Monday, August 21, 2006
[NOTE -- this is sort of stream-of-consciousness, sort of me riffing]
In a Mariner mailbag column from March 20th, Corey Brock was asked a question relating to retired numbers for the Mariners (at the time, an Edgar Martinez-related question). Basically, to be eligible, a player has to be enshrined in Cooperstown and have spent five years in a Mariner uniform or come close to having his day in Cooperstown and have been a Mariner for nearly his entire career. Also, eligibility won't start until six years post-retirement (eligible for Cooperstown).
Unfortunately, under those criteria (which are frankly way too strict for this franchise, if you ask me), Jamie Moyer's number 50 will not hang from the rafters at Safeco Field. That doesn't make his time in Seattle any less significant.
Jamie Moyer was traded by the Red Sox to Seattle for Darren Bragg on July 30th of 1996, as the Mariners used the trade deadline to bolster their rotation to try and make up 2 1/2 games on the Texas Rangers with 57 games remaining. Down the stretch in his age 33 season, Moyer did his part in the Mariners' efforts to defend their 1995 AL West division title by going 6-2 in 11 starts (70 2/3 innings) with a 3.31 ERA, but ultimately the Mariners fell 4 1/2 games short of the Rangers (that made the Mariners' recent series in Arlington all the more painful since the Rangers were celebrating the tenth anniversary of that division title, but I digress).
No matter, though. Moyer went 17-5 in 30 starts (188 2/3 innings) with a 3.86 ERA in the Mariners' drive toward their second AL West division title in three years. In Game 2 of the AL Division series against his former team, the Baltimore Orioles, he went 4 2/3 innings and gave up three runs but had to leave the game with an elbow strain. Unfortunately, that meant he had to hand the game over to the bullpen, which despite being a bullpen for a division-champion team was light years worse than the 2006 bullpen is great. Moyer gave up three runs in that game, which ended up as a 9-3 Oriole win.
Moyer went a combined 29-17 in 66 starts (462 1/3 innings) over the 1998 and 1999 seasons, two of the ickiest (well, until now) seasons in post-1995 Mariner history. Moyer had to shoulder more of a load for the pitching staff once Randy Johnson was traded to Houston at the 1998 deadline ("that's a f#*$ing horsesh#* trade" --David Segui), and ate up innings to the tune of his highest and third-highest innings output he had with the team.
Though the 2000 season was my favorite of the post-1995 Mariner seasons, it was one of the more turbulent ones for Moyer. He went 13-10 in 26 starts and had a ghastly ERA of 5.49, much higher than even his ERAs from the Kingdome seasons. A moment I always remember from that season was a fateful day in Chicago (August 9th) when, after the bullpen had worked a combined seven innings in a doubleheader the day before, Lou Piniella left Moyer out there to rot. He was rocked so badly that day I felt sorry for him. Frank Thomas homered off of him in consecutive innings and Ray Durham made it three straight innings in which the White Sox homered. Five of the 13 hits Moyer gave up over his 3 2/3 innings that day went for extra bases. Sadly, Moyer started out 11-3 that season but ended the year on a 2-7 slide, with the game in Chicago being a key downturn. On a side note, it was magnified even worse five days later when he gave up 11 runs again (six earned this time) at home against Detroit.
The Mariners were eclipsed down the stretch by the white-hot Oakland Athletics, who won the AL West title in 2000 in the first of their many late-season tears. Still, the Mariners won the Wild Card that season and swept the White Sox in the Division Series, clinched by a Carlos Guillen squeeze bunt in the ninth inning of Game 3. In the ALCS, the Mariners were to face the Yankees, and were wholly ready to start Jamie Moyer in Game 4. Moyer struggled down the stretch, as noted, and he came down with shoulder tightness while the Mariners used Freddy Garcia, Paul Abbott, and Aaron Sele in the three games against Chicago. Trying to test out the shoulder again, Moyer was throwing a simulation game after the Chicago series was over when the unthinkable happened. Backup catcher and playoff-ineligible Chris Widger lined a one-hopper that fractured Moyer's knee and ended his season. Paul Abbott ended up having a not-too-good outing in Moyer's place in Game 4, though when you consider Roger Clemens threw a one-hitter, walked two, and struck out 15 in a complete-game shutout, it might not have mattered. Still, Moyer missed out on a chance for postseason glory.
Moyer rebounded from the 2000 slide by being a large part of the greatest regular-season team in Mariner history, the 2001 team that easily won the AL West title. Moyer started 33 games (209 2/3 innings) with a 3.43 ERA. He was 20-6 -- he won 20 games for the first time and did so at the age of 38. The Mariners needed all five games in the Division Series to knock out Charlie Manuel's Cleveland Indians, and they won the series after trailing two games to one. Moyer pitched in Game 2, evening up the series at a game apiece by giving up one run over six innings and getting his first postseason win thanks to homers by Mike Cameron, Edgar Martinez, and David Bell. Moyer got the ball once again in the series, getting the win in the clincher on three days' rest as he gave up one run over six innings of three-hit ball in Game 5, helped by a Mark McLemore bases-loaded single as well as an Edgar Martinez RBI single. Moyer got his third win of the postseason in Game 3 of the ALCS, throwing seven innings and giving up two runs on four hits in the Bronx as the offense waited out an extremely erratic El Duque. Another memory of mine is that earlier in that season, sports radio talk-show host JT the Brick, an unabashed Yankee fan, claimed that Jamie Moyer would be toast against the Yankee lineup. Not so. That's a personal anecdote of mine. The Mariners went on to lose Game 4, the second-worst loss in my lifetime as a Seattle sports fan. In Game 5, the Mariners started Aaron Sele.
In 2002 and 2003, the Mariners won 93 games both years and failed to make the playoffs, though Moyer's numbers were still there. The 2002 season saw a 13-8 record in 34 starts with a 3.32 ERA over 230 2/3 innings, his most as a Mariner. Read that again, though. He had as many no-decisions that year as he had wins, and with a 3.32 ERA, well, make your own conclusions. The Mariners started 51-29 that season and went 42-40 over the rest of it. In 2003, the Mariners started out 42-19 and went 51-50 over the rest of the season. Moyer seemed unfazed by this, however, going 21-7 with a 3.27 ERA over 33 starts and 215 innings. He won 20 games for the second time in his career, but this time did it at the age of 40, quite the feat.
In 2004, the whole team was terrible, though Moyer did start 5-0 (he went 2-13 the rest of the way).
In 2005, Moyer was more of himself again, starting 32 games and going 13-7 with a 4.28 ERA as Moyer and Gil Meche were the only pitchers with winning records in a rotation that also included Ryan Franklin (8-15), Joel Piñeiro (7-11), and Aaron Sele (6-12 before his release). On May 30th of that season, Moyer passed Randy Johnson as the winningest pitcher in franchise history. Moyer, now more than ever the elder statesman, served not just as a starting pitcher that took the mound every five days, but also as a guru and/or wise man that younger arms (that'd be all of them) on the staff could look to for information, whether it would be about certain hitters, setting hitters up, mixing pitchers, changing speeds, hitting corners, preparation, etc.
This year, Moyer was struggling a bit, having a 6-12 record with a 4.39 ERA in 25 starts. It didn't help that his run support was atrocious, punctuated by the Mariners getting shut out six times in his starts.
This takes me to the present. Moyer was traded on Saturday with cash to the Philadelphia Phillies for Class-A pitchers Andrew Barb and Andrew Baldwin. Being a 10-and-5 guy, Moyer had to waive his no-trade clause to complete this deal, and the fact that Philadelphia is close to his hometown helped, as did the fact that Pat Gillick is the general manager for the Phillies, a team still in the hunt for the NL Wild Card.
I guess the reason why I mentioned the retired numbers thing at the beginning of this post is because if I had my way, number 50 would eventually hang from the rafters at Safeco Field. We know who all the 1995 guys are. Randy Johnson (51), Ken Griffey, Jr. (24), and Edgar Martinez (11) are all locks to have their numbers retired in Seattle, and I'd give just about anything to be there in Safeco Field when all or part of that happens. Still, for all the importance that 1995 has, for all the fans that became fans because of it, and for all the times when Rick Rizzs gushes incessantly about it, you can't just pooh-pooh the eleven seasons that have taken place since (this season is effectively done).
So when I ask myself who was tied most into the Mariners post-1995 that weren't a big part of the 1995 team, since that was eleven years ago, who do I think of? For me, the answer is Alex Rodriguez and Jamie Moyer. Back to the criteria the Mariners have set for retiring numbers, Alex Rodriguez' number 3 will be alongside 51, 24, and 11 (as I think it should, but that's a debate for another day) while the 50 of Jamie Moyer will not. This tells us that either the requirements to have your number retired by the Mariners are too strict, like I said, or that it's just incredibly hard to do so since obviously the franchise leader in wins, starts, and innings won't be able to do it. Pat Gillick's propensity to not offer contracts of longer than three years during his tenure effectively ruined the chance of having any player brought in post-1999 ending up having their numbers retired in Safeco Field. That said, Jamie Moyer is an absolute lock for the Mariners Hall of Fame, and I'll venture to guess he goes into the Mariners Hall of Fame on the same day as Dan Wilson.
Jamie Moyer. Ageless wonder. Master of what some people call the Bugs Bunny changeup. A master of preparation. A sage for younger players for advice on all things baseball. An extremely upstanding gentleman both on and off the field, as evidenced by his winning the Hutch Award, Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, and Roberto Clemente Award in 2003 as well as the Branch Rickey Award in 2004, and also with the establishments of the Moyer Foundation and the Gregory Fund.
He'll still make his home in Seattle, but his presence in a Mariner uniform, though we all knew its end was one day coming, will be missed.