Phillies ageless lefthander Moyer entering Hall of Fame conversation

Posted: July 15, 2010

WHEN JAMIE MOYER was traded to the Phillies late in 2006, the prevailing thought was that Philadelphia would be the last stop of a very good career. He was 43 at the time and had 211 career wins. Not too shabby for a sixth-round pick out of Saint Joseph's, but certainly not Hall of Fame material.

But now, here we are almost 4 years later and every time Moyer takes another step up the list of all-time wins, the question intensifies: Is Cooperstown now on his itinerary?

Hall of Fame voting is done by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The Daily News reached out to some voters via e-mail on the subject of Moyer's potential candidacy.

"Before the last couple of seasons, I would have said that Jamie Moyer isn't a Hall of Fame pitcher," said Mel Antonen, of USA Today. "I still don't think he is, but I think he's improved his standing, and I think that if he ever does retire, voters will have to take a longer look at him, simply because of the last couple of seasons."

Moyer, 47, is at 267 wins, one behind Orioles great Jim Palmer. He passed Bob Gibson last year and Bob Feller this season. All of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame.

Moyer is 9-8 in 2010 and on pace to register the most wins he's had in a season since winning 21 as a spry 40-year-old with the Mariners in 2003. He'll be on the mound at Wrigley Field tonight when the Phillies resume their season against the Cubs.

In his three-plus seasons with the Phillies, Moyer is 56-39. He is in the final year of a 2-year extension signed after he helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series.

"It's all about opportunity and the desire to play," said Moyer, whose career ERA of 4.23 would be the highest for a HOF pitcher. "If I didn't have the desire to play, I wouldn't be playing. People say, 'How do you do it?' I still have that burning desire today like I did 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago. Maybe I have [the desire] more now. I don't want to say I'm defying the odds, but the way I look at it, people my age just choose not to play."

Since turning 40 before the 2003 season, Moyer is 103-78 (a .569 winning percentage). Phil Niekro is the only pitcher in history with more wins after turning 40. Niekro, a Hall of Fame inductee in 1997, was 121-103 - a .540 percentage. Niekro, though, won 318 games in his career.

"There's always something to be said about players who are really good for a really long time," ESPN.com's Jayson Stark said. "But looking at this realistically, I think Jamie is going to have to get to 300 wins, or get very close, to make the Hall of Fame."

Moyer has been to the All-Star Game just once and his highest finish in Cy Young voting was fourth in 2001.

"Now, if he gets to 300 wins and is still winning as he closes in on 50 [years old], he carves out such a unique place in baseball history for himself that he may cause voters to think about him differently," Stark said. "But by traditional Hall of Fame standards, it would be hard to make a case for him at the moment.

"It's not an insult to any player to say he wasn't quite a Hall of Famer. So if we're even having this debate, it tells us this guy has had an amazing career. I'm just not ready to say it was a Hall of Fame career."

Who's Bobby Mathews?

Moyer's biggest obstacle to the Hall of Fame might be three contemporary pitchers who also had stellar careers, but none good enough for enshrinement.

Tommy John, before he became synonymous with drastic elbow surgery, won 288 games from 1963 to '89. Bert Blyleven (287 wins) last pitched in 1992 and came up five votes shy of induction this year. Jim Kaat (283 wins from 1959 to '83) also has his supporters. Kaat pitched for the Phillies from 1976 to '79.

"Until Jim Kaat [who has 16 more wins than Moyer] gets in, I can't champion Moyer's candidacy," said Rick Hummel, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "If Kaat were in, I would feel differently."

The most career wins for an eligible non-Hall of Famer belongs to Bobby Mathews, who was 297-248 from 1871 to '87. He was doomed, no doubt, by that 1876 campaign when he went 21-34 and gave up a league-worst eight home runs in 516 innings. He was probably worn out from the year before when he pitched 625 2/3 innings.

Moyer isn't pitching for Cooperstown, however. On the day after his most recent start, where he fell apart in the sixth inning of a 7-5 loss to the Braves on July 7, he was back on the sweltering field at Citizens Bank Park doing pregame stretches with pitchers half his age.

"I don't really think about [the Hall of Fame] a great deal," he said. "When it's brought up [by sports writers], I think about it a little bit. But it's not my decision. When that time comes, people are going to vote on it and I can't control what their thought is. The only thing I can control is what happens out there and being a respectful player to my teammates and to the opposing team."

Moyer visited Cooperstown as a kid, but hasn't been back in years. So he's not seen the one Moyer-related artifact housed at the Museum: a ball signed by Moyer, Ryan Franklin, Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche, Joel Pineiro - the five pitchers who started all 162 games for the Mariners in 2003.

"I would love to take my kids there, but while playing it's difficult," Moyer said. "And in the offseason, we've got eight kids, trying to find time to sneak up to the Hall of Fame [is difficult]. You don't want to go to the Hall of Fame for 2 or 3 hours. It's a place that you should probably spend a couple of days."

A few dozen more wins and Moyer might spend immortality in there.

"I've thought for a while that Moyer has an intriguing Hall of Fame case," said Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski, who also brought up former Tigers and Twins pitcher Jack Morris. "If [Moyer] somehow made it to 300 victories - a longshot, but still possible - I think he would get into the Hall because that number is so powerful for people."

Summer of '93

Part of what makes Moyer's story so intriguing is that he was 34-54 and his career seemed to be bottoming out in 1991. He was with the Cardinals - his third team in 4 years - and had given up two home runs to Barry Bonds on two pitches in the second and third innings of a May 21 game at Pittsburgh. At 28, Moyer was 0-5 and in the middle of his fifth consecutive losing season when St. Louis sent him down to the minors. He would not pitch again in the majors that season.

Or the next.

Moyer bounced from the Cubs to the Tigers, before signing a minor league contract with the Orioles. The summer of 1993 was a magical one for Phillies fans. For Jamie Moyer, it was a rejuvenation. He clawed his way back into the majors in May when Arthur Rhodes got hurt. Remarkably, some 17 years later, he's still there.

"I had never really looked at it this way, but I've heard from a lot of people that I am setting a good example," said Moyer, who will turn 48 in November. "I had never really thought about the example I can set for the weekend person or the person that works out 3 days a week or whatever it is. I never looked at it that way. Now I look at it and go, 'Yeah. It's kind of fun.' "

As late as Sept. 8 in that 1993 season, Moyer and the Orioles were one game back of the Blue Jays in the AL East. Anybody who knows the difference between Joe Carter and Joe Montana can imagine how history would have been different had Baltimore overtaken Toronto. Alas, the Orioles staggered down the finish and Carter broke millions of Phillies fans' hearts in the subsequent World Series.

The future

Moyer doesn't have a contract after this year, but there should be a market for a pitcher who is 51-37 over the last four seasons. The Phillies have more pressing personnel questions right now and Moyer is thinking only about tonight's start.

"I've been around a lot of guys that have retired," said Moyer, who endured sports-hernia surgery and subsequent complications last winter. "A lot of times they say, 'I don't think I can compete anymore,' or, 'My body isn't holding up,' or, 'I can't do this or I can't do that.' I don't feel like I've come to that point. So why not keep on playing? Tomorrow, I may wake up and say it's enough. Or, at the end of the season, I may say it's enough. Or, 2 years from now, you may see me still in a uniform. I may still have that desire."

If he is still pitching 2 years from now, there's no telling where his career numbers will be.

"There is a good reason for the 5-year waiting period for eligibility, and I always wait for that period to pass before deciding if I think a player is Hall of Fame worthy," said Murray Chass, the former longtime writer for the New York Times.

"I think that is especially important to do in Moyer's case. Otherwise it could be easy to get caught up in the idea that, wow, it's phenomenal that a guy can still be winning games at his age. The waiting period will give us plenty of time to put his career in perspective . . . that is, if he ever retires." *

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