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.