I can imagine a secret society of Jack Quinn fans, holed up in an Elks Lodge somewhere ready to pop bottles of champagne with each Jamie Moyer loss or no-decision. You know, sort of like members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins when an undefeated NFL team finally loses late in the season.
Quinn, of course, was the oldest pitcher to win a major league game, 49 years old and change when he pitched five scoreless innings of relief for the Brooklyn Dodgers on Sept. 13, 1932, to pick up the victory in a 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Those imaginary bottles can be permanently put to rest now. Moyer pitched seven brilliant innings on Tuesday night at Coors Field -- well, as brilliant as a Moyer outing can be -- allowing only two unearned runs as the Colorado Rockies won 5-3. It was career win No. 268 for Moyer, tying him with Jim Palmer and more victories than Bob Feller or Carl Hubbell or Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal. And at 49 years and 150 days, he surpassed Quinn in the record books.
Things got dicey when Troy Tulowitzki booted a routine double-play ball in the seventh inning, leading to the two unearned runs and making the score 3-2. After the Rockies scored two more runs, things got dicey again in the ninth when Rafael Betancourt allowed a run and had the go-ahead run at the plate. But he fanned Yonder Alonso on a 3-2 changeup. The cameras panned to Karen Moyer, Jamie's wife, hugging two of the couple's eight kids and raising her first in excitement.
Jamie? Nowhere to be found. Hopefully he was hiding out in the clubhouse having a little sip of champagne.
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Moyer's first win came in his first major league start on June 16, 1986. Pitching for the Cubs, he allowed five runs but defeated Steve Carlton, who was making his next-to-last appearance in a Phillies uniform. Fred Mitchell's lede the next day in the Chicago Tribune: "The most comforting thought for Cub fans after rookie Jamie Moyer's first major-league win Monday is that the best is yet to come."
Moyer was a 23-year-old who had moved quickly through the Cubs' farm system after being drafted in 1984. "Maybe when I sit down and really just think about it, think back to what happened today, beating Steve Carlton will just add to this day," he said.
Even back then, Moyer wasn't exactly a flamethrower. "This kid knows how to change speeds, and today he was just behind hitters and he was in trouble. But he was lucky enough to get through it," Cubs pitching coach Billy Connors said. "He usually has great command of his pitches and can get everything over. He was behind every hitter today, and that's not Jamie Moyer."
Sound familiar? And then Connors delivered the money quote, one reason why 26 years later, Moyer is still hanging around. "But he can compete in the major leagues because he is the kind of kid who doesn't panic. He's a tough kid, and he kept his composure."
But the best didn't come right away. The Cubs eventually traded him to the Rangers, who would release him after the 1990 season. He signed with the Cardinals. On May 21, 1991, he got knocked out in the third inning as Barry Bonds hit two home runs off him, the second one a long three-run blast to right field that Bonds "watched longingly," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Rick Hummel. It was the last batter Moyer faced in the game -- and in the majors that season. He was 0-5 with a 5.71 ERA. "'He gets so pumped up, he loses control of himself," Cardinals manager Joe Torre said after the game.
What happened to the composed rookie, the kid who knew how to pitch? Torre complained about a high changeup to Jose Lind. A couple days later the Cardinals sent him down to Triple-A. At that point, Moyer was 34-54 in his career with a 4.56 ERA. He was 28 years old, didn't throw hard and was pitching for Louisville. Career crisis? Moyer barely had one. The Cardinals didn't bother calling him up in September. The Cubs cut him in spring training in 1992. He was asked to become a pitching coach. He declined and signed with the Tigers in May, but spent the entire season in the minors even though Detroit had the second-worst pitching staff in the American League. The Tigers let him go after the season. He was now 30 years old and threw 85 mph. Career crisis? His career was over.
Oh yes, a story of perseverance. A story of a guy who obviously loves the game. But somebody had to give him one last chance. The Orioles gave it to him after he went 6-0 with a 1.67 ERA at Rochester. Maybe it was general manager Roland Hemond who liked Moyer. Maybe it was an assistant to Hemond named Gordon Goldsberry, who had been the Cubs' scouting director when the club drafted Moyer. Maybe it was assistant GM Doug Melvin who made the recommendation. Moyer replaced a young left-hander named Arthur Rhodes on the roster. He lost his first start but pitched well, although Orioles manager Johnny Oates hardly seemed impressed. "He threw the ball OK," he told the Washington Post. "That's what you're going to get from Jamie."
Four starts later he won his first major league game since 1990. "This has been a tough road for me the last couple years -- battling back, people saying I'm too old, everything negative. I've tried hard to remain positive. ... Now I know I can pitch at this level," Moyer said.
That was 19 years ago. He's been winning ever since. Since turning 30 he's won 234 games, with a winning percentage better than .600. He doesn't throw 85 mph anymore.
As I watched the game, I realized I've probably seen Moyer pitch in person or on TV more than any other pitcher, considering the 11 seasons he spent with the Mariners.
I've never ceased to be amazed at his ability to confound and confuse big league hitters. What can you say about one of the most unique players in history, other than: I hope to see him for at least another decade or so.
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