Don’t expect Jamie Moyer to give up so easily

Moyer We all remember how it was when Mike Schmidt announced his retirement from playing baseball. Better yet, when Schmidty told everyone he was done that day in San Diego in 1989, there was no mistaking the intent. Sure, the blubbering, the emotion and the cracking voice were dead giveaways that he meant business. Oh, but there were better indicators than just the crying and carrying on.

Think about it… who wakes up in the morning and puts on a late-‘80s styled suit straight from a Tom Cruise movie, and then arranges his hair in a supremely coiffed feathered ‘do if they didn’t mean business. If I remember correctly, the theme from Miami Vice played Schmidt out of the room when the presser was over.

However, neither the walk-off song nor the fat lady has begun to sprinkle out those first notes for Jamie Moyer’s exit. No way. Baseball’s most elderly statesman isn’t going to give up the ghost of his career without a fight. That wouldn’t be his style.

So noting that Moyer reportedly suffered an injury last weekend while pitching in his third winter league game in the Dominican Republic last weekend with his 48th birthday next Friday, it’s reasonable to think that the old man is done. Add in the fact that Moyer jetted off to California to visit with renowned orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum because of an injured elbow that reportedly swelled up to the size of a golf ball, and maybe this is how it finally all goes down.

Then again, that’s way too easy.

While the results of an MRI on his elbow are still unknown, those simply writing off the cagey, 24-year veteran lefty should think for a second. Hell, the easy thing to do would be to retire and that was something Moyer has had plenty of chances to contemplate. Considering that he’s been flat-out released three times, allowed to take free agency three more times, and then sent back to minors three more times on top of that. Even his father-in-law, former basketball coach Digger Phelps, told him to retire and go back to school. In other words, Moyer has had his chances to take the easy way out—there has been no shortage of easy exits.

In fact, there was the time he sat in his hotel room in Anaheim waiting to go to the ballpark to pitch in a meaningless game for the Mariners in mid-August, that Moyer says he and his wife had a 90-minute conversation over the phone about whether or not it was time to pack it in. The idea of playing another season with a mediocre team with no shot to realistically compete for a World Series was just too much for him to bear.

Enough was enough, he thought, until he was offered an interesting proposition…

“A couple of days later they came to me and said, ‘Hey, want to be traded?’” Moyer recounted earlier this year.

Five days after that phone conversation with his wife, Moyer was pitching for a Phillies team that was preparing to make the greatest post-season run in their history. Better yet, he was the pitcher who got the most wins during the past four years.

Still, Moyer has never been through the things he’s been faced with over the past 12 months. Last November he had three different surgeries to repair a torn groin and abdominal issues and even ended up in the hospital last Thanksgiving to clean up an infected blood clot. But even that wasn’t enough to keep him from reporting to spring training on time.

Then shortly after the All-Star Break, Moyer hurt his elbow in the first inning of a game in St. Louis, where the diagnosis was a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor pronator tendon. Typically the course of action for that type of injury is Tommy John surgery. However, because Moyer and John had careers that overlapped by four years, such an invasive surgery would have ended it all.

Instead, Yocum prescribed rest and Moyer followed it to the letter before he was given the go-ahead to begin throwing again. During the NLCS it wasn’t uncommon to see the old lefty in the bullpen throwing pitch after pitch in attempt to rebuild his strength and to prepare for the winter league season.

So to think that Moyer would give up so easily after heading to the Dominican Republic to pitch against up-and-comers and players looking to get more at-bats or innings says something about the man. Better yet, it’s about time people accept the fact that Moyer isn’t pitching for stats, money or fame. Sure, he has an ego like anyone else and chances are that if Moyer was digging ditches for a living and could retire whenever he wanted and remain independently wealthy, he’d do it. But Moyer loves the game. He loves pitching and he loves to compete. Still defiant and engaged in a fight with those who are resigned to accept outcomes and convention wisdom, it’s clear that Moyer’s goal was to keep pitching until it was no longer physically possible. He wasn’t slowing down and he wasn’t taking shortcuts, either.

He never lost it.

But he’s not blind, either. He’s not wishing for a perfect, lucky outcome in order to take one more spin around to celebrate some type of victory. Why should he? Moyer has faced his every day in baseball with a cold, hard shot of reality and that defiance. He’s celebrated the mundane and taken joy in the unbelievable fortune that comes to those who are lucky enough to throw a baseball for a living.

He wasn’t granted any shortcut when the Cubs, Rangers and Cardinals placed him on waivers, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to accept one now.

“Because once it’s over it’s over whether I just plain retire or if it’s due to an injury,” Moyer said after his injury in St. Louis. “I’ve always said that when that last day comes, I’m done.”

The truth is that for the better part of the past four decades, Moyer has played baseball, so why stop now?

“Some players get injured and others just lose the desire,” Moyer told me during a conversation in Washington two years ago. “Then some, for one reason or other, are told to quit because they reach a certain age or time spent in the game. Some just accept it without asking why.”

Moyer never accepted it. That’s why he won’t accept it this time unless Dr. Yocum tells him otherwise. No tears, no speeches, no nothing. Just baseball.

Moyer defiantly faces reality

Jamie Jamie Moyer often talked about retirement. No, he didn’t
dwell on it as if he were waiting for it
to arrive like it was the Grim Reaper dressed in a hood and carrying a scythe.
But retirement was never a topic that was off limits to Moyer.

Even now, in light of a left elbow injury deemed “significant”
that could end his season and by default, his career, Moyer doesn’t get sneaky
or attempt to hide the obvious. His repertoire has been the same ever since he
broke in to the big leagues in that game against Steve Carlton at Wrigley Field
in 1986.

“I’m still under contract so I feel obligated to make
every effort to allow this to heal and to give myself that chance to pitch,”
Moyer said.

See, Moyer used the idea of retirement as a tool. With
his edgy and upfront way of dealing with things, it’s fair to deduce that
retirement and his age motivated him and kept him going. He loved to point out
that his father-in-law, ex-basketball coach Digger Phelps, urged him to give up
baseball and think about another line of work.

Moyer heard from Phelps during a period where he had been
released three times and granted free agency another three times. He had been
traded twice and sent to the minors three more times. In fact, even Charlie
Manuel, the most diplomatic of baseball men when it comes to evaluating a
player’s talent, said he thought Moyer was one his way out of baseball during
the early ‘90s.

We all know what happened next. Moyer hooked up with the
Mariners when he was 34 and won 145 games in the next 11 seasons and finishing
in the top five of the Cy Young Award balloting three times. When he arrived in
Philadelphia for the stretch drive in 2006, most baseball folks thought he was
simply finishing up a solid career with his hometown team.

But then he kept going. The Phillies kept giving him
contracts, too. There were a couple of one-year deals and then a two-year deal after
he helped pitch the Phillies to their second World Series title. There were
accolades, records and milestones that the sage lefty seemed to have to address
after every game he pitched. He handled it with aplomb to a point, but then got
bored with it.

“You start getting caught up in things like that and you
might start losing some focus on things you need to do,” Moyer told me in an
chat in the deserted clubhouse at Nationals Park a couple of seasons ago, while
contemplating his place in baseball history. “I think there's plenty of time
for me to look back at the end of the season or at the end of my career and
say, ‘You know what? That was cool,' or ‘I remember that,' or ‘I remember that
game.' But for me, having the opportunity to have the longevity that I have is
the most special thing for me. To continue my career and to play and to
contribute with a team, I think that is first and foremost. If you are around
long enough, those things are going to start to happen.”

That was the pat answer for a little while, but then to
Moyer it stopped being about age and instead became about results again.
Actually, it seemed as if he wanted to answer the questions the same way as any
other veteran on the club without first discussing that he was the oldest
player in the game.

And why not? In the four seasons he pitched for the
Phillies, no one won more games. Even last year when he struggled and was
removed from the rotation in favor for Pedro Martinez, Moyer led the club in
wins. At age 47, after a winter spent recovering from three surgeries, Moyer
led the club in wins halfway through the season.

In doing so Moyer wasn’t simply defying the odds or his
age, he was simply defiant. When he reached some age-related milestone or
career mark hinging on longevity, the old lefty shrugged it off. He was bored
by the idea that he was old, yet stoked the fires by saying he had no thoughts
on his imminent retirement.

He pointed out that consistent workouts, a solid fitness
foundation and smart recovery were the key to athletic longevity. His age was
meaningless aside from the fact that it required a bit more recovery time
between workouts. Otherwise, when pondering the reasons why so few players
lasted as long as him, Moyer saw it austerely.

“Some players get injured and others just lose the
desire," he told me in Washington that day two years ago. “Then some, for
one reason or other, are told to quit because they reach a certain age or time
spent in the game. Some just accept it without asking why.”

Moyer never accepted it. Better yet, he never accepted
what people told him he should do with his career—his life.

But with serious injuries all bets are off. Misty-eyed
and reflective before Friday night’s game against the Rockies at the Bank, it’s
obvious that Moyer knows he is going to be forced with a tough decision or the
cold slap of reality very soon. Yes, there are still tests to complete and
scenarios to discuss, but Moyer understands that the exit after one scoreless inning
in St. Louis on Wednesday could have been his last lap.

“It’s probably one of those situations that you don’t
want to have happen, but if it happens it happens. There’s nothing I can do. I
can’t turn back and change anything. The injury is the injury—you live with it,”
he said. “I can honestly look myself in the mirror and say, if that’s my last
outing, so be it. I really gave it my best and I enjoyed my career. But that’s
not the way I’m looking at it as that being the case.”

Moyer Still defiant and engaged in a fight with those who are
resigned to accept outcomes and convention wisdom, it’s clear that Moyer’s goal
was to keep pitching until it was no longer physically possible. He wasn’t
slowing down and he wasn’t taking shortcuts, either.

He never lost it.

But he’s not blind, either. He’s not wishing for a
perfect, lucky outcome in order to take one more spin around to celebrate some
type of victory. Why should he? Moyer has faced his every day in baseball with
a cold, hard shot of reality and that defiance. He’s celebrated the mundane and
taken joy in the unbelievable fortune that comes to those who are lucky enough
to throw a baseball for a living.

He wasn’t granted any shortcut when the Cubs, Rangers and
Cardinals placed him on waivers, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to accept
one now.

“Because once it’s over it’s over whether I just plain
retire or if it’s due to an injury,” Moyer said. “I’ve always said that when
that last day comes, I’m done.”

There was no smirk this time with those words. No tears,
either. It was face-slapping reality, no different than the most inexplicable
267 wins in baseball history.

Jamie Moyer ain’t half bad, either

Moyer We get it. Jamie Moyer is old. At 47 it’s safe to say that Moyer has been old for a while now—at least in baseball terms. Sports, like most things, are a young man’s game and guys like Moyer are often viewed as a novelty or a curious relic.

So don’t come here looking for the standard, “age-is-just-a-number-like-ERA” crap. We’ve been there before, citing examples of folks like Dara Torres as athletes like Moyer who have defied conventional reasoning by competing at a high level well past their prime.

In other words, spare us. Moyer is 47, big deal. He’s been in his 40s since 2002 and promptly went out and won 21 games for Seattle. He’s also won 55 games since joining the Phillies at the end of the 2006 season when he was 43 and currently is tied for the team leadership in wins with eight.

Yes, Moyer is old. We know this. So instead of harping on the uniqueness of a 47-year-old lefty with a fastball that couldn’t scuff Plexiglas still getting it done at an elite level, perhaps we should look at the “why” and the “how.”

Age? Whatever.

What makes Moyer unique is that he still has the will to compete. Sure, it helps that he only goes out there once every five days and uses guile and grit more than muscle and power, but he still has to push himself through the vagaries and mundanity of a long season. Chalk that up to an active mind or the ability to shove aside human nature and boredom.

Think about it… baseball has been Moyer’s professional focus just about every day for four decades. That’s either genius or crazy.

Or both.

“That’s luck,” Moyer said when it was pointed out that he’s led the Phillies in wins through their recent run.

Actually, Moyer is wrong about that and it was pointed out to him that luck has nothing to do with his wins. He corrected himself to explain that he has worked quite hard, and that’s true, but at some point it goes beyond luck and hard work. Sometimes ballplayers like Moyer ignore the most obvious reason for success is talent. Everyone in baseball works hard and it will only get a player to a certain point.

Get this… Moyer is talented, too. He might not want to admit it, but it’s true.

So what keeps him going now? He says he isn’t too impressed by the milestones he achieves seemingly every time he steps onto the mound, trotting out the old line about all a guy can accomplish by just hanging around long enough. For instance, in Tuesday night’s win over Cleveland Moyer tied both Bob Feller in wins with 266 and Robin Roberts in homers allowed with 505. Feller, of course, lost more than three years of his 20s while serving in World War II, but the only players ahead of Moyer on the all-time list for wins not in the Hall of Fame are Jim Kaat, Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux.

The numbers and the names aren’t what keep Moyer going. That’s for him to enjoy later. No, the reason why he keeps coming back for more is the winning. Not so much as him getting the wins as it is the team. Just the idea of getting another World Series ring is enough to keep Moyer in it.

Need proof? Try this… Moyer says he was ready to retire after the 2006 season. Sitting in Anaheim waiting to pitch in a meaningless game for the Mariners in mid-August, Moyer says he and his wife had a 90-minute conversation over the phone about his decision to pack it in. He just couldn’t bear another season playing for a mediocre team with no realistic shot to win the World Series.

Enough was enough until he was offered an interesting proposition…

Moyertp “A couple of days later they came to me and said, ‘Hey, want to be traded?’” Moyer recounted.

Five days after that phone conversation with his wife, Moyer was pitching for a Phillies team that was preparing to make the greatest post-season run in their history. Better yet, he was the pitcher who got the most wins during it all.

Luck? Nah, luck is for the lottery.

“There’s still a lot of baseball left and it’s a responsibility of mine to come here and perform,” he said, not sounding like an old man just hanging on for the ride.

“You can’t rest on your laurels. If you have to wait for it, it’s not going to happen.”

As for homers allowed, it’s just Roberts and Moyer all alone at the top of the list. And chances are no one is going to get close to the record unless Tim Wakefield or Javier Vazquez “get hot.” Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being the pitcher who allowed the most homers ever. Bad pitchers aren’t ever given the chance to give up as many homers as Moyer.

“The only thing I think about is I’ve had a lot of chances to be able to do that,” Moyer said. “It’s probably not a record that I'm most proud of, but I'm proud of the opportunity that I've had to have those chances. And with my style of pitching, you know what? You’re going to give up home runs. That’s just the way it is. Some of them go really far. Some of them don’t. That's the way it goes.”

Yeah, we get it. Moyer has been around for a long time, which is a great accomplishment. But the beauty of Moyer’s success is that he’s not interested in simply showing up and getting credit. Yeah, there’s some luck and hard work involved, but there’s something else more important at play, too.

Jamie Moyer is pretty good.  

Yawn! Sizing up Moyer’s big night

Jamie_moyer After Friday night’s game in which he became the oldest man in Major League Baseball history to toss a shutout, Jamie Moyer was rather non-plused about his performance. When asked what he thought about making a somewhat significant piece of baseball history, Moyer acted like he didn’t know what was going on.

It was kind of weird considering someone had to tell Moyer what he did in the approximately 30 minutes it took him to record the final out and then talk to the press. Besides, at this point in his career/life, Moyer has to know that when he accomplishes something exemplary like throw a two-hit shutout, chances are he’s the oldest guy to ever do it.

It’s a curious thing watching someone accept platitudes by downplaying them. Maybe Moyer is just shy or a little embarrassed about how good he was in comparison to the Braves? Maybe he doesn’t like to talk about his age?

“It was cool,” he said, downplaying the result, and seemingly holding back a bored yawn. “Just doing my job.”

Yeah, ho-hum.

After an evening to reflect on what we saw from Moyer on Friday night against a Braves team that has been barraged by a number superlative pitching performances this season, it’s pretty safe to assume that we witnessed a record that won’t be broken any time soon. When Phil Niekro established the record in October of 1985, Moyer, then 22, had wrapped up a season where he climbed from Single-A Winston-Salem to Double-A Pitsfield. Niekro broke the record set by Satchel Paige in 1952 (his second shutout as a 46-year old), which was a decade before Moyer’s birth.

In other words, if anyone breaks Moyer’s record he probably is coming through the low minors or hasn’t even been born yet. Or maybe it’s Tim Wakefield, who at 43 is still floating that knuckleball up there for the Red Sox… that is if Wakefield can get back into the starting rotation four years from now.

Yeah, that’s “cool.”

Nevertheless, since Moyer downplayed the event, maybe we should, too. After all, it was the Braves the wily lefty blanked and they didn’t have All-Star catcher Brian McCann or rookie phenom Jason Heyward in the lineup. Moreover, Troy Glaus led off the second inning with a single on the first pitch and then from there it took Moyer just two more pitches to record the final three outs of the inning.

One hit, three hitters and three pitches…

“Cool.”

This season the Braves have been no-hit by Ubaldo Jimenez, though he allowed six walks to do it, and the day before Moyer’s gem, Washington’s Scott Olsen came five outs away from a no-no against Atlanta. Considering that Olsen often seems to be his own worst enemy on the mound and was sent to the minors at the start of the season, a second no-hitter would have been the greatest indignity.

“I think if that would have happened you probably have to put us all on a suicide watch,” Chipper Jones said.

After last night’s game Jones went on about how Moyer, at “87,” schooled them.

“Jamie carved us up,” Jones said. “The guy is 87-years old and he’s still pitching for a reason. He stays off the barrel. He changes speeds, changes the game plan and keeps you guessing.”

Considering the Braves also posted eight scoreless innings against back-of-the-rotation hurler, Kyle Kendrick, and were already shutout by Roy Halladay, it seems as if everyone is having a good time with the Braves’ hitters. At least the Phillies starters are, combining to go 32 innings against the Braves in four games without allowing a single earned run. What stands out more is that the Braves have more strikeouts (20), than hits (17) against the Phils’ starters this season.

So really, maybe it was the lineup Bobby Cox sent out there on Friday night that had the most to do with Jamie Moyer’s record-setting performance. Considering he was two Troy Glaus singles away from a perfect game, that might have something to do with it.

Poll numbers strike out

Wade One of the funniest moments from writing about the
Phillies for all those years came back in 2002 in the midst of Larry Bowa’s
reign of error. It had just come out in one of those ubiquitous Sports Illustrated polls in which the
players voted the then-Phillies skipper as the worst in the big leagues.

Sure, it was an ambiguous poll to say the least, but the
point was players from around the league saw what was going on inside the
Phillies dugout during games and wanted no parts of it. Hell, the team even
asked that shots of the manager in the dugout during games be limited. No sense
putting the dysfunction out there on the airwaves.

Anyway, Bowa said he didn’t care about what the Sports Illustrated poll indicated when
asked before a game at the Vet during the 2003 season. In fact, he didn’t care
so much that he spent a good portion of the pre-game meeting with the writers
talking about how much he didn’t care and how dumb the players were for not
seeing his brilliance. OK, he didn’t say it like that in so many words, but he
clearly was bothered by his status in the poll.

The funny part wasn’t Bowa’s reaction to his No. 1
status, but the reaction by the players in the Phillies’ clubhouse. When asked
about it, most of the players treated the question as if it were a flaming bag
of dog crap on the front porch. Rather than jump on the bag to put out the
fire, and thus getting soiled shoes, most of the players just let it smolder
itself out. They said all the right things, peppering the writers with a steady
barrage of jock-speak clichés.

That is except for Mike Lieberthal, another Bowa
foil, who gave the best answer of all.

“If I played on another team I’d hate him, too,”
Lieberthal said, before explaining how it must look in the Phillies’ dugout to
a bystander. Gotta love Lieby… he had trouble figuring out how to use those clichés
knowing that his true thoughts were much more fun.

So what’s the point? Who cares about that cantankerous
era of Phillies baseball where one never knew what type of land mine rested
just around any corner? How about this… maybe there’s something to those polls Sports Illustrated conducts?  After all, in a recent issue, the Sixers’ Andre
Iguodala was voted to be amongst the NBA’s most overrated players and the Phillies’
Ruben Amaro Jr. was rated as a middle-of-the-pack general manager in Major
League Baseball. Make that, second-division, actually. Ruben came in 19th
while ex-Phillies GM Ed Wade was 29th out of 30.

Those ratings seem to be a bit off… at least for Wade.
Taking his full body of work into account Ed Wade might be a vastly underrated as
a big league general manager.

Really? How so? And why does it appear as if I’m talking
to myself?

Here’s why Wade is underrated:

·        
Hilarity

Don’t sleep on this factor. In a business where hubris
and self-absorption are the norm (see: Amaro, R.) and a sense of humor is
viewed as a determent, Wade’s unintentional comedy is nothing to sneeze at.
Really, do you have to ask? Wade was the guy who parachuted out of a plane—a ballsy
act in itself—only to get all tangled up in a tree in South Jersey. You can’t
make that up, folks. Wade just hung there in a tree with a parachute strapped
to his back. That’s hilarious on so many different levels. If comedians told
jokes about big league GMs, Ed Wade would be like George W. Bush.

Plus, Wade has some sort of fetish (yes, it’s a fetish)
with former Phillies players/employees. Now that he’s with the Houston Astros,
Wade was signed and hired countless dudes he had in Philadelphia. For instance,
not only did Wade trade/sign Randy Wolf, Tomas Perez, Jason Michaels, Geoff
Geary, Michael Bourn, Matt Kata, Chris Coste, Mike Costanzo, Pedro Feliz, and,
of course, Brett Myers, but also he took former Phillies PR man Gene Dias to
the Astros with him.

With moves like this and a run-in with pitcher Shawn
Chacon where Wade ended up getting choked, the Astros did the only thing they
could… they gave Wade a two-year extension.

·        
Patience

OK, we don’t know if this is masterful foresight or just
dumb luck, but Wade should get a ton of credit for not trading minor leaguers
Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels when he has the chance and everyone
pleaded with him to do so. Remember that? Of course you don’t because you don’t want
to admit how dumb you were. Still, it’s hard to believe a few folks got all
lathered up because Wade refused to make deadline deals involving Howard that
would have brought back guys like Jeff Suppan or Kris Benson from Pittsburgh.

With the core group of Howard, Utley and Hamels, Wade’s
successors could be bold enough to do things like trade for Cliff Lee and Roy
Halladay as well as sign Pedro Martinez, Greg Dobbs and Jayson Werth. In fact,
it was Wade who swiped Shane Victorino away from the Dodgers in the Rule 5
draft in 2005. Sure, the Phillies eventually offered him back, but sometimes it
counts to be lucky, too.

Make no mistake about it, Wade’s fingerprints are all
over the Phillies’ roster. Maybe as much as Amaro’s, who has the strange honor
of being one of the only GMs in the history of the game to trade and sign three
Cy Young Award winners in the span of five months.

Oh yes, Amaro’s moves have been solid, considering the
trades for Lee and Halladay and knowing when to cut bait on guys like Pat
Burrell. However, he loses points for giving Jamie Moyer a two-year deal worth
$13 million. With that money on hand, the Phillies probably would have had a
rotation with both Lee and Halladay at the top and Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and
J.A. Happ filling out the other three spots.

Imagine that… Amaro got all those Cy Young Award winners,
but would have had two of them in their prime at the top of his pitching
rotation if he had allowed then 46-year-old Moyer to walk away.

Hindsight. It has to be a GM’s worst enemy…

Or best friend.

Herschel is ready to rumble

AP091208125509 Surely most people have heard the stories by now. You know, like the one where he never worked out with weights because he sculpted his physique by doing thousands and thousands of sit-ups and pushups daily, usually during the commercials of TV shows.

He also only eats one meal a day and has no dietary restrictions aside from basic vegetarianism (no fish, no meat, etc.), which usually comes after a day of workouts.

He owns the record for most yards rushing in a season by a professional football player (2,411 in 1985 for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL). In the NFL, he is the only player with a 90-plus yard reception, 90-plus yard run, and a 90-plus yard kickoff return all in the same season (with the Eagles in 1994), and he is also the only player to record an 84-plus yard touchdown run and an 84-plus yard touchdown reception, in the same game.

He’s also the only football player to pull off those feats and dance with the Forth Worth Ballet.

He is a sixth-degree black belt in tae kwan do, made the 1992 U.S. Olympic team in the bobsled, and next Saturday night in Miami, he will make his professional debut in the MMA against a fighter that wasn’t even born when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1982.

In other words, Herschel Walker is still quite active.

To call Herschel Walker a freak of nature is unfair to both freaks and nature. After all, we make a big deal about Jamie Moyer pitching successfully for the Phillies into his late 40s, but no is expecting the lefty to leave the Phillies in order to take up mixed-martial arts. However, when the news came out that Walker, born in the same year as Moyer, was taking up a new sport no one batted an eye.

There is no way to classify Walker as an athlete. Personally, he’s accessible like Charles Barkley only without the bravado, vices or rap sheet. Where football players Bo Jackson, Brian Jordan and Deion Sanders dabbled with careers in Major League Baseball, Walker says he used to go from college football games with Georgia to martial arts competitions. That was when he didn’t have a track meet, of course.

“He’s a freak, but this is not a freak show,” Luke Rockhold, one of Walker’s main training partners, told The Associated Press. “He put in three months of training at one of the best gyms in the world. He’s legitimate.”

Still, amongst his competitors in the MMA there aren’t many who remember Walker as a star football player. Though he was a veteran player by the time he got to the Eagles in 1992, Walker was always the fastest runner on the team. Actually, he made those 90-yard runs look effortless where he rarely changed direction or broke his stride. Even though it looked like Walker was out on a Sunday morning job, defenders seemed to disappear off the screen while trying to run him down in the open field.

Who didn’t love the guy? Sure, he played for the Cowboys and the Giants during his NFL career, and always seemed to kill the Eagles when he played for the Vikings (remember that 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in ’89?). Still, those 3,732 yards-from scrimmage for the Eagles in three seasons helped alleviate some of the dread in watching the team get out to a 7-2 start in ’94 only to drop the final seven games of the season. Three years later Walker gave up football.

So yeah, Walker is excited to get back into mixing it up—he’s definitely taking next Saturday’s fight seriously.

“There have been some athletes that have been totally an embarrassment," Walker said during a press conference last week in New York City to promote the fight. “Jose Canseco, it's insulting, the guy never trained. I’m a guy that's serious about this. This is fighting, you get hurt. People that talk about (a publicity stunt) don't even know me. That's why I always tell people to come and join me or come and work out with me. Then you'll see who I really am.”

Herschel_eagles Walker says if there had been the MMA 20 years ago, he might have cut his football career short. He’s definitely into it.

“This is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life,” Walker said, who will fight as a heavyweight in his debut and says his body fat index is up to 4 percent these days. “When a guy gets me in an arm bar within two minutes (during training), I'd better be learning something if I'm going to get in the cage.”

Yes, because all 47-year olds need to know how to get the hell out of an arm bar. And because of the demand of the new sport and his age, Walker has added a new wrinkle into his workouts he never considered before…

Naps.

“I never took a nap after football practice," he said at the press conference. “When I come home after MMA practice, I'm taking a nap.”

Even though it sounds kind of funny to hear a middle-aged man talking about fighting a 26-year old in a MMA cage, Walker has it all figured out. When asked why he’s doing it, the answer was perfectly succinct.

“Why not?” he said.

Iverson not ready to age gracefully

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Getting old isn’t easy. Things that didn’t hurt now hurt for no logical reason. Moving around in the morning is difficult, again, for no logical reason. Worse, the ol’ recovery and bounce back time is impossible to pinpoint.

Basically, your body gets a mind of its own. The worst part about this is your body has bleep for brains.

Oh, there are a few folks out there who have aged gracefully. Just look at Dara Torres, or Jamie Moyer. Torres is 42 and set an American record in the 50-meter freestyle at the Beijing Olympics when she was 41. Moyer, as we know, has kept one step ahead of the clock for at least a decade. Over the last three seasons, the soon-to-be 47-year-old lefty has won more games than any other Phillies pitcher.

Better yet, Moyer still has the fire to compete. He didn’t have the best season in ’09, but he fought like hell even when he was bumped from the rotation. Out of the bullpen, Moyer gave up four runs in five appearances and helped solidify an inconsistent corps of pitchers.

A couple of years ago Moyer told me that he can still do the same things he always did, only slower and with more breaks.

Perhaps the secret to Moyer’s ability to avoid the pitfalls of age is the page stolen from Satchel Paige. You know, “Don’t look back because someone might be gaining on you.”

“I always felt that I had a burning desire to play,” Moyer said last summer. “In those years I always thought that you’re going to have to strip the uniform off my back. I’ve been released a couple of times, but all that did was fuel the fire for me a little more.”

Then there is Bernard Hopkins, who will fight Enrique Ornelas next month just a few weeks shy of his 45th birthday. And, of course, there’s always the ageless wonder himself, Don Wildman.

Wildman and his Malibu Mafia make everyone look old.

The truth is there is no correlation between age and athletic performance. The difference in why the older athletes struggle so much is desire, changing priorities, wear-and-tear and lack of fitness.

Maybe that’s where Allen Iverson fits in.

Iverson is not old by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he’s just 34, which is younger than Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Anthony Parker, Ben Wallace, Derek Fisher, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd and Shaquille O’Neal. The difference between Iverson and those players is that they all made adjustments in their game and training regimens, while coming to terms with their age, while Iverson has not.

Iverson, apparently, hasn’t learned that he is 34. He hasn’t figured out that 14 years into the league he needs to hone different skills and can’t just go running into a brick wall every time down the court.

Oh yes indeed, we’re still talkin’ ‘bout practice.

To say Iverson is at a crossroads doesn’t begin to explain it. In fact, Iverson is about to be wiped off the map so completely that he’ll need a GPS to find his way. In his first season playing for the Memphis Grizzlies—his third team since being traded from the Sixers in 2006—Iverson has left the team after playing in just three games.

The reason? He doesn’t want to come off the bench. Worse, he doesn’t want to be a wise, mentoring veteran on a team with seven players in their first or second years in the NBA, and 10 players with no more than three years of experience. It’s kind of ironic that the oldest guy on the team is also the biggest baby.

When one of his younger teammates apparently didn’t see that Iverson was wide open during an overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings, Iverson lashed out at the inability to get him the ball and his reduced role on the team.

“I’m not a reserve basketball player,” Iverson said. “I’ve never been a reserve all my life and I’m not going to start looking at myself as a reserve.”

Nope, Iverson wants to get his. Otherwise he’ll just go home.

That quote from Moyer in which adversity and professional slights only served to make him work harder, make smarter moves and change his tactics is completely lost on Iverson. The only thing fueling the fire within Iverson is his massive ego.

And so he’s gone home.

Worse, he sounds like a cranky old man. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Iverson complained that no team aside from Memphis wanted him during his summer of free agency. In fact, he’s so disillusioned that no one wanted him and the only team that made a bid last summer sees him as a reserve, that retirement seems like a real possibility.

That’s too bad. It’s too bad because Iverson is a tremendous talent and was one of the few players in the NBA that was worth the high-price of a ticket. But in the NBA, there just aren’t too many players who can do at 34 what they did at 29 or 30. Oh sure, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar continued to be an effective ballplayer through his mid-30s, but Michael Jordan retired for the second time when he was 34. Even Wilt Chamberlain was primarily a role player when he turned 34.

Then again maybe Iverson gets it. Maybe we can save the psycho-babble and simply chalk up Iverson to being a grouchy old man who sees a bunch of kids running past him? But rather than thinking up new ways to keep up, he'd prefer to snatch the ball when it gets kicked into his yard with the loud, sad bellow:

"Get off my lawn!"

As for aging gracefully, well, that doesn’t seem too likely with Iverson. Plus, if he returns to the Grizzlies, coach Lionel Hollins (an ex-Sixers guard like Iverson) says there are some lines that must be toed.

The Answer must abide.

“Allen has his own interpretation of things. I know the truth. He knows the truth,” Hollins told the AP. “What I would like to do is let Allen handle his (personal) issues, make a decision on whether he’s coming back or not and concentrate on what we have to do as a team, both if he’s not here and if he is here.”

Yes, it’s a hard thing getting old. Especially when it takes much more practice.

Fourth inning: Moyer finished for the year

image from fingerfood.typepad.com The news on Jamie Moyer was much worse than expected when he landed awkwardly on the mound during his final pitch in the seventh inning last night. Though he limped off the field quite gingerly, it was expected to be a strained muscle or something.

Who would have guessed that it very well could be the final pitch of his career?

According to team physician, Dr. Michael Ciccotti, Moyer tore three muscles. Two of those are in his groin and one torn muscle is in his stomach. He's going to have surgery in the next week and could be back in time for spring training.

I don't think it's the swan song for Moyer because I think he likes to play and always thinks he has something to prove. He loves that very much like Michael Jordan always liked proving people wrong.

The thing about Jamie is that he is quite arrogant, too. Clearly that's part of the reason why he has been so successful during a baseball career that bucked the odds.

I have had the chance to talk to Moyer a lot over the past few years and most of the time it was always illuminating. Even this season when he wasn't as friendly as in the past or feeling somewhat slighted because the team got Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez and spouted off about being "misled" that day at Wrigley Field, something was easily gleaned.

Moyer than anything else, Jamie Moyer is a competitor.

I wrote this after a game in Washington last year:

Moyer has no timetable for retirement and may even seek another contract when the current one ends.

“Look, I feel great and I’m pitching well and I love playing so I have no plans to stop,” he told me in a late-season interview. “But I could come in here tomorrow and the desire could be completely gone.”

Clearly that’s not the case. Moyer prepares and competes at 46 no differently than he did when he was a green rookie coming up with the Cubs in 1986. However, if there is something behind Moyer’s motivation to continue to pitch (and to pitch well) it seems to be the slights he took from baseball people back when he was struggling in the early 1990s. No, Moyer didn’t cite it as a motivating cause, but then again he didn’t have to.

“Fourteen years ago I was told to retire,” Moyer said with a smirk in a recent interview.

If Moyer hangs 'em up, his legacy will be those two clinchers he pitched at the Bank in 2007 and 2008 as well as his great effort in Game 3 of the World Series in '08.

While we were contemplating Moyer, the Phillies rallied for four runs in the fourth and Pedro Martinez was yanked for a pinch hitter.

Pedro's line: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 1 HBP, 84 pitches (54 K)

Fourth inning: Phillies 5, Astros 3

Party like it’s 1976

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Baring a collapse of New York Mets proportions, the Phillies will clinch the NL East for the third season in a row. The Three-peat in the East has occurred just one other time in team history and continues a string of a dearth of champs in the East. Following the Phillies’ victory in 1993, only the Braves and Mets have won the division aside from the current batch of Phillies.

In other words, the NL East resembles the NBA Finals during the 1980s when only the Celtics, Sixers, Rockets and Lakers ever got there. Eventually the Pistons and Bulls broke through, but for a long time it seemed as if only a handful of teams ever made it to the big dance.

Nevertheless, the clincher for the Phillies will likely come this weekend in Milwaukee. And as a result of sewing things up with a week to go in the season (at least), it will go down as the earliest clincher in terms of games played. To capture their first playoff berth in 26 years in 1976, the Phillies wrapped up the East in Game 155.

If the Phillies clinch before Sunday, it will be the earliest the team ensured a playoff berth ever. Even in 1950, before the advent of divisional play, the Phillies needed the full slate of games to get to the postseason.

Anyway, here’s a look at the playoff-clinching games since Major League Baseball started divisional play.

2008
Game 161 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 27)

Box score

Remember this one? Remember how you felt when Brad Lidge loaded the bases with one out and the go-ahead runs in scoring position and how the shot by Ryan Zimmerman looked like it was going to ruin the closer’s perfect slate?

Kind of feels a lot like this year, doesn’t it?

Aside from Jimmy Rollins’ heroic diving stop to spin the game-ending double play, this one is remembered for Jamie Moyer’s second straight win in a clinching game. Aside from his effort in Game 3 of the World Series, the finales in 2007 and 2008 will be the old lefty’s legacy with the Phillies.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com 2007
Game 162 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)

Box score

The fact that the Phillies were even in a position to win the East took an unprecedented collapse by the Mets. Couple the huge comeback (down 6½ games with 17 to go) with a 14-year playoff drought, and the clubhouse scene was one of the all-time great parties in the history of Philadelphia clinchers.

The truth is a lot of us never saw such a thing. Champagne corks popping and flying all over the room. Beer spray dousing everyone and anything that moves. Pharmaceuticals and English bulldogs show up and drag low-end celebrities and political chaff around, too.

In other words, it’s no different than the parties you threw in college only without the bonfire. Where this party had it over those from back in the college days is that Jade McCarthy and J.D. Durbin made it to this one, and, well… when Jade and J.D. show up then it’s a party.

Of course by the time the fog cleared and the playoffs began, the Phillies were gone in four days.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com
Game 157 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 28)

Box score

Get a load of this… I watched this one from the balcony at the Troc at a Fugazi show. Some guy sitting in front of me had a Sony watchman TV and we got to see Mariano Duncan crush the game-winning grand slam before the band took the stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Commonwealth, Harry Kalas was singing High Hopes after the Phils finally wrapped it up. But since this was the Macho Row era of club, the party didn’t end with the sing-a-long. Oh no. Check out the box score for the day after the clincher and check who IS NOT in the lineup.

That oughta tell you how long into the night this one went.

1983
Game 160 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 28)

Box score

Who would have guessed that there would have been just one more clincher for the Phillies in the next 24 years after this one? Sheesh.

Regardless, this one was in the days before there were lights at Wrigley Field so it’s likely that Larry Andersen took the guys over to The Lodge after the clubhouse celebration ended.

Here’s what I remember from this one – Mike Schmidt hit his 40th homer of the season and Bo Diaz clubbed two of them all off ex-Phillie Dick Ruthven. The last out was caught by Greg Gross in left field with Al “Mr. T” Holland on the mound. I guess Holland looked like Mr. T to get a nickname like that. Seemed like a fun guy.

1981
Won first half

This was the strike year so by virtue of being in first place by the time the work stoppage occurred, the Phillies went to the first-ever NLDS. They lost in five games to the Expos, though St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 1980
Game 161 vs. Montreal at Olympic Stadium (Oct. 4)

Box score

If we were ranking the best regular-season games in Phillies history, this one would have to be in the top three. Maybe even the top two. Frankly, it had everything. Comebacks, drama, suspense, crazy manager moves and then Mike Schmidt’s home run in the 11th to give the Phillies the lead they never gave up.

Oh, but if Schmidt’s homer were the only highlight.

  • Bob Boone laced a two-out single in the top of the 9th to tie the game and force extra innings.
  • Tug McGraw pitched the last three innings allowing just one hit to go with four strikeouts to get the win.
  • September call up Don McCormack came in to catch in just his second big league inning in the ninth when Dallas Green yanked Boone for a pinch runner. McCormack got the first of his two Major League hits after Schmidt’s homer in the 11th. From there, McCormack went on to play in just 14 big league innings the rest of his career over three game.

How did Don McCormack get into that game?!

  • The top four hitters in the Phillies lineup (Rose, McBride, Schmidt, Luzinski) went 11-for-19.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 1978
Game 161 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 30)

Box score

Here was the scenario for this one – if the Pirates won, then Game 162 would decide the NL East. Instead, the Phillies wrapped up division title No. 3 thanks to a clutch three-run homer from Greg Luzinski in the sixth inning.

The game started rather inauspiciously, too. Willie Stargell hit a grand slam in the first inning to give the Pirates the quick lead, but pitcher Randy Lerch made up for his pitching with a homer in the second and another in the fourth to cut the deficit to a run and set the table for Luzinski’s homer.

The game was not without drama at the end, either. Tug McGraw game on in the seventh and was within two outs of closing it out until the Pirates rallied for four runs and had the tying run at the plate when manager Danny Ozark went to Ron Reed to close it out.

1977
Game 157 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 27)

Box score

I don’t remember this one, but from a look at the box score it looks like one of those old fashioned Wrigley Field games that used to be unique. Now those Wrigley Field games can break out anywhere in any ballpark. And since they play mostly night games at Wrigley these days, those wild games are a thing of the past.

Still, the second clincher for the Phillies featured five RBIs and a homer (and seven solid innings for the win) from Larry Christenson and one from Mike Schmidt in a 15-9 final.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 1976
Game 155 vs. Montreal at Parc Jarry (Sept. 26)

Box score

The was the first and maybe the best of the Phillies clubs that won all those division titles. The Phils won a franchise-record 101 games, but they didn’t quite match up well enough against The Big Red Machine, who were on their were to becoming the last National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles.

I suppose there is some irony in there somewhere that the Phillies are in the mix to match the 1975-76 Reds… just don’t feel like looking.

Anyway, this clincher was the first game of a doubleheader, highlighted by a complete game from Jim Lonborg. So needless to say the nightcap had a slightly different lineup after the Phillies wrapped up their first playoff berth since 1950. In fact, John Vukovich started in the second game for his season debut. Vuke went on to start in 13 more games over five years for the Phillies – all but three came in 1980.

So there it is… looking forward to adding the new one at the top of this list over the weekend. The good part is the clubhouse in Milwaukee is plenty big enough to find a dry spot from all party shrapnel flying around.

Chopper has bad timing

image from fingerfood.typepad.com After a couple of relative busy days at the ballpark, let’s call Thursday’s game, “Back up Night” at the yard to give the regulars a chance to catch their breath before jetting off to Atlanta, Florida and Milwaukee for the next 11 days. For readers of the CSNPhilly coverage of the ballclub, that means you get Dame Sarah Baicker tonight.

And certainly there won’t be a dearth of news for the relief scribes. The prognosis for that “pop” Chan Ho Park heard in his right hamstring after making his final pitch of the seventh inning last night could have a major domino effect on the rest of the roster.

The obvious loss if Park’s injury is significant is the work he takes on in the bullpen. No, his numbers don’t pop off the page, but they are good. Plus, Park is versatile enough to pitch in many roles and take on more than one inning. Of his 38 relief appearances, Chopper has pitched more than one inning 13 times and three innings five times.

Better yet, when Park was moved out of the rotation for J.A. Happ in May, he went without sulking or pouting. He just went to work and as a result remains one of the more popular players in the clubhouse with his teammates.

The numbers aren’t bad, either. In 38 relief appearances, Chopper is 2-2 with a 2.52 ERA. Since the All-Star Break he has appeared in 20 games and picked up 23 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings with a 1.85 ERA.

So if Manuel can’t turn to Park, even in the best of times, it’s going to hurt. With Scott Eyre attempting to pitch through a bone chip in his elbow, J.C. Romero’s season still uncertain, Clay Condrey returning from a series of oblique injuries, and Brad Lidge’s ineffectiveness, losing Park could be major.

That’s where we get to the trickle-down effect. Just last weekend I was prognosticating my Phillies playoff roster (as if anyone would ask), and decided it would be a good idea for the club to carry 12 pitchers. Last year they took 11 pitchers throughout the playoff run from the short-series NLDS to the World Series with two games played with the DH and it was more than enough.

After all, Happ appeared in just one game throughout the run, while Eyre saw action in four games for a total of two innings, while Condrey got into just two of the games. Meanwhile, the extra players on the bench, So Taguchi and Chris Coste, played in seven games combined for 10 plate appearances.

When looking at it that way, it’s clear that Manuel doesn’t go too deep into his bench if he doesn’t need to.

But as Manuel said last week in Houston, “[Bleep] the last two years.” If the Phillies want to repeat this season, it may have to come from an unsung player on the roster like Park. If that’s not an option, Manuel doesn’t have too many sure things right now.

Nevertheless, if anything, Park’s injury just might have secured veteran Jamie Moyer a spot on the playoff roster. Here’s what I came up with:

Starting pitchers
Cliff Lee
Cole Hamels
Pedro Martinez
Joe Blanton

Relief pitchers
Brad Lidge
Ryan Madson
Brett Myers
J.A. Happ
J.C. Romero
Chad Durbin
Tyler Walker/Clay Condrey
Scott Eyre/Jamie Moyer

Catchers
Carlos Ruiz
Paul Bako

Infielders
Ryan Howard
Chase Utley
Pedro Feliz
Jimmy Rollins
Greg Dobbs
Eric Bruntlett

Outfielders
Raul Ibanez
Shane Victorino
Jayson Werth
Ben Francisco
Matt Stairs

Needless to say, Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. are going to have some tough decisions with the pitching staff. If Park is able to pitch – and Romero, too, for that matter – some of the decisions will be easy.

But what do the Phillies do with Moyer, Eyre, Walker and Condrey?

Get off my lawn!

jamie moyerThere’s nothing wrong with being pissed off. Undoubtedly most of us get worked up over one thing or another every day. Maybe someone swiped your lunch out of the fridge or beat you to a parking spot.

Or maybe you’ve been “misled” from the boss at work. No, they didn’t dock your pay but they changed the minutia of your job description ever-so slightly. Certainly that’s enough to make a guy feel “disheartened.”

Hey, that’s the way it happens sometimes.

Usually, though, most of us get past our slights. After all, if most folks pouted over being “misled” or burned over something that “disheartened,” more than a day or two people would look at us like we were nothing more than a big baby.

You can’t always get what you want.

Yet after 23 seasons in the big leagues, including several trades and three outright releases, 46-year-old Jamie Moyer seems steamed about being “misled” by his employer, the Philadelphia Phillies. In fact, he still has what ballplayers like to call “the ass,” meaning he was irritable, even though he pitched six scoreless innings in a nice win for the team in a performance that was quite similar to a decade-old relief appearance in the playoffs by the guy who replaced him in the rotation.

Again, Moyer has every right to be upset. After all, his job description changed and as a result he could miss out on some pretty fat performance bonuses. However, for the remainder of this year and next, Moyer will still get a big check on the first and fifteenth of every month. That’s a guaranteed $13 million deal, which is more than some rank-and-file employees can say about promises they were made by bosses and execs.

Besides, if Moyer didn’t see the adjustment to his workload coming, he’s conning himself or merely acting like a petulant child. The league’s worst ERA for starters should have been a tip off. So too should have been his ERA against every other team aside from Florida. Worse, he just like that miserly old man who shakes his fist and screams as he chases the neighborhood kids up the block…

“Get off my lawn!”

So to recap: Jamie Moyer feels “misled” because his workload has been lessened. He won’t be docked in pay and he still plays for a team that has an excellent chance to get to the World Series for the second straight year. Better yet he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder about losing his job on the Phillies, which is saying something in this economy.

Besides, when this season ends Moyer will have made more than $74 million in a career that has defied the odds. That’s not too shabby.

So what was it again that Moyer seems to be upset about?

Oh yeah, he’s getting a lot of money for less work.

Someone get out the world’s smallest violin.

Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez was his normal jovial self after having his home debut washed out by a rain delay. He only pitched three innings, but proclaimed it a success because Moyer came on and pitched wonderfully. He also laughed with some New York reporters in town to see “the old goat” pitch before his Ali-like return to his old stomping grounds.

Moreover, when asked about Moyer’s masterful performance against the anxious and green Diamondbacks on Tuesday night, Pedro gushed with praise.

“I’ve seen Jamie forever,” Pedro said. “When I remember him and [Tom] Glavine. They are my idols. And Tim Wakefield. They’re warriors out there. How do they do it? Only lefties will know. And knuckleballers. It’s great to watch, and I’m really happy for the results. We got a win.”

But when asked about the way Moyer handled being replaced in the rotation by a guy with three Cy Young Awards and arguably the best six-year stretch of pitching in history, Pedro kept that ever-present smile.

“Jamie is a professional. He’ll handle the same way I’ll probably handle it. Whatever it takes for the team to win,” he said.

Then he added the kicker:

“If it was me in the same situation, I would do it the same way, too. I never said I wouldn’t go to the bullpen. I’m an employee here, and so is Jamie.”

It just so happens that Pedro turned in one of the most memorable playoff performances while pitching as a reliever in the fifth and deciding game of the 1999 ALDS. Perhaps Pedro is setting the table for some white knight-like reliever work in this year’s playoffs, too. After all, Pedro made no bones about why he was coming back…

He wants to win.

And he has checked his ego at the clubhouse door.

“You never know what you’ll get when you put two old goats out there,” Pedro said between giggles. “It’s a scary combination. You’re not going to see that very often. You might as well enjoy it. I enjoyed it.

“See what you get? Two for the price of one.”

But as far as we can tell, only one of them is happy about it.

Get off my lawn!

image from fingerfood.typepad.com There’s nothing wrong with being pissed off. Undoubtedly most of us get worked up over one thing or another every day. Maybe someone swiped your lunch out of the fridge or beat you to a parking spot.

Or maybe you’ve been “misled” from the boss at work. No, they didn’t dock your pay but they changed the minutia of your job description ever-so slightly. Certainly that’s enough to make a guy feel “disheartened.”

Hey, that’s the way it happens sometimes.

Usually, though, most of us get past our slights. After all, if most folks pouted over being “misled” or burned over something that “disheartened,” more than a day or two people would look at us like we were nothing more than a big baby.

You can’t always get what you want.

Yet after 23 seasons in the big leagues, including several trades and three outright releases, 46-year-old Jamie Moyer seems steamed about being “misled” by his employer, the Philadelphia Phillies. In fact, he still has what ballplayers like to call “the ass,” meaning he was irritable, even though he pitched six scoreless innings in a nice win for the team in a performance that was quite similar to a decade-old relief appearance in the playoffs by the guy who replaced him in the rotation.

Again, Moyer has every right to be upset. After all, his job description changed and as a result he could miss out on some pretty fat performance bonuses. However, for the remainder of this year and next, Moyer will still get a big check on the first and fifteenth of every month. That’s a guaranteed $13 million deal, which is more than some rank-and-file employees can say about promises they were made by bosses and execs.

Besides, if Moyer didn’t see the adjustment to his workload coming, he’s conning himself or merely acting like a petulant child. The league's worst ERA for starters should have been a tip off. So too should have been his ERA against every other team aside from Florida. Worse, he just like that miserly old man who shakes his fist and screams as he chases the neighborhood kids up the block…

“Get off my lawn!”

So to recap: Jamie Moyer feels “misled” because his workload has been lessened. He won’t be docked in pay and he still plays for a team that has an excellent chance to get to the World Series for the second straight year. Better yet he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder about losing his job on the Phillies, which is saying something in this economy.

Besides, when this season ends Moyer will have made more than $74 million in a career that has defied the odds. That’s not too shabby.

So what was it again that Moyer seems to be upset about?

Oh yeah, he’s getting a lot of money for less work.

Someone get out the world’s smallest violin.

Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez was his normal jovial self after having his home debut washed out by a rain delay. He only pitched three innings, but proclaimed it a success because Moyer came on and pitched wonderfully. He also laughed with some New York reporters in town to see “the old goat” pitch before his Ali-like return to his old stomping grounds.

Moreover, when asked about Moyer’s masterful performance against the anxious and green Diamondbacks on Tuesday night, Pedro gushed with praise.

“I've seen Jamie forever,” Pedro said. “When I remember him and [Tom] Glavine. They are my idols. And Tim Wakefield. They're warriors out there. How do they do it? Only lefties will know. And knuckleballers. It's great to watch, and I'm really happy for the results. We got a win.”

But when asked about the way Moyer handled being replaced in the rotation by a guy with three Cy Young Awards and arguably the best six-year stretch of pitching in history, Pedro kept that ever-present smile.

“Jamie is a professional. He'll handle the same way I'll probably handle it. Whatever it takes for the team to win,” he said.

Then he added the kicker:

“If it was me in the same situation, I would do it the same way, too. I never said I wouldn't go to the bullpen. I'm an employee here, and so is Jamie.”

It just so happens that Pedro turned in one of the most memorable playoff performances while pitching as a reliever in the fifth and deciding game of the 1999 ALDS. Perhaps Pedro is setting the table for some white knight-like reliever work in this year’s playoffs, too. After all, Pedro made no bones about why he was coming back…

He wants to win.

And he has checked his ego at the clubhouse door.

“You never know what you'll get when you put two old goats out there,” Pedro said between giggles. “It's a scary combination. You're not going to see that very often. You might as well enjoy it. I enjoyed it.

“See what you get? Two for the price of one.”

But as far as we can tell, only one of them is happy about it.

Taking one for the team

image from fingerfood.typepad.com At some point this evening, Pedro Martinez is going to come out of the game in Reading, Pa. and declare himself ready to rejoin the Phillies. Count on that.

However, it’s not certain how much say Pedro has in deciding how many more rehab outings he thinks he needs. For instance, chances are Pedro wanted to join the big league club after his five-inning outing last Friday night in Allentown though it was clear he needed some more work.

Not much more, but definitely some more.

Of course as Pedro says, he is simply a humble worker. Whatever Ruben Amaro and the decision-makers want him to do, Pedro will do it. And yes, that includes working out of the bullpen.

“I don’t know how the bullpen stuff is working over there, but I definitely need more work to get to the point where I really want to be. That time, you need to spend it on the mound and the only way I’m going to get time on the mound is by starting,” Pedro said. “I’m not going to put any pressure on Ruben or (manager) Charlie (Manuel) – I’m an employee here and when you are an employee you just do what your boss tells you. That’s what I’m going to do. But as far as I know they brought me here to be a starter.”

Amaro echoed that sentiment yesterday on Daily News Live.

“Right now we view him as a starter,” Amaro said.

So if we were thinking about this logically, the Phillies rotation would be pretty easy to put together. Right? Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton would be at the top since those two are clearly the hottest pitchers the team has. Then comes J.A. Happ because he has been the most consistent throughout the season. Next comes Cole Hamels not only because he was the MVP of the NLCS and World Series, but also because it’s simply a matter of time before he gets his pitching issues worked out.

Then comes Pedro since off days here and there can afford him an extra day of rest occasionally. At 37 with 17 big league seasons piled onto that narrow-shouldered frame, it’s OK to give Pedro an extra day. Besides, after three Cy Young Awards and a handful of the greatest seasons ever pitched, let the guy ride on his rep a bit…

Right?

Well, only if he can pitch. If he can’t get hitters out don’t be surprised when the Phillies send Pedro out near Ashburn Alley to wait for the right moment to go in to pitch. Toward the end of a pitcher’s career, that’s kind of the way it goes. After all, last year the great Greg Maddux spent the post-season pitching relief for the Dodgers. Warren Spahn ended up pitching out of the ‘pen, too.

The same goes for Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, Early Winn and Satchel Paige. Hey, it happens.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com So why won’t it happen for Jamie Moyer?

Despite the 10-8 record, both digits representing team highs, Moyer hasn’t been very good this year. Oh sure, in his 10 wins he has allowed just 22 runs, but even Manuel says the 46-year-old lefty pitches better when the offense spots him some runs. Considering the Phillies have scored at least nine runs in five of those 10 wins, Moyer is the ultimate frontrunner.

Plus, two of his 10 wins are against Florida, a team he owns a lifetime 13-2 mark against. Take three starts against Florida out of the mix and Moyer is 8-8 with a 6.16 ERA. Counting Florida Moyer has the second worst ERA amongst starters that qualify for the ERA title. Excluding Florida and he’s the worst starter in the league in terms of ERA.

Nevertheless, when Pedro makes his pronouncement this evening, Moyer won’t be looking over his shoulder. Why should he when the most consistent pitcher on the staff is the one who will be bumped?

Ballplayers always talk about how they are always willing to do what’s best for the team and how they just want to win ballgames to get that ring. Certainly the Phillies have won games with Moyer on the mound, but really, how much longer can that last if the trends don’t change?

Maybe it’s time for Moyer to volunteer his services in the bullpen. Why not… he wants to win and it’s obvious the team has a better chance to get a second World Series title with five other guys in the starting rotation.

Right?

Big Unit in big club

image from fingerfood.typepad.com How about this? Randy Johnson is underrated. Yep, he has those 300 wins and 4,845 career strikeouts in a little less than 4,100 innings. Numbers like that tend to stand out. However, amongst all of the 300-game winners in the modern era, Johnson got to the milestone in the fewest games.

The odd part about that is Johnson is 45.

The so-called “Big Unit” got his first win at age 25, had just 68 wins by the time he turned 30, missed a large portion of the 1996, 2003 and 2007 seasons, won 20 games in a season just three times. Never appeared in more than 35 games in any season, and he still got to 300.

And he got there in fewer games than anyone else.

So the popular notion that Johnson could be the last 300-game winner for a long, long time just doesn’t make sense. No, there isn’t anyone on the horizon closing in unless one counts Jamie Moyer, who, generously, needs at least 10 more wins this season and 40 more in the next three years to have a shot. But 300 wins isn’t as farfetched as the baseball punditry would leave one to believe.

First of all, Johnson had 68 career wins by the time he turned 30. 68! That means he averaged nearly 16 wins over the last 15 years, which includes the parts three seasons lost to injury and the shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons because of the players strike.

But here’s where Johnson is underrated amongst his brethren in the 300-win club:

  • Second most career strikeouts behind Nolan Ryan.
  • Best strikeout rate per nine innings with 10.64.
  • Second in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.26).
  • Fourth-best winning percentage with .647.

Underrated? Yeah, no doubt. But the last guy to win 300 games? No, no doubt.

See, what the experts miss is that the 300-game winner is an anomaly and there is no way to gauge who can get there. First, longevity plays the biggest factor, but even that’s deceiving. From 1988 to 2007, Tom Glavine rarely missed a start. But Johnson missed plenty of starts and had several injuries. In fact, this doesn’t make Johnson all that different from many of the other 300-game winners.

Roger Clemens certainly had his share of injuries and ineffectiveness and Warren Spahn didn’t get his first win until he was 25. The same goes for Lefty Grove and Phil Niekro. Actually, Niekro – the oldest to win 300 – had just 31 wins by the time he turned 30.

Hell, Don Sutton had just one 20-win season and he got there.

If there is one common denominator in all 300-game winners it seems to be dedication, and fitness. Exercise and training techniques have come a long way in just the last five years with advances coming every year. Baseball, of course, is the slowest to embrace change when it comes to physiology, but new things are introduced every day.

In fact, Cole Hamels and Raul Ibanez of the Phillies use some of the training techniques common amongst marathon runners, which should lead to long term health and fitness.

Of course it doesn’t hurt to have good stuff either.

Still, every pitcher in that exclusive group is unique and each took a different path to 300. So to say Johnson is the last to get 300 is pretty silly.

***
Maybe even Cole Hamels can get there? With 42 wins at age 25, it’s not unreasonable to think the Phillies’ lefty could do it, especially when one considers how focused on career longevity he is. How about Johan Santana? At age 30 he has 116 wins and hasn’t had major injuries.

Hey, someone will do it… maybe Moyer will stick around long enough to get those 50 wins he needs.

The Magnificient Bastardo

image from fingerfood.typepad.com The other day we were told that Antonio Bastardo doesn’t speak very much English. In fact, in order for him to communicate with the scribes a translator would need to be found before the rookie lefty got on the bus for the trip to the airport.

At least that’s what we were told.

Now my grasp of Spanish is probably only as good as Bastardo’s English, I reasoned. As it related to baseball, I once caught Jose Mesa and Bobby Abreu making fun of me in Spanish in an elevator in Baltimore. When I laughed out loud at the jokey insults, Jose and Bobby clammed up quick.

Hey, McCaskey kids know all the Spanish curse words.

But imagine my surprise when I saw the kid speaking a language I knew reasonably well on my web site. You can hear it, too, when you go over to CSNPhilly.com along with one where Raul Ibanez translates for the winning pitcher.

Is there anything Raul can’t do?

Plus, the TV cameras showed the rookie talking about his first outing with Jamie Moyer in the dugout during the seventh inning after he had been lifted. Who knew Moyer’s Spanish was so good?

Nevertheless, it must have been an interesting conversation between the 46-year-old, 23-season veteran and the 23-year-old lefty after his first game.

Tangents aside, it was a very impressive debut for the 23-year-old prospect recently compared to Johan Santana – that is if Santana threw 95 and had no need for a changeup. Frankly, Bastardo didn’t need that changeup either – or any other pitch – thanks to the big lead the offense spotted him. It has to be easier facing a flu-ridden Jake Peavy in a big-league debut after a first-inning four-spot.

No sense jerking around with a big lead – just rear back and throw the gas. Even the rookie knew that.

Beaming after the victory in San Diego, manager Charlie Manuel (yep, the video is on the CSNPhilly.com) was impressed that the kid got by with just one pitch.

“He was on a rush and you couldn't slow him down if you had to,” the skipper said. “He did one thing real good and that was to be aggressive and he wasn't afraid to throw the ball. He has a good changeup and a breaking ball, but he was gripping the ball and trying to throw it, so there wasn't much action. But he did a super job, but he did it with one pitch.”

He’ll need more than the gas on Sunday when he pitches at Dodger Stadium, but in the meantime it’s a pretty gutty start.

As far as recent debuts for the Phillies’ prospects go, however, Bastardo fits in pretty well. Not quite as good as Brett Myers or Carlton Loewer, but pretty good nonetheless (links to box scores):

Antonio Bastardo at Padres on June 2, 2009: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for win

Kyle Kendrick vs. White Sox on June 13, 2007: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K for a ND

Scott Mathieson vs. Devil Rays on June 17, 2006: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 5 K for Loss

Cole Hamels vs. Reds on May 12, 2006: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 7 K for ND

Gavin Floyd vs. Mets on Sept. 3, 2004: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K for Win

Brett Myers at Cubs on July 24, 2002: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for Win

Brandon Duckworth vs. Padres on Aug., 7, 2001: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 4 K for Win

David Coggin at Expos on June 23, 2000: 6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 4 K for Win

Randy Wolf vs. Blue Jays on June 11, 1999: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K for Win

Carlton Loewer vs. Cubs on June 14, 1998: 9 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K for Win

Meanwhile, prospect Kyle Drabek pitches in Reading tonight in the former first-round picks’ first outing above Single-A. Perhaps a dubious weather forecast for Thursday pushed up the outing by a day?

Study in contrasts

moyer_250

Wanna know what’s fun? How about watching baseball games on TV and then not writing about them afterwards?

Oh, the converse is fun, too. But it isn’t too often that folks that hang around the ballpark all summer long get a chance to sit in front of the tube and watch a game without rushing around in attempt to find good ideas and interesting angles.

But for those of us who don’t wake up early and keep baseball hours, yeah, watching a game from the coast with nothing to do is a good time.

Nevertheless, I’m still marveling over the fact that soft-tossing lefty Jamie Moyer needs just one more win to equal the total of the great Bob Gibson with 251.

Could there be two pitchers that were more different than Moyer and Gibson?

Think about it… Moyer gets by with guile and guts. He throws a changeup off his changeup and probably couldn’t crack glass with his fastball. He signs autographs before games, counsels teammates and foes and has set up the Moyer Foundation which was just one of the reasons why he was given the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.

bobgibsonGibson was a study in sheer power and brute force. He threw fastballs to set up fastballs. He’d also prefer to drill a hitter in the ribs than to throw four balls to give up first base. Moreover, he disliked opponents and probably his teammates, too. When a young Dusty Baker joined the Braves, veteran Hank Aaron told him:

“Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson, he’ll knock you down. He’d knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him. Don’t stare at him, don’t smile at him, don’t talk to him. He doesn’t like it. If you happen to hit a home run, don’t run too slow, don’t run too fast. If you happen to want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first. And if he hits you, don’t charge the mound, because he’s a Gold Glove boxer.”

No one will ever accuse Moyer of being a tough guy and if he were to “drill” a hitter with a pitch, it would likely just be brushed off like a mosquito bite. But there they are together in the 250-win club.

How many more will Moyer get? Who knows, but based on the numbers he probably will win 8-to-10 more games this season and 12-to-14 in 2010. That puts him around 270 wins and means he probably would need three more seasons to get the magical 300.

If Moyer pitched to get 300 wins under this time frame, it would take him past his 50th birthday.

Could he do it? Sure, why not. He’ll likely have to deal with hacks like me pointing out his rough patches, but whatever… he’s been there, done that.

Study in contrasts

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Wanna know what’s fun? How about watching baseball games on TV and then not writing about them afterwards?

Oh, the converse is fun, too. But it isn’t too often that folks that hang around the ballpark all summer long get a chance to sit in front of the tube and watch a game without rushing around in attempt to find good ideas and interesting angles.

But for those of us who don’t wake up early and keep baseball hours, yeah, watching a game from the coast with nothing to do is a good time.

Nevertheless, I’m still marveling over the fact that soft-tossing lefty Jamie Moyer needs just one more win to equal the total of the great Bob Gibson with 251.

Could there be two pitchers that were more different than Moyer and Gibson?

Think about it… Moyer gets by with guile and guts. He throws a changeup off his changeup and probably couldn’t crack glass with his fastball. He signs autographs before games, counsels teammates and foes and has set up the Moyer Foundation which was just one of the reasons why he was given the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Gibson was a study in sheer power and brute force. He threw fastballs to set up fastballs. He’d also prefer to drill a hitter in the ribs than to throw four balls to give up first base. Moreover, he disliked opponents and probably his teammates, too. When a young Dusty Baker joined the Braves, veteran Hank Aaron told him:

“Don't dig in against Bob Gibson, he'll knock you down. He'd knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him. Don't stare at him, don't smile at him, don't talk to him. He doesn't like it. If you happen to hit a home run, don't run too slow, don't run too fast. If you happen to want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first. And if he hits you, don't charge the mound, because he's a Gold Glove boxer.”

No one will ever accuse Moyer of being a tough guy and if he were to “drill” a hitter with a pitch, it would likely just be brushed off like a mosquito bite. But there they are together in the 250-win club.

How many more will Moyer get? Who knows, but based on the numbers he probably will win 8-to-10 more games this season and 12-to-14 in 2010. That puts him around 270 wins and means he probably would need three more seasons to get the magical 300.

If Moyer pitched to get 300 wins under this time frame, it would take him past his 50th birthday.

Could he do it? Sure, why not. He'll likely have to deal with hacks like me pointing out his rough patches, but whatever… he's been there, done that.

Pedro Martinez anyone?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Jamie Moyer turned in a quality start on Wednesday night, which is no small feat.  After all, heading into that game nearly every other batter reached base against the 46-year old lefty this month. Moreover, that one ugly inning reared its head again for Joe Blanton on Thursday afternoon.

Just when it looked as if the big right-hander had turned the proverbial corner, up came a couple of bloop hits and a three-run homer to bite Joe in the rear. Just like that and a five-spot was stuck on the board.

Cole Hamels? Yeah, he looks like he’s back to form. And Brett Myers? Sometimes what you see is what you get.

So it goes that if the Phillies are going to parade down Broad Street for a second straight year, they are going to have to get the pitching together. After all, that’s how they did it last year. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Every team wants pitching and because the quality stuff is spread so thin, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have to get creative if he wants to bolster up the worst rotation in the Majors.

How creative? We’re not sure. But how is this for an idea…

Pedro Martinez.

Yeah, that’s right… why not take a flyer on Pedro Martinez?

Look, we know all about it. Pedro is 37, he gets hurt a lot and his best days are clearly in the past. Last season for the Mets, Pedro went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts – clearly the worst season of his big league career and the third season in a row where he missed a significant portion of the season because of injuries.

After going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 2005, Martinez went 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA in 48 starts in three combined seasons. When his contract ended after the Mets choked away another September, they just let him walk away – and so did everyone else for that matter.

But really, Pedro’s worst season ever is still significantly better than what Moyer, Blanton and Chan Ho Park have done this year and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the 46-year-old lefty a two-year deal. It would take significantly less – like a prorated deal for the rest of the season – to bring Martinez on board.

Better yet, if he doesn’t pitch well the Phillies can always say, “Adios.” No harm, no foul.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com That might not be the Phillies style though. Apparently going after someone like Martinez might be thinking waaaaaaaay out of the box. Or was it? Last spring the Phillies took a chance on veteran Kris Benson and when it was clear he couldn’t pitch, they cut him loose. Since then Benson signed on with Texas where he has appeared in four games and has a 7.80 ERA…

That’s the same ballpark as Moyer and Blanton.

Plus, when ex-GM Pat Gillick knew he wouldn’t be able to sign Randy Wolf, he panicked and gave a three-year deal to Adam Eaton.

Remember how well that turned out? Yeah, well it still wasn’t as bad as Moyer, Blanton and Park have been this season.

Yes, the plan is for the Phillies’ staff to pitch better and based on past performance that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Still, what if those guys don’t turn it around? What then? It just seems silly not to take a shot on someone like Pedro Martinez when bigger projects like Eaton, Park and Benson were signed up with seemingly not a second thought.

Vote for Pedro? Shoot, how bad could it be?

*
Note: We’re going to be away from the ballpark for a couple of days while my wife recovers from an appendectomy and pneumonia. As soon as the ol’ girl gets her mojo back, we’ll be back at the ballpark.

Until then… hospital food!

Adam Eaton graphic from The Baltimore Sun

End of the line?

moyerJamie Moyer pitches for the Phillies tonight, which is kind of a big deal. Sure, he’s going for career win No. 250, but more than that, he really, really, really needs to pitch well.

You know, for a change.

Moyer hasn’t been very good this season. The 8.15 ERA and opponents’ .344 batting average against him is part of it, but most telling are the last three starts the 46-year-old lefty has turned in during May. In those three starts Moyer has given up 22 hits, 19 runs, six homers and seven walks in just 12 1/3 innings.

Yet Moyer isn’t in jeopardy of being moved out of the Phillies’ rotation. That already happened yesterday when Chan Ho Park was shifted to the bullpen and lefty J.A. Happ slid into the vacant spot, and Park hasn’t been nearly as bad as Moyer.

Then again, Moyer has had rough patches before. In fact, there was a four-start jag in 2005 (April 30-to-May 18) where he gave up 23 runs and nine walks in 13 2/3 innings. The lefty rebounded from that rough patch to finish the season at 13-7 with 200 innings

But Moyer wasn’t 46 then and he hadn’t just finished pitching deep into October for the first time ever. He also hadn’t just signed a two-year deal in which he held out for more money.

Yes, Moyer is getting $13 million in base salary with incentives that could take the worth of the deal to $20 million. He also will get $250,000 each for 150, 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings pitched. In 2010 the base salary can reach $4.5 million and he will receive $250,000 each for 150 innings and 23 starts, and $500,000 each for 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings, and 25, 27, 29 and 31 starts.

Moreover, Moyer has a no-trade clause in which he can block deals to six teams, but no more than four in a specific league.

There’s no such clause for what happens if Moyer gets moved out of the rotation or pitches poorly.

Still, not a bad deal for a 46-year-old lefty with a fastball that can’t break glass and a three-game stretch in which opponents are hitting .400 off him with an on-base percentage near .500.

Moyer’s age was “a concern” as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted when announcing the signing, but he said the team wanted to show a “commitment” to the veteran pitcher.

Make that a veteran pitcher with no versatility, a two-year deal and a no-trade clause.

Of course all this goes away if Moyer pitches well again…

Or retires.

End of the line?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Jamie Moyer pitches for the Phillies tonight, which is kind of a big deal. Sure, he’s going for career win No. 250, but more than that, he really, really, really needs to pitch well.

You know, for a change.

Moyer hasn’t been very good this season. The 8.15 ERA and opponents’ .344 batting average against him is part of it, but most telling are the last three starts the 46-year-old lefty has turned in during May. In those three starts Moyer has given up 22 hits, 19 runs, six homers and seven walks in just 12 1/3 innings.

Yet Moyer isn’t in jeopardy of being moved out of the Phillies’ rotation. That already happened yesterday when Chan Ho Park was shifted to the bullpen and lefty J.A. Happ slid into the vacant spot, and Park hasn’t been nearly as bad as Moyer.

Then again, Moyer has had rough patches before. In fact, there was a four-start jag in 2005 (April 30-to-May 18) where he gave up 23 runs and nine walks in 13 2/3 innings. The lefty rebounded from that rough patch to finish the season at 13-7 with 200 innings

But Moyer wasn’t 46 then and he hadn’t just finished pitching deep into October for the first time ever. He also hadn’t just signed a two-year deal in which he held out for more money.

Yes, Moyer is getting $13 million in base salary with incentives that could take the worth of the deal to $20 million. He also will get $250,000 each for 150, 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings pitched. In 2010 the base salary can reach $4.5 million and he will receive $250,000 each for 150 innings and 23 starts, and $500,000 each for 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings, and 25, 27, 29 and 31 starts.

Moreover, Moyer has a no-trade clause in which he can block deals to six teams, but no more than four in a specific league.

There’s no such clause for what happens if Moyer gets moved out of the rotation or pitches poorly.

Still, not a bad deal for a 46-year-old lefty with a fastball that can’t break glass and a three-game stretch in which opponents are hitting .400 off him with an on-base percentage near .500.

Moyer’s age was “a concern” as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted when announcing the signing, but he said the team wanted to show a “commitment” to the veteran pitcher.

Make that a veteran pitcher with no versatility, a two-year deal and a no-trade clause.

Of course all this goes away if Moyer pitches well again…

Or retires.

Say what?

PhilliesNationals16The cool thing about baseball is that something new happens all the time. It’s even better with players like Jamie Moyer around because he has been pitching in the big leagues since before I started high school. He spans eras. Dynasties even.

Listen to Moyer talk about baseball and you are bound to get some type of insight. After all, guys like him don’t stick around the game for a quarter of a century by accident. He’s clearly doing something right.

But here’s something else you will noticed about Moyer: when he loses he gets a little crusty. Or, as ballplayers like to say, “he gets the ass.” That’s short for “red ass,” which we in the normal world might call a rant, tantrum or general-type anger.

Moyer definitely has the ass after last night’s loss to the Braves. In five innings he gave up four runs and eight hits, including a pair of homers. Both of those homers came on Moyer’s first pitch of an inning. More precise, Kelly Johnson ripped Moyer’s very first pitch of the season deep into the right-field seats.

As far as auspicious beginnings go, this was the auspiciousist.

After the game, in the silence and stillness of the Phillies’ post-game clubhouse, is where the education began. When Moyer was finally dressed, showered and ready to chat about the game nearly 30 minutes after the last pitch, he dropped a nugget out there a lot of us had never heard before.

To wit:

“At times I had pretty decent command,” he said. “The first pitch of the game, he put a charge into it. He squared it up. The ball that Chipper hit was a pretty good pitch as well. It might have been a little bit up in the zone. A lot of times you get that professional courtesy, but it’s not assumed. They’ve got a bat in their hands, they’re supposed to swing.

“Two pitches, two solo home runs. That’s going to happen in this ballpark. We’re down 4-0, we’re still in the game. That’s the way I see it. I’ve only played here 2-plus years but four runs is nothing. You try to not give up any runs. But if you’re down by four, down by three, especially in today’s game in pretty much any ballpark, you’re still in the game.”

Wait… professional courtesy? Really? Does it go something like: “Hey Kelly, I know you were in diapers when I broke into the game, but we have this thing called a ‘professional courtesy.’ I’m going to throw a meatball right down the middle and you have to watch it go by. OK? Here it comes…”

Maybe Moyer just had the ass, but he knows as well as anyone that as soon as you leave Florida, it’s game on.

Professional courtesy?

*

Speaking of professionals, Pat Burrell, Geoff Jenkins, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton all turned up for the ring ceremony on Wednesday morning.

Needless to say, Eaton was booed loudly.

Say what?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com The cool thing about baseball is that something new happens all the time. It's even better with players like Jamie Moyer around because he has been pitching in the big leagues since before I started high school. He spans eras. Dynasties even.

Listen to Moyer talk about baseball and you are bound to get some type of insight. After all, guys like him don't stick around the game for a quarter of a century by accident. He's clearly doing something right.

But here's something else you will noticed about Moyer: when he loses he gets a little crusty. Or, as ballplayers like to say, "he gets the ass." That's short for "red ass," which we in the normal world might call a rant, tantrum or general-type anger.

Moyer definitely has the ass after last night's loss to the Braves. In five innings he gave up four runs and eight hits, including a pair of homers. Both of those homers came on Moyer's first pitch of an inning. More precise, Kelly Johnson ripped Moyer's very first pitch of the season deep into the right-field seats.

As far as auspicious beginnings go, this was the auspiciousist.

After the game, in the silence and stillness of the Phillies' post-game clubhouse, is where the education began. When Moyer was finally dressed, showered and ready to chat about the game nearly 30 minutes after the last pitch, he dropped a nugget out there a lot of us had never heard before.

To wit:

"At times I had pretty decent command," he said. "The first pitch of the game, he put a charge into it. He squared it up. The ball that Chipper hit was a pretty good pitch as well. It might have been a little bit up in the zone. A lot of times you get that professional courtesy, but it's not assumed. They've got a bat in their hands, they're supposed to swing.

"Two pitches, two solo home runs. That's going to happen in this ballpark. We're down 4-0, we're still in the game. That's the way I see it. I've only played here 2-plus years but four runs is nothing. You try to not give up any runs. But if you're down by four, down by three, especially in today's game in pretty much any ballpark, you're still in the game."

Wait… professional courtesy? Really? Does it go something like: "Hey Kelly, I know you were in diapers when I broke into the game, but we have this thing called a 'professional courtesy.' I'm going to throw a meatball right down the middle and you have to watch it go by. OK? Here it comes…"

Maybe Moyer just had the ass, but he knows as well as anyone that as soon as you leave Florida, it's game on.

Professional courtesy?

*
Speaking of professionals, Pat Burrell, Geoff Jenkins, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton all turned up for the ring ceremony on Wednesday morning.

Needless to say, Eaton was booed loudly.

All rock all the time…

image from fingerfood.typepad.com It's definitely going to be a crazy week around these parts. Not only do we have Villanova heading to the Final Four and all the pomp that goes with that, but also the Phillies return to Philadelphia this week for a pair of exhibition games against Tampa on Friday and Saturday before kicking off the season for real on Sunday night against Atlanta.

Who knows, the most anticipated Phillies season ever could be sandwiched between 'Nova's national semifinal game and a National Championship on Monday night.

Hey, crazier things have happened.

Anyway, we'll have a bunch of 'Nova and Phillies stories all week leading to the big weekend. Until then, here's a short list of the things I won't write about this baseball season.

Before I start, I know how lame the list is. After all, don't you hate those radio ads in which a station defines itself by what it doesn't play? Then they cue them up and play programmed and contrived crap. I heard one the other day where the station's big calling card was, "We aren't iTunes, we are your tunes."

What? This is what they announce before they launch into Don Henley.

No, take them… they're definitely your tunes.

So from here on out I'm drawing a line and painting myself into a tidy little corner. These are the stories I'm going to work as hard as possible not to write this baseball season:

1.) Jamie Moyer's age

Yes, we all know that Jamie Moyer is old. In fact, he's 46 and there have been just a select few ballplayers that had careers to that age. It's remarkable, sure, but not necessarily such an anomaly anymore.

The fact of the matter is that 46 isn't as old as it used to be. Better yet, a ballplayer only gets old if he allows himself to be that way or injuries add up. Ask Don Wildman about how limiting his age is. Or Dara Torres. Or Chris Chelios. Or Jamie Moyer.

Better yet, don't.

"Some players get injured and others just lose the desire," Moyer told me last August. "Then some, for one reason or other, are told to quit because they reach a certain age or time spent in the game. Some just accept it without asking why."

Along the same vein, Moyer's age won't be used as a crutch, either. He's 46. So what? He's as fit as any player in the league and he hasn't lost a thing off his fastball (tee-hee), so if he's walking out there he's no different than anyone else.

He's 46? Big deal.

2.) J.C. Romero's suspension

Oh yes, this is an important issue. It's especially important since the Phillies won't have their workhorse reliever for nearly a third of the season. But stories knocking it down as no big deal or some type of insignificant or unfortunate occurrence don't get it. The truth is MLB did not want Romero to pitch in the playoffs, but they allowed him to do so anyway.

Why? And why not?

3.) Lefty lineup

Chase Utley to Ryan Howard to Raul Ibanez… deal with it. Certainly the opposing managers will have to figure out a way to deal with it. Last year Utley his .277 with 13 homers against lefties, while Howard hit 14 homers (just .224 though) and Ibanez batted .305 with seven homers vs. lefties.

Oh sure, in the late innings the Phillies will face a ton of situational lefties, but any time a manager goes away from his regular habits to rely on a pitcher generally used to facing just one hitter just might level the odds a bit.

For that middle of the order trio, even odds are pretty good.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 4.) Charlie Manuel's managerial acumen

These are the facts: Charlie knows more about baseball than you. Actually he's forgotten more about baseball than you have ever known. To top it off, he's funnier than you and tells far better stories.

Plus, the way he handled that great comeback against the Mets last August in which he used to pitchers to pinch hit, had Carlos Ruiz play third base and put Chris Coste into the game in the eighth inning and watched him get four hits. The guy is always looking at the big picture and sometimes, just for fun, he'll play a hunch.

What he doesn't do is try to over think or out-fox the game like Tony La Russa or some other new age type. He'd rather beat you Earl Weaver style – sit back and wait for a big home run – but if he has to get some base runners moving with some steals or hit-and-runs, that works, too.

Meanwhile, he likes to put his pitchers into firm roles. Yeah, sometimes that can get him in trouble, but the good part is that everyone on the roster understands their role. Big league ballplayers love that.

And if that doesn't work, Charlie will pull out the old, "Just hold 'em, guys… I'll think of something."

It's worked so far.

5.) Raul Ibanez vs. Pat Burrell

Stat heads aren't going to like this one, but Ibanez's superior batting average and lower strikeout rate will matter. It mattered in Seattle and it will matter at cozy Citizens Bank Park, too.

The reason is as simple as the triple-digit RBI totals over the last three years – Ibanez hits the ball a little more. With Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Utley and Howard hitting in front of him, the 20 fewer times Ibanez strikes out as opposed to Burrell could be significant. Figure there are 26 weeks to a season with the potential for one more run a week produced from one spot of the lineup could add up.

Right?

There you go. Now I'm going to go put the iPod on shuffle… yep, my tunes.

Whatever the hell that means.

That’s no coach… it’s Jamie Moyer!

moyerCLEARWATER, Fla. – Back here at Bright House to watch the workouts and a minor-league game featuring Brad Lidge and Chad Durbin (and surely a handful of others on the 25-man roster). The formal version of the Phillies are off in Kissimmee to face the Astros.

Perhaps the most significance regarding the game against the Astros is that Carlos Carrasco will pitch, who is competing to make the team in the No. 5 starting pitching spot. However, all indications suggest that the one-time four-man race has whittled itself down to just Chan Ho Park and J.A. Happ.

Kyle Kendrick appears to have pitched himself out of contention.

Nevertheless, one guy who really doesn’t have to worry about pitching himself in or out of anywhere is veteran lefty Jamie Moyer. In fact, this is the time of year the 45-year-old pitcher can take his time, relax and slowly work himself into game shape for the season.

Of course such silly ideas like relaxation and taking it easy are foreign concepts to Moyer. You might as well speak to him in Mandarin Chinese if you suggest, “Hey, old-timer, take it easy…”

When you have a 70-mph fastball like Moyer, there is no taking it easy.

moyer1Nevertheless, upon walking out of the parking lot to the training complex this morning, one was greeted with the sight of a few dozen minor-league pitchers – including first-round picks Kyle Drabek and Joe Savery – circled around a pitchers’ mound for a demonstration and lecture from Moyer. Never at a loss for words or insight on pitching (or anything else), Moyer left the kids rapt in attention as he used words like, “focus,” “easy,” and “respect.”

Still, the odd thing was that Moyer was twice the age of some of his potential teammates and as old as some of the coaches and yet there he was working out alongside of them and giving his time on a Saturday morning when all he could have done was put his feet up and relax after an easy workout.

But there’s no such thing as easy with Moyer.

*

Ryan Howard, Pedro Feliz and Chase Utley went through some infield and hitting practice this morning while the pitchers who stayed in Clearwater stretched and did their non-game day work. Interestingly, during one drill a game of duck-duck-goose broke out amongst the pitchers.

Yep, loose and easy here in Clearwater.

Better with age

WASHINGTON – The opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing are less than a week to away. That means for one more week we will read the standard patter of the potential of doping scandals as well as the political situation and pollution in China, and, of course, the crackdown on foreign journalists’ usage of the Internet.

But once the torch is lit and athletes (at least those that actually choose to go to China for the ceremonies) stroll into the stadium for the parade of nations, the focus will shift from the realities of modern-day China and its problems to the feel-good athlete profiles that have defined NBC’s coverage of the Olympics.

In the years since Jim McKay and ABC’s stately and iconic presiding over the games, NBC, with Bob Costas at the helm, has turned fierce athletic competition into a Hallmark card come to life. Sometimes they will even show a sporting event in real time without interruption, but only in the wee hours when the viewing audience is its smallest or when they can squeeze it in between that day’s saccharine sweet profile in which a pampered jock overcomes something to champion the human spirit.

Or something like that

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how NBC piles on to the Dara Torres story, which has already been told deftly by the national writing press, especially The New York Times. In fact, Torres was clearly the media darling during last month’s swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, where she set an American record and qualified for two different U.S. teams in Beijing.

The finer points of Torres’ story have already been told, such as the 41-year-old swimmer first competed in the Olympics at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. She won nine medals in the ’84, 1988, 1992 and 2000 Olympics before deciding to retire after a haul of five medals in Sydney.

But at an age well advanced in comparison to her teammates and competitors, Torres heads into next week’s Olympics in the best shape of her career. Yes, her elaborate and detailed training regimen was documented in The Times story as was her outspokenness and innovative stance against performance-enhancing drugs. Despite the fact that Torres was one of the first athletes to volunteer (yes volunteer!) for the toughest urine and blood doping tests, it didn’t stop skepticism from the idiot fringe of the mainstream sporting press.

“I went to USADA and talked to the CEO there and said, ‘Hey, people are talking about me. They can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m an open book. DNA test me, blood test me, urine test me, do whatever you want. I want to show people I’m clean,'” Torres said on a recent episode of the “Today” show.

Yes, what sportswriters actually know about training, doping and athletics could fill a thimble…

“I just take it as a compliment,” Torres said of the baseless and reckless doping charges.

So with her life already an open book, Torres and fellow swimmer Michael Phelps could be the Wheaties box jocks of 2008 – that is if the Wheaties box still meant something. Bruce Jenner is long gone, folks.

Phelps, of course, could eclipse the Olympic greatness of Mark Spitz during the Beijing games. At 23, the Baltimore native won eight medals in Athens at the 2004 Olympics and will go for nine in China. But Phelps’ talent and achievement is so far out there that it might be impossible for him to capture the imagination of typical American sports’ fans addicted to the mundane routines of stick and ball games.

Torres, on the other hand, is interesting because of her age. Better yet she is a relic from the good-old days of the Olympics back when the U.S.A. was fighting to fight the Cold War in sports with the aim to beat the medal totals of the U.S.S.R. At the same time, Torres has been the catalyst behind a battery of tests, research and analysis regarding age and elite-level athletics.

Based on the returns noted in The Times (amongst others), age really is not a factor in determining ability in sports. Torres, of course, is a prime example. At just a smidge under six-feet tall, Torres competed in the Sydney Olympics at 160 pounds. But at 41 she’s headed for Beijing at a lean and mean 149 pounds of chiseled muscle thanks to workouts that stress flexibility, strength and recovery.

A high level of fitness and an insatiable competitiveness appears to be the key to athletic longevity.

“In some ways, I’m like all the other swimmers (going to the Olympics) because I still feel the passion for what I do,” Torres said. “In some ways I’m like none of them, because I’ve lived their lives twice.”

Torres is just one example. In Beijing French cyclist Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli will compete in her seventh straight Olympics – just two months shy of her 50th birthday.  Kenyan distance runner Paul Tergat recently turned 39 and has a resume that rivals the greatest runners of all time. In 2003 he set the world record in the marathon when he was 35 and ran his fastest 10k on the roads when he was 37.

Hockey player Chris Chelios, at 46, has shown no signs of slowing down (or retiring) after 25 years and three Stanley Cups in the NHL to go with four appearances in the Olympics for the U.S.

Chelios’ secret? He’s part of Don Wildman’s “Malibu Mob,” a consortium of athletes and celebrities/fitness freaks who workout together with the aim of pushing each other well beyond their limits.

Closer to home there is Jamie Moyer, the 45-year-old lefty starting pitcher for the Phillies who won his 10th game of the season last Wednesday night in Washington. In doing so, Moyer joined Phil Niekro, Jack Quinn and the immortal Satchel Paige as the only pitchers in baseball history to win at least 10 games at the age of 45.

“I didn’t play against any of them,” Moyer deadpanned after the game before changing the subject and explaining that he is just “here to do my job.”

“You start getting caught up in things like that and you might start losing some focus on things you need to do,” Moyer said about contemplating his place in baseball history. “I think there’s plenty of time for me to look back at the end of the season or at the end of my career and say, ‘You know what? That was cool,’ or ‘I remember that,’ or ‘I remember that game.’ But for me, having the opportunity to have the longevity that I have is the most special thing for me. To continue my career and to play and to contribute with a team, I think that is first and foremost. If you are around long enough, those things are going to start to happen.”

Better yet, Moyer leads the Phillies’ pitchers with his 10 wins and heads into another free-agent winter with the desire to keep playing. Generally, Moyer gives the pat, “as long as I’m still having fun and I’m contributing, I’ll keep playing,” when asked about his retirement plans, but based on a conversation last Tuesday regarding Torres, age and competitiveness, the fire still burns hot for the Phillies’ lefty.

“Look, I feel great and I’m pitching well and I love playing so I have no plans to stop,” he said. “But I could come in here tomorrow and the desire could be completely gone.”

Clearly that’s not the case. Moyer prepares and competes at 45 no differently than he did when he was a green rookie coming up with the Cubs in 1986. However, if there is something behind Moyer’s motivation to continue to pitch (and to pitch well) it seems to be the slights he took from baseball people back when he was struggling in the early 1990s. No, Moyer didn’t cite it as a motivating cause, but then again he didn’t have to.

“Fourteen years ago I was told to retire,” Moyer said with a smirk.

Moyer was unfamiliar with Torres’s story when asked, but quickly became interested in the finer details. Particularly, Moyer agreed with Torres’ idea that consistent workouts, a solid fitness foundation and smart recovery were the key to athletic longevity. Then he pondered the reasons why some players give up the game long before they could.

“Some players get injured and others just lose the desire,” he said. “Then some, for one reason or other, are told to quit because they reach a certain age or time spent in the game. Some just accept it without asking why.”

Moyer, to paraphrase a famous quote, asks “why not?” He expects to turn in his customary 200-innings and double-digits win total somewhere during the 2009 season. Certainly his age will play a factor in whether the Phillies move to re-sign him this winter, but equally important – if not more important – is the fact that Moyer has not missed a start for injury since 2000, has been on the disabled list just once dating back to 1997 and just three times during his professional career, which began in 1984.

Better yet, young pitchers Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick go to Moyer as a Jedi would seek out Yoda.

Besides, Yoda had a pretty good record, too.

Moyer in midseason form

Jamie MoyerFrom the looks of things from the press box here at Bright House Networks Field, it appears as if Jamie Moyer is in 2001/2003, mid-season form. His command was of his patented “gnats’ butt from 100 yards” variety and his velocity… well, it was right where it always is.

Better yet, Moyer dropped in a stellar hook on a 1-2 pitch to catch the Reds’ Edwin Encarnacion looking to leadoff the second.

All told, Moyer allowed just one looping single with three whiffs in three innings in Wednesday afternoon’s Grapefruit League opener against the Reds. Additionally, he threw 31 pitches — 22 for strikes — as well as six first-pitch strikes to the 10 hitters he faced.

After watching his 22nd season debut the first thought is this:

Slow down old-timer… save some of that for September.

But then again, there’s an adage amongst old marathoners that states, “if you have it, there’s no sense in saving it.”
***

Anyway, here’s a story from today on Moyer and the Grapefruit League opener against the Reds in Clearwater. Here’s another on the team’s top prospect, Carlos Carrasco, who was robbed with his entire family in their home in Venezuela by two armed, unmasked men.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Ryan Howard… get a blog. Or better yet, just invite the writing media over to the locker to chat instead of those pesky TV folks with their makeup and those white, hot lights and cameras. Besides, talking to actual humans instead of inanimate objects like cameras and TV reporters is much more revealing anyway. Sure, the fans might like tuning in from so far away to watch a guy talk with those lights and the microphones bearing down, but come on… no one really enjoys it.

At least that’s the way it was for Ryan Howard in Clearwater today. Rather than do the whole big ballyhoo and faux production of a made-for-TV inquiry about his contract and whether or not animosity has festered like a bad blister because the Phillies only want to pay him $7 million for 2008 instead of $10 million just chatted up a few scribes and some inanimate objects in the clubhouse.

It made for a more contemplative, more intimate, more revealing and perhaps even a more trenchant conversation. That’s the key word there – conversation. Look, when dealing with athletes, pro writers are dealing with a short deck mostly because they don’t know a damn thing about exercise or fitness or training or anything. But that’s beside the point. When the glare and scrutiny beats on a guy, it gets hard to explain things, so everyone loses.

Or something like that. Who knows. I’m just making this all up as I go along and I’m sure that five minutes from now I’ll have no idea what I wrote. But don’t let that stop anyone from acknowledging that sooner or later Ryan Howard will have to answer questions about his contract. What, do you think the writing press is a bunch of shrinking violets? Hey, they might not know the ins and outs of exercise or physiology, but that’s not going to stop them from using clichés oh so cavalierly.

You know, whatever.

***
Here’s a question: is it worse that someone made a typographical error in typing up a document filed yesterday in the Barry Bonds perjury case that erroneously stated the player tested positive for steroids in November of 2001, or is it worse that so many media outlets blindly jumped on the story without checking it out first.

Look, people trust the wire services and the big names in the media business without giving it much thought. But even the tiniest bit of research over the false Bonds report should have had folks scratching their heads a bit with wonderment over why the star-crossed slugger would have taken a drugs test in 2001.

Plus, knowing that there are no more secrets anywhere and that the truth always rears its troll-like face, the notion of a failed drugs test by Bonds in November of 2001 should have had the fact-checkers scrambling.

Alas…

Nevertheless, the underlying problem was evident: Media types are too worried about being first instead of being right.

***
Pedro Finally, my favorite story of the day comes out of the Mets’ camp in Port Saint Lucie where Pedro Martinez rightfully claimed that he stared down the so-called Steroid Era and plunked it on its ass.

According to Pedro, “I dominated that era and I did it clean.

“I have a small frame and when I hurt all I could do was take a couple of Aleve or Advil, a cup of coffee and a little mango and an egg – and let it go!”

It sounds like Pedro (and Cole Hamels) are wannabe marathon runners who wake up every morning with everything hurting, shuffle stiff-legged downstairs for some coffee, a vitamin, maybe a Clif Bar or even an ibuprofen with the thought of visiting the chiro for some Active Release Technique therapy before heading out the door for the first of two brutal workouts.

Drugs tests? Where the cup…

“I wish that they would check every day,” Pedro said. “That’s how bad I want the game to be clean. I would rather go home (than) taint the game.”

Here’s a theory: the pitching during the so-called “Steroid Era” wasn’t so bad. Oh sure, certain media types — blabbermouths on certain radio stations in particular — are quick to point out how today’s pitchers can’t throw strikes, won’t work deep into games and how some of them shouldn’t be in the big leagues. Expansion, they say, has watered down the game.

Maybe so. But try this out: in facing hitters with baseballs that are wound tighter and who are using harder bats made of harder wood against a tinier strike zone in ball parks that are smaller still, pitchers have to add guile to the repertoire. And we didn’t even get into the performance-enhancing drugs part yet. Nonetheless, pitchers just can’t lean back and huck it up there as fast as they can — pitchers have had to pitch in the post-modern era of baseball.

***
Jamie MoyerSpeaking of doing it the right way for a long time, Sully Salisbury turned in a great story on the meritorious Jamie Moyer, who is heading into his 22nd big league season.

A few minutes in the presence of Moyer makes it easy to believe that you never, ever have to get old. You never have to burn out, get tired, act old, compromise, get mediocre or slow down. Moyer turned 45 last November and be sure that there are players on the Phillies who are “older” than he is – they’ve stopped being engaged, they know what they know and they don’t want to be exposed to anything new. They are already completely formed and they might only be 23 years old.

Not Moyer, though. In a conversation last October, the pitcher says one of the best parts about playing for so long has been the exposure to new people and ideas.

“A lot of times, I just focus on the simplicity of things, and not be the focus of what should be going on here, and just keep things simple. I call it the K.I.S.S. factor — keep it simple, stupid,” he said last October. “I look back on instances in my career like that — good and bad – but things that I’ve learned from, and try to re-educate myself and rethink things, and reinforce what I already know. A lot of times, we can overlook things and forget, and after the fact, after the mistake is made, you’re like, ‘Oh, I knew that. Why did I do that?’ You can’t catch everything. But if you can catch some of it, hopefully, it’ll work out. What’s been fun is being around this group of guys and the energy they bring.”

As Moyer told Sailisbury yesterday:

“I’m not as proud of the age thing as I am of the ups and downs I’ve overcome to create some longevity,” Moyer said after yesterday’s workout. “I’ve enjoyed that part. I can smile and say I’m doing what I want to do.”

Old man and the scribes

Jamie MoyerA little late starting today because I had to take care of some Phillies’ related business, etc. … I’m sure you’re all really interested in how busy I am. You know, because no one else is ever busy at all…

Sheesh!

Anyway, I (and a bunch of others) had a nice little chat with Game 3 starter Jamie Moyer before today’s game where the ol’, wily lefty waxed on about everything under the sun as it related to baseball. At one point Moyer mentioned that after yesterday’s game he asked Cole Hamels if he had learned anything from his first post-season start. Hamels told Moyer that he had.

Moyer said he told Hamels that learning and having fun was the best part about baseball, and as long as a player does just that, everything will be OK.

So I asked Moyer what he’s learned this year, 22-years into his Major League career, and what kind of “new fun” he’s having.

“Sometimes you just got to shut up and not say anything,” Moyer laughed.

That’s funny because if you know Jamie Moyer and had a conversation with him, it will last all day. The guy loves to talk, which is great because he has interesting things to say.

Just think if he was Brett Myers… wait, was that my out loud voice again?

Anyway, I will be writing about Moyer today. Look for the story after the game.

Wha’ happened?

The most prolific run-scoring juggernaut in the National League posts six runs in the first two innings of a game against the team with the worst record in the league and the second-worst record in all of baseball and then they go on to lose?

Wha’ happened?

Seriously, what gives? I saw the early reports from Pittsburgh and reasoned that the Phillies were on the way to a rout against the Pirates, a team that flat-out stinks. That’s pretty evident based on a quick glimpse at the standings.

So four runs in the first and two more in the second for an 11-6 loss? It sounds like it was a rough night for Jamie Moyer, which, again, appears that way based on the box score. Eight runs and nine hits in four innings aren’t getting it done.

Nice deduction, Sherlock.

Nevertheless, the Phillies remain tied with the Padres for the lead in the wild-card race. Certainly that’s a good thing, but completely meaningless at this point of the season when there are still 40 games to go. Better yet, Charlie Manuel knows that being tied for the lead in the wild-card race means nothing, as well.

“The times I’ve been in Philly, the times we get close and we win a game or something, and all of a sudden they’ll say, ‘Oh you got to win now. Boy, if they don’t win, they underachieved, and blah, blah, blah,’” Manuel said.

“We’ve just got to keep on winning. Whether it’s 85, 86, 88, 90, 92 (wins), somebody’s going to win and we’ve got to make sure it’s us.”

Not that anyone asked, but it will probably take 90 wins for the Phillies to get in. Ninety wins is 25-15 for the final 40 games of the season. Beating Pittsburgh is a pretty good place to start.

***
Here’s one: according to a story by Alan Schwarz in The New York Times, Major League umpires are biased.

The study was conducted by a handful of professors from different universities where they discovered small, yet significant instances of bias by the umpires. However, in games monitored by QuesTec – the computerized camera system that the league uses in ballparks to scrutinize umpire performance – the bias was non-existent.

***
After a half-dozen years of it sitting on my teeming shelves, I finally picked up Evan Thomas’ biography of Robert Kennedy. I’m only a few days into it, but so far it’s better than Arthur Schlessinger’s RFK biography published in 1978.

Yeah, that’s about all I have for today.

The numbers telling the story

I did my best to avoid watching the Phillies game last night for a couple of reasons. One was that I wanted to go to bed before midnight and if I got caught up in watching the baseball game chances are I would have ended up staying up all night. If there is one thing to be said about these Phillies it is that they are not sleep inducing.

Another reason why I chose only random glances at the ballgame from Dodger Stadium last night before heading off to bed was the fact that the “Godfather II” was on. No offense to the Phillies, their players, management and fans, but a large Italian-American family from New York has had more of an impact on American culture than the remaining baseball club from Philadelphia.

That’s just one man’s opinion, but I’m sticking with it. This type of thinking goes right along with my opinion that Jim Brown was right to retire from the Cleveland Browns so that he could make “The Dirty Dozen.” I’ve seen football games and I’ll venture to guess that I’ll see more of them before I through with my days on this spinning rock, but for my money “The Dirty Dozen” is better than the best football games.

Call me crazy.

But speaking of crazy, it didn’t take Bill James to crunch the numbers and put them all in a neat row on a spreadsheet to figure out what went wrong with the Phillies in the 10-3 loss to the Dodgers last night. Better yet, the antithesis of Bill James probably has a better grasp on what went wrong last night than the so-called master himself.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it was the pitching. More in depth than that it was the pitching of veteran left-hander Jamie Moyer whose final line was a full sampling of the numbers from two through 10.

Take a gander:

5 1/3 IP
10 runs
10 earned runs
10 hits
2 strikeouts
4 walks
2 home runs

Yep, all of that on just 90 pitches, including a five-pitch fourth inning.

Normally Moyer’s outing would simply be chalked up to being “one of those nights,” except for the fact that “one of those nights” has been the norm and not the exception. Though Moyer, 44, has allowed 10 runs in just three starts of his 21-year Major League career, he has a 10.06 ERA with 27 hits, eight strikeouts, seven walks and four homers.

What makes Moyer’s poor showing most troublesome is that the Phillies have no one else to pick up the slack behind the veteran lefty. In the reports from Dodger Stadium Moyer came up with the bases loaded and two outs with a five-run deficit and manager Charlie Manuel couldn’t pinch-hit for him.

Said Manuel: “I thought about hitting for him there, but then I looked up and thought, ‘Where do we go with our bullpen?’ He had about 60 pitches at that point. I definitely was thinking about it, but we talked it out. I didn’t see where I could pinch-hit for him there.”

In other words, the manager still doesn’t trust the bullpen he’s been given. Frankly, who can blame him? But with Moyer struggling, Adam Eaton still searching for mediocrity, J.D. Durbin and his double-digit ERA holding down a spot in the rotation, with rookie Kyle Kendrick and the quietly struggling Cole Hamels filling out the rotation, Manuel’s troubles my go far beyond the bullpen.

***
This is about as deep as it gets for the numbers for me, because, frankly, baseball is about people not statistics…

In every game the Phillies have played since the All-Star Break the winning team has scored at least 10 runs. The Phillies have scored 28, while the opposition has 27.

***
The numbers are starting to come into clearer focus at the Tour de France following the tough Stage 9 that featured three tough climbs, including the daunting Col du Galibier. For one, Michael Rasmussen remained in the Yellow Jersey, while Tour rookie, Mauricio Soler of Colombia, won the toughest stage of this year’s race.

More telling is that it seems as if there are just a handful of riders remaining with a shot to win the race even though there are still 11 stages remaining, including two time trials, four flat stages and three days climbing in the Pyrenees.

It’s still anyone’s race. It just isn’t Alexandre Vinokourov’s race anymore.

Vinokourov, the pre-race favorite, battled to finish 20th in Stage 9 and dropped to 21st overall, more than eight minutes behind Rasmussen. After Tuesday’s stage Vinokourov (still wrapped and stitched up after the early-race wreck) tearfully recounted how he could not respond to the attacks up Telegraphe or Galibier.

But American Levi Leipheimer, in a post-race interview by CSN’s sister station Versus, said the race was still wide open and that even though he wasn’t sure where Vinokourov was in Tuesday’s climbs, knows that no one should sleep on the hard-noses Kazakh.

“Whether he’s really affected by the crash for the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t say for sure,” Leipheimer said. “But I wouldn’t make the mistake of forgetting about him.”

Stage 9 Final
1.) Juan Mauricio Soler, Barloworld, Colombia in 4:14:24
2.) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at :38
3.) Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, same time
4.) Alberto Contador, Discovery Channel, Spain, @ :40
5.) Iban Mayo, Saunier Duval, Spain, @ :42
6.) Michael Rasmussen, Rabobank, Denmark, same time
7.) Levi Leipheimer, Discovery Channel, USA, s.t.
8.) Kim Kirchen, T-Mobile, Luxembourg, @ :46
9.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, same time
10.) Carlos Sastre, CSC, Spain, s.t.
11.) Christophe Moreau, AG2R, France, @ :54
12.) Mikel Astarloza, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, same time
13.) Yaroslav Popovych, Discovery Channel, Ukraine, @1:33
14.) Juan José Cobo, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 1:36
15.) José Ivan Gutierrez, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 1:49
16.) Oscar Pereiro, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 3:24
17.) Chris Horner, Predictor-Lotto, USA, same time
18.) Andrey Kashechkin, Astana, Kazakhstan, s.t.
19.) Patrice Halgand, Credit Agricole, France s.t.
20.) Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana, Kazakhstan

Overall
1.) Michael Rasmussen, Rabobank, Denmark, in 43:52:48
2.) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 2:35
3.) Iban Mayo, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 2:39
4.) Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, at 2:41
5.) Alberto Contador, Discovery Channel, Spain, at 3:08
6.) Christophe Moreau, AG2R, France, at 3:18
7.) Carlos Sastre, Team CSC, Spain, at 3:39
8.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, at 3:50
9.) Levi Leipheimer, Discovery Channel, USA, at 3:53
10.) Kim Kirchen, T-Mobile, Luxembourg, at 5:06

There was an interesting story in today’s The New York Times about a pre-dawn raid by anti-doping inspectors on race leader Michael Rasmussen’s room. The crazy part about this wasn’t that the testing raid (I guess they really needed that blood and urine?) came just five hours before the toughest stage of the Tour de France, but that the raid was sanctioned by the UCI.

The UCI, of course, is the International Cycling Union, or the union that is supposed to represent the riders. But the UCI is hardly the MLBPA. Actually, it seems as if the UCI is more interested in selling out the bike riders it is supposed to represent.

Could anyone imagine the MLBPA staging drug-testing raids on players before a World Series game? How about the NFLPA doing the same thing the morning of the Super Bowl? What is most interesting about the testing of Rasmussen is that as the man with the Yellow Jersey, he is subject to drug tests following every stage.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the UCI won’t be happy until it destroys its sport.

Punching a dead horse in the mouth

Based on what’s shaking baseball-wise in the local papers, it seems as if the piling on Pat Burrell has begun in earnest. It’s either that, or there really isn’t any new news coming out of the Phillies’ clubhouse these days aside from Jon Lieber potentially heading for season-ending surgery.

The big news is still a couple days away when the New York Mets come to town for four games in three days.

It really is hard to believe that even though the Phillies’ pitching staff has been decimated and the bullpen sometimes works with smoke and mirrors, the team very well could alone in first place by the end of the weekend.

How does that happen?

Not to punch a dead horse in the mouth as Larry Bowa used to say, but the truly amazing part is that the Phillies are challenging for the lead in the NL East even though the team has just one right-handed hitting threat in Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell could be the worst player in the National League right now.

Anyway, here’s my little rip job on the much-maligned left fielder.

Certainly anything can happen between now and the end of the season, or even until the end of Burrell’s deal following the 2008 season, but as it stands now it’s fair to say that Burrell is nothing more than wasted talent.

He is wasted talent that isn’t in the lineup again tonight for the third game in a row.

***
Tonight’s starting pitcher Jamie Moyer is one of just seven 40-something pitchers taking the mound, which is the first time that has ever happened in baseball history. Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Kenny Rogers, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Woody Williams are the other 40-year old hurlers working tonight.

More impressively, Moyer was named the softest-throwing pitcher in the Majors in an anonymous poll conducted by Sports Illustrated.

The other soft-tossers? Try Maddux, Glavine, Rogers, etc.

Not bad company.

***
Speaking of Sports Illustrated, expect writer Austin Murphy to make a little bit of news with his latest story in which Lance Armstrong is, once again, implicated in doping news.

Here’s the thing about cycling that I don’t think many people understand… USADA, WADA, UCI and the brass of the Tour de France are just as corrupt and power hungry as any other group of bureaucrats or politicians.

Do you think there is a reason why the commissioners and union presidents of MLB, the NBA and the NFL don’t want those groups anywhere near their sports? Sure, the leagues all have their problems with performance-enhancing drugs, but to call in corrupt, money and power-hungry egomaniacs from the alphabet-soup groups of regulators isn’t going to help.

Still, it’s pretty explosive stuff from Austin Murphy and it will be interesting to see how Lance Armstrong snuffs out another fire. Plus, we never knew SI was in the business of hyping agenda-driven, insinuation-laden tawdry books that read like bad talk radio… good for them for branching out, I guess.

Excuse me while I go take a shower.

Where to turn?

If one really wanted to know what Charlie Manuel thinks about the arsenal of arms he has in his bullpen, look no further than the seventh inning of last night’s game in Phoenix during the 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks. Rather than pinch hit with Ryan Howard, Wes Helms or Jayson Werth for starting pitcher Adam Eaton with runners on first and third with two outs, Manuel decided to roll the dice on Eaton.

It didn’t work.

Eaton grounded out to end the inning before going out to the mound for the bottom of the seventh where he gave up a two-out titanic homer to pinch hitter Tony Clark.

That’s your ballgame right there.

After the game Manuel said he went with Eaton to hit in that spot because if he would have sent Howard up the D’backs would have intentionally walked him to load the bases… as if that’s a bad thing. Frankly, it’s a 50-50 shot if the D’backs would have walked Howard simply because it doesn’t appear as if he can put any weight on his back leg when he swings. Right now, Howard is an easy out. Besides, if Howard gets walked, Aaron Rowand comes up and he’s hitting .407 with the bases loaded.

I doubt Charlie knew that – or cared. Simply, Manuel would rather have Eaton out there in the seventh than turn to his Posh Spice-thin bullpen. With the way Manuel is using his ‘pen, it’s clear he has some faith in Geoff Geary and no one else before the game is turned over to Brett Myers.

Ideally, Manuel needs a couple of complete games and a few days of rain.

Hamels and Moyer and pray for rain…

There has to be something snappier we can come up with – what type of dramatic weather event rhymes with Moyer?

***
Speaking of Jamie Moyer, the ol’ lefty matches up against 43-year old Randy Johnson for today’s series finale. I’ll spare you all of the old pitcher comparisons, except for this one – Moyer and Johnson have faced Bob Dernier in a combined 21 plate appearances. “White Lightning” has five hits, a stolen base and two strikeouts against today’s starters.

***
Unfortunately for my six readers, I’m going to miss this weekend’s series against the Cubs because my wife, son and I are going to Rehoboth Beach for an extended weekend. With a new addition coming in August, the annual summertime trip to Estes Park, Colo. is out for 2007, so our old vacation haunt gets the another off-season call.

Nevertheless, we’ll continue to post here when the opportunity arises, especially after tomorrow night’s walk through the F&M campus to Clipper Stadium to see the local sandlot team, the Lancaster Barnstormers play the Long Island Ducks.

This is Atlantic League Baseball, which, stunningly, is much worse than I had anticipated. In fact, watching more than two innings of the Barnstormers “play” is so frustratingly agonizing that watching someone have a suit tailored is much more interesting. Regardless, the quality of the baseball is clearly not the point at a Lancaster Barnstormers game – in a city with a dearth of excitement, the night out while attempting to corral a three-year old is the main pursuit.

Baseball-wise, Lancaster’s second baseman is Bo Hart, who may be remembered as Fernando Vina’s replacement for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. Long Island has former All-Star Danny Graves in the bullpen; former Cardinals and Yankees pitcher Donovan Osborne, as well as outfielder Carl Everett, former Mets standout Edgardo Alfonzo, and an infielder in his 19th season of pro ball named Pete Rose Jr.

Yeah, how about that?

Anyway, the game starts at 7 p.m. and I should be back home no later than 8:30 or until Jurassic Carl knocks one onto Harrisburg Pike… whichever comes first.

Still bringing the heat

If Jamie Moyer never throws another pitch for the Phillies, it’s fair to say that he’s already earned his salary. Aside from the team going 10-3 in all of his starts since joining the team late last year, Moyer has also been a visible mentor for up-and-coming star Cole Hamels as well as the rest of the pitching staff.

But aside from his duties as the de facto pitching coach, Moyer also has a little Knute Rockne beneath that elder statesman veneer. Maybe Knute Rockne with some Redd Foxx mixed in…

According to a fascinating report from Beef Salisbury in today’s Inquirer, Moyer was the most forceful and influential voices in a nearly 80-minute team meeting prior to a game on April 21 in Cincinnati. Though several players, manager Charlie Manuel, former managers turned coaches Jimy Williams and Davey Lopes took turns addressing the team, it was Moyer who spoke with the most weight and poignancy.

“We’re playing like a bunch of (wimps),” Moyer told his teammates.

Only he didn’t use the word “wimps.” And his teammates loved it.

“He’s awesome,” Chase Utley said in the story.

“Moyer was good,” Manuel said in the story. “He was very stern.”

Afterwards, Salisbury talked to Moyer about the meeting and his role in it:

“I just wanted to give the team my feelings,” he said. “I’ve always believed if you have things on your chest, you need to get them off. I tried to bring up points that I thought were valid and important to get across to my teammates.

“I’m at the point in my career where I want to win. That’s it. I [re-signed] here because I thought this team had a really good chance of winning, because I liked what I saw late last season.”

Moyer did offer a hint about his overall message.

“I’ve been around a long time, and I know that over the course of 162 games, there are times you may lose focus,” he said. “You can’t get caught up in personal things like ‘I’m not hitting,’ or ‘I’ve allowed five home runs.'”

Moyer shrugged.

“I wasn’t trying to offend anyone,” he said. “If someone had a problem with it, they could have confronted me, but no one has.”

And they say the old man can’t bring the heat…

Read the entire report: Moyer’s words were a spark when the Phillies were reeling

Ol’ Man Moyer keeps getting outs

One of the true pleasures of watching baseball is pitchers like Jamie Moyer. With a fastball that could barely scuff a pane glass window and a repertoire that includes a changeup that he throws off his change and a decent curve, Moyer gets by more on smarts and guile than his arsenal of pitches.

Besides, who doesn’t like a guy that when watching at home one thinks, “Man, I bet I could hit those pitches… ”

Well, no. No you can’t.

What’s interesting is reading quotes from players like Aaron Boone, who, for the life of him, just can’t figure out Moyer. Yeah, he knows what’s coming and he knows when it’s coming, yet he still can’t hit it.

“It seems like you should be killing him,” Boone, of the Marlins told Todd Zolecki after yesterday’s loss to the Phillies at the Bank. “I haven’t been able to figure it out yet. He’s great at what he does.”

He added: “He’s different from everybody, even guys I’m used to facing in the AL Central like [Mark] Buehrle and Kenny Rogers. Moyer, I’ve faced him a fair amount now and haven’t had much success. Today was actually the best I thought he’s pitched. However many pitches I saw against him, I didn’t feel like he made a mistake.”

It seems as if that’s the key – Moyer just doesn’t make many mistakes. It’s more than trying to time an 81 m.p.h. fastball, too. After all, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux are two other pitchers that don’t throw too fast, either, and both of those 40-something pitchers are heading to the Hall of Fame when (and if) they retire.

For Moyer to last as long as he has in the big leagues is telling enough. After all, he started pitching in the Majors when Ronald Reagan was still president. But just hanging around isn’t much of an accomplishment for Moyer. No, Moyer, as John Updike wrote about Charlie Manuel’s hero, Ted Williams is “the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

It might not be anything as pomp as that, but having had the chance to talk to Moyer following his unspectacular but solid start against the Washington Nationals earlier last week, Moyer explained why he was disappointed about his starts despite the above-average stats.

“I’ve been struggling for three starts,” he said. “I’m not really concerned about my numbers, but I’m searching for consistency and I don’t feel as if I’ve been consistent. I haven’t found the consistency that I’m looking for. But, to be able to keep us in the game, I’m happy for that. I don’t feel as though I’m as sharp as I want to be, but I’m still able to keep it within reach.”

When I threw some of his numbers at him to argue a point about his production, Moyer said that the stats don’t really matter.

“You’re looking at numbers and I’m looking at what I’m trying to accomplish and create and it’s not there,” Moyer said.

To me, that’s a very striking statement. It doesn’t look like much sitting there in black and white on the page, but it really is quite telling. In a sense it was Moyer saying don’t let the statistics fool you because they really aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

He’s definitely correct about that, and if you can excuse some self-indulgence I’ll try to explain the genius of Jamie Moyer.

Last November I ran a marathon in Harrisburg, Pa. where I was in shape to run in 2:36 to 2:45. At least that’s what all of the indications were based on workouts, races, age and other scientific formulas. But when the day of the race came the weather was less than conducive for those types of times. It rained steadily the entire day, there were puddles and standing water dotting the course and the wind whipped off the Susquehanna River directly into our faces for at least 14 miles of the race.

In the end, I finished in 2:54, which is respectable, but disappointing. However, over the last 5 to 6 miles of the race I ran as strong and tough as I ever had. Over that span I went from 12th to 6th place and felt strong in the knowledge that if the race was just a half-mile longer I could have jumped up a few spots in the final standings.

The point is that despite those closing miles where toughness and the hard work paid off, I still felt compelled to explain away my “poor” time. Jamie Moyer, in discussing his pitching – his art – understands the triteness of the statistics. Successful pitching in the big leagues is about so much more that even the most self-absorbed distance runner would ever understand.

In other words, I’m an idiot.

Still, Moyer’s statistics from yesterday’s gem against the Florida Marlins do tell the story about his outing. Two hits and two walks over 7 1/3 innings, including taking a no-hitter to the second out of the seventh inning – that’s hard to downplay.

Regardless, Moyer was upset about falling behind in the count early. Because he fell behind, 3-1, to Miguel Cabrera, he couldn’t escape the inning with the no-hitter intact.

“I was a little upset with myself for going from 2-1 to 3-1,” he said. “If I could have gone to 2-2, I think that at-bat, I’m not going to say the outcome would have been different, but my pitch selection would have been different.

“It’s a pitch I wanted to make. He popped up that same pitch in the first inning. I know he’s an out-over-the-plate hitter, and I’ve gotten him out over the plate. But I’m thinking that he’s looking over the plate here, and I wanted to see if I could get him to pop it up or even take it.”

Moyer pitches again on Friday night in San Francisco. Watching him go up against lefty Barry Bonds should be pretty interesting.

***
The Phillies play the first of three games in Atlanta tonight, which forced me to dig this up from last season:

Ten years already!?
Watching a game from Turner Field makes me think about the summer of ’96 when Atlanta was the home for the Olympics and the Braves’ field was configured quite differently. These days, it’s a typical nouveau ballpark that have popped up in nearly every American city, only Turner Field, nee Olympic Stadium, plays slightly in favor of the pitchers.

Since the Braves bread-and-butter has always been their pitching prowess, it makes sense that the stadium developers would skew things that way. It also gets very hot and humid during the summertime in Atlanta, which often causes the baseball the sail a little farther. They didn’t nickname the Braves old stadium the Launching Pad because it was kitschy.

Anyway, I always have to remind myself that some of the most memorable sporting events that I have ever seen occurred in that stadium during that summer 10 years ago. I’ll never forget Muhammad Ali, dressed in white, dramatically appear out of nowhere to light the Olympic torch. Now I’m not one who gets all choked up or overly-sentimental at sporting events – that’s just not how I am, because it’s just a game – but imaging Ali atop that ramp that hot summer night still gives me chills.

Along with baseball, track, specifically the distance events, is my favorite sport to watch. Most people would call these two sports among the most dull to watch, but I can’t really think of anything more interesting. Needless to say, the track events at the Olympics are about as exciting as sports spectating gets.

Call me crazy.

Anyway, the track events on that famously hard track that ringed Turner Field produced some events that running geeks still talk about. Like, for instance, when American Bob Kennedy brazenly surged to the lead at the top of the curve of the last lap in the 5,000-meter finals. It was a move that was so daring and unexpected that I shrieked (not smart since the race wasn’t aired until nearly midnight and woke up the entire house) and thought of what a bad-ass Kennedy was even though he faded to sixth place.

That was how Prefontaine must have done it, I thought.

Along that outfield warning track is also where Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia beat Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10,000-meter dream race where Geb solidified his legend with an Olympic record. The two will meet up again in the London Marathon next weekend in possibly the greatest collection of marathoners ever, but more on that at a later date.

But the image that really sticks in my mind is Michael Johnson coming off the curve in the 200-meter finals so fast that either his gold shoes were going to burst into flames or he was going to soar into the humid sky. How can anyone forget the shock on Johnson’s face when he turned around to see the clock and saw that he had just moved faster than any human being on two feet?

If it were up to me, I’d have plaques placed on the spot where all of those memorable events occurred.

Linkage: Ten years already!?

Deep thoughts…

Here’s an idea that will probably make a few people hold their heads as if they have a really bad migraine – you know, the kind where it pounds at the temples and feels as if someone or thing is shooting a low frequency wave through the skull that emits a shrill buzz in the inner ear – and question my sanity for such “unconventional” thinking.

I’m throwing it out there any way…

Maybe the Phillies should keep all of their starting pitchers. Yeah, that’s right, all Six. Before anyone goes crazy, here’s what I’d do – Cole Hamels, Freddy Garcia and Brett Myers would pitch every five days just like they customarily would in the square-boxed thinking that guides such things. Meanwhile, I’d try to figure out how to work it so that Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber started at least one game a week and if there were too long of a lull between outings, I’m sure there would be some relief work available, too.

What?

Exactly. My guess is that Moyer, Eaton and Lieber would be perfect compliments to the top three starters and would be much more effective if they were used like a dash of seasoning instead of as a main course. Better yet, if the trio made one start per week over a 26-week season then they would be that much fresher when the stretch run approached. Besides, it seems to me that good baseball teams treat the season like a chess match or a golf game where the importance of a move or shot is to put one in position to have an even better move or shot the next time.

Hey, I’m not kidding myself by believing that any manager or team would go for something like this, but what the hell? It certainly isn’t convention thinking, but ideas have to come from somewhere. Right?

***
Meanwhile, it looks as if Tom Gordon’s achy shoulder is aching again.

Last season, as everyone remembers, Gordon broke down a bit and went on the disabled list in August despite a first half in which he earned a trip to the All-Star Game. At 39, the Phillies are concerned about over working their starter as evidenced by the fact that he’s appeared in just two Grapefruit League games and by the fact that they sent him back to Philadelphia for a checkup with team doctor Michael Ciccotti.

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions (how could they?), the team says the trip is simply for a routine checkup and it’s something that occurred last year at this time, too. But before anyone can say Mike Jackson, perhaps the Phillies ought to get another arm for the ‘pen to go along with Ryan Madson and Antonio Alfonseca.

Until that happens, be sure that Charlie Manuel sticks to his guns and allows Gordon just one inning per outing no back-to-back work early in the season.

Et tu, Wolfie?

It wouldn’t be outlandish to believe that Randy Wolf’s future in Philadelphia disappeared as soon as the ink dried on soon-to-be 44-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer’s two-year, $10.5 million (plus incentives) contract signed on Monday afternoon. After all, with Moyer signed on until he’s Julio Franco’s age and 23-year old Cole Hamels a cog in the rotation for the next 15 years, why would the Phillies need another lefty like Wolf in the rotation?

Besides, the Phillies play their home games in a ballpark notorious for being especially friendly to right-handed hitters (lefties, too), so going after the NL East title with 60 percent of the rotation made up of southpaws might not be the best plan of attack.

Or would it?

Sometimes, though, things aren’t as easy as they appear. Even with lefties Moyer and Hamels set for a rotation with righties Brett Myers and Jon Lieber, it seems as if general manager Pat Gillick isn’t ready to let Wolf walk away just yet.

“We’d like to bring Wolfie back,” said Gillick, noting that the Phillies have been in contact with Wolf’s representatives. “We think his arm is fine and we think he’s going to get better. Jamie and I had a conversation in Seattle about three left-handers in the rotation, and we liked the thought of that. We’re hopeful that Randy will come back. We’d like to have the same five guys that we had last year. I look at it as a better rotation than we started ’06 with. We think bringing Randy back will be a nice way to round out the rotation and start 2007. Hopefully, something will work out.”

Wolf, of course, is eligible to test free agency this winter after completing a four-year, $22 million deal. He also made a return from Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his left elbow in late July and made 12 starts in 2006. Though he was 4-0, Wolf, 30, tossed just 56 2/3 innings for a 5.56 ERA, while allowing hitters to hit .285 against him. Despite that, Gillick believes Wolf was making strides in his return from the injury and was beginning to re-establish his velocity as evidenced in his nearly seven strikeouts per nine innings.

Besides, pitchers returning from Wolf’s injury usually regain their pre-surgery form – and then some – in the second year following surgery. By that rationale, Wolf, and maybe even the Phillies, should expect big things in 2007.

Wolf has stated that he would like to return to Philadelphia for a bunch of reasons. One being that the Phillies drafted him, signed him and gave him the big contract before the 2003 season. More importantly, Wolf wants to be “playing baseball in October,” which might not be such a stretch after back-to-back near misses in 2005 and 2005.

Meanwhile, Moyer will solidify the back end of a rotation that was a problem for the Phillies in 2006. Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson, Scott Mathieson, Eude Brito, Aaron Fultz and Adam Bernero were thrust into starting roles to varying degrees of mediocrity last season.

Needless to say, if the Phillies are able to add Wolf to the mix with the inning-eater Moyer, the team will have very few surprises in ’07.

What some find surprising is that Moyer, who will turn 44 on Nov. 18, drew a two-year deal from the Phillies. Yes, the Phillies held a $4.75 million option for Moyer the upcoming season, but the St. Joseph’s University alum and Sellersville, Pa. native now calls Seattle home. Gillick believed that Moyer would have been able to find a one-year deal closer to home and had to sweeten the pot a bit in order to keep the 20-year veteran in Philadelphia.

“I certainly felt that if Jamie got out on the marketplace, there was certainly a club out there that was going to give him one year, and there was a possibility that they would give him two years,” Gillick said. “He was important to us not only on the field, but the intangibles in the clubhouse. We wanted him back. I felt that we’d have to step up with more than one year. We think we worked out a situation that is a win-win for both sides. We’re really elated that Jamie re-signed with the Phillies for two years.”

Moyer was something of a de facto pitching coach for the Phillies when he joined the club after the trade with the Mariners, tutoring Wolf and Hamels as well as other teammates on the finer points of the game he picked up over the past two decades.

But more than that, the Phillies prospects for getting to the playoffs for the first time since 1993 enticed Moyer. So did the Phillies’ special considerations to Moyer’s family situation where the pitcher can leave the team to go to Seattle to be with his wife and six children when the team’s schedule permitted.

But unlike the deal Roger Clemens had with the Astros in which he only really had to show up for games he was slated to pitch, Moyer won’t do it that way.

“The last six weeks of the season were tough on us as a family,” Moyer said. “I can’t thank the Phillies enough for being understanding, and I’m sure my teammates will understand. I’m not here to take advantage of that situation. I won’t be missing road trips. I won’t be picking and choosing what trips I go on. Personally, I can’t do that.”

Most importantly, Moyer believes he isn’t just durable, but he can still pitch, too. At least that’s the way it seemed when he joined the Phillies for the stretch run in August. In eight starts after the trade Moyer worked into the seventh inning in seven of his eight outings on his way to piling up his sixth straight 200-plus innings season and eighth in his last nine years. His 211 1/3 innings in 2006 were the fifth-most by a pitcher at least 43 years old in baseball history.

“I’m trying to be honest with myself,” Moyer said. “At some point in time, it’s going to be the end, but right now I haven’t seen any signs. I still enjoy playing, and I still have the passion to play. I still feel like I can contribute, and as long as I have opportunities to do that, why not? Playing allows me to feel like a kid.”

Why not, indeed.