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Guile, grit helped Moyer beat the clock

Posted Sep 10, 2013 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Sep 10, 2013 at 09:56 PM

You could call Jamie Moyer an underdog, but I believe he’s a bulldog.


The left-handed pitcher was written off several times during his major-league career, but he proved his critics wrong — again and again. Moyer pitched in the majors for 25 years, winning 269 games and helping the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series title in 2008. On April 17, 2012 — at 49 years, 150 days — he became the oldest pitcher to win a major-league game.

He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues for more than a year, yet 50-year-old Jamie Moyer has not announced his retirement. That’s tenacity. That’s a bulldog.

While baseball puts a premium on power, it’s a game of strategy and nuance. It’s a thinking man’s game, and a pitcher with guile does not require overpowering stuff to be successful.

Longtime Philadelphia sportswriter Larry Platt writes that Moyer is “the athlete who turns the doubts of others into an internal I’ll-show-you narrative.” And Platt and Moyer have collaborated on a book that readers will find refreshing and fascinating. Even the title smacks of defiance.
“Just Tell Me I Can’t: How Jamie Moyer Defied the Radar Gun and Defeated Time,” (Grand Central Publishing; hardback, $27, 276 pages), is not so much a biography as it is a learning experience. Moyer takes the reader through the process of pitching, how to set up hitters, what to throw and where to throw it. It’s a collaborative effort, with Platt writing the narrative — but it reads as if Moyer was conducting a pitching clinic.
Moyer was not blessed with blazing speed — in fact, his most effective pitch was a change-up — but throwing hitters off stride by taking them out of their comfort level was his goal.

In a “Eureka moment,” Moyer discovered that “Pitching wasn’t just about him getting comfortable, it was also about making the batter uncomfortable.”
For example, Barry Bonds hit all five of his career homers off Moyer before 1991. But after Moyer found Bonds’ “jam spot” and attacked it by throwing inside, the slugger was slower in his arm extension when the pitcher finally threw a pitch over the plate.
Moyer, by the way, owns the dubious distinction of allowing the most home runs in major-league history with 522 — including a staggering 44 in 2004. To their credit, that fact is not sidestepped by the authors

Much of Moyer’s success can be attributed to sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman. During their two-decade relationship, Moyer responded well to Dorfman’s no-nonsense, blunt and confrontational methods and learned how to think his way to victory.

Dorfman, whose jobs in the majors included a stint with the Rays, died in 2011. Moyer is not the only player who benefited from Dorfman’s raspy-voiced advice.

“He taught me about life,” Moyer’s former teammate, Raul Ibanez told baseball writer Jayson Stark in 2011. “It just so happens to spill over onto the baseball field.”

When they first met, Dorfman held a sheet of loose leaf paper in front of Moyer’s eyes and asked him to describe what was in the room beyond the paper. When Moyer conceded that he couldn’t see anything, the author of the 2000 book, “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” pounced.

“The piece of paper is your baseball career,” Dorfman said. “Any large object held too close to you will block out everything around it. There’s a world out beyond this paper. There’s a world out there beyond baseball.”

In other words, widen your lens.

That’s why in 2002, Moyer and his wife Karen founded The Moyer Foundation to benefit children in crisis. To date, the foundation has raised more than $25 million.

Moyer’s sensitivity and generosity shines through in the story of Gregory Chaya, who was diagnosed with leukemia AML. The Moyers met 2-year-old Gregory and his parents at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1993, and were struck by how Gregory was still battling his disease despite a 45 percent chance of survival after receiving a bone marrow transplant.

The next day, Moyer wrote the initials “G.C.” on his cap, went out and beat the White Sox, and then dedicated his season to the young boy.

It wasn’t just lip service. When Gregory needed experimental treatment in Seattle, Moyer arranged for the family to have a van for transportation. The little boy battled through chemotherapy and is alive and well today, 20 years later, working for his family’s cement-mixing business in Blakeslee, Pa.

Moyer would view 1993 as the year his career got back on track. “But it had nothing to do with superstition, and everything to do with inspiration.”

Ah, superstition. Dorfman shunned it as a crutch. But in a funny story told by the authors, Moyer took a prop from his friend Scooter Myers that was right out of the 1988 movie “Bull Durham.” Myers sent Moyer a pink garter belt and told him to wear it during his next start. Like Nuke LaLoosh in “Bull Durham,” Moyer wore it; on June 10, 1993, he won his first major-league game in nearly three seasons when he beat the Seattle Mariners.

Moyer had a “lifelong passion” for proving doubters wrong, whether they were teammates, managers, media, or even his father-in-law, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps.
Baseball has been called a game of inches, and home plate is a 17-inch wide figure that that can baffle pitchers. But if the reader takes anything away from “Just Tell Me I Can’t,” it would be that the most important inches are the ones between the pitcher’s ears.

’t gauge heart or professionalism or being a good teammate or performing well under pressure by running a computer program.”

The book is written with compassion and energy. The in-your-face methods of Dorfman shine through clearly, and Moyer’s struggles and eventual success is a tribute to his bulldog-like tenacity. You can’t help but become a fan.

 

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