talk about home runs allowed. Why would they? They knew the deal. To give up 500+ dingers, you have to be really good. Roberts was a Hall of Famer. As for Moyer, he keeps going and going, mediocre outings followed by good ones, gopher balls followed by crafty tissue-paper shutdowns. He's not done yet, not in HRAs or anything else.