May 8, 2010

Old man, take a look at my life.

Every morning, I look into Jamie Moyer's eyes.

Meaning, of course, that my desk at work is packed with Moyer paraphernalia. I've got a dozen of Jamie's trading cards that I bought on eBay, a Moyer-themed pennant from his time in Seattle and two 8x10 Moyer prints that I acquired from ballpark or Daily News giveaways. It's more a quirky decorating decision than a statement that Jamie Moyer is my favorite baseball player of all time (he's not), but I don't deny having a very soft spot in my heart for the crafty veteran.

I fell in love with the now-47-year-old almost immediately when he came to Philadelphia, with the highlight being his 16 wins for the World Fucking Champion 2008 Phillies. In fact, the image of him sitting atop the pitching rubber he stole after Game 5 is one of my favorite World Series memories. Every clip of him talking strategy with Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, every dominating performance against the free-swinging Marlins and Nationals, every mention of Moyer growing up a Phillies fan and now starring on his boyhood team was another reminder that Philadelphia was blessed to have acquired Jamie for a song in August of 2006.

However, my relationship with Jamie Moyer hasn't been all smooth sailing. Like most fans, I was not happy when he spoke out against moving to the bullpen last year. It made perfect sense to every fan and analyst following the team, but Jamie took it very hard. I think his comments about being "misled" and "disheartened" temporarily tarnished his image a bit; even if Phillies management "promised" Jamie that he'd start no matter what (which seems absurd; I doubt any MLB team would make that kind of blanket statement), he had to understand that this particular move would benefit the team, along with the fact that he'd get another crack at starting in the very, very long baseball season.

I don't know if Jamie gave (or gives) a shit about the fans and their thoughts on his comments; I probably wouldn't if I were a middle-aged millionaire. But it was definitely unexpected from someone who had been nothing but beloved up to that point in time.

Plus, and this is not at all Jamie's fault, but it's become common knowledge that the $6.5 million we're paying the left-hander in 2010 could instead be going towards the final year of Cliff Lee's contract. Now, Ruben Amaro Jr., Pat Gillick and company couldn't possibly have predicted this particular turn of events, but everyone and their uncle did seem to agree that his two-year extension after the World Series win was a mistake. It was a reward for his dedication and service as both a pitcher and an extra pitching coach of sorts, which is all well and good until it plays a major role in trading a former Cy Young winner in order to cut costs.

The storybook love affair between Moyer and Phillies fans has definitely changed over the last 12 months, but not necessarily in a bad way. For whatever reason, we thought he was the quiet, "go team go" company man that we probably want all old-fashioned athletes to be. We thought that Jamie would have no problem taking one for the team, bouncing from the bullpen to the rotation and back again at the whim of Charlie Manuel and Phillies management.

Well, that didn't exactly work out like we thought, but it shouldn't have bothered us. He's won 262 games; he's been a major league pitcher since 1986. Who are they to tell Jamie Moyer what he should and shouldn't do, to jerk him around like that? Brad Lidge continued to flounder as the closer, Cole Hamels was still struggling atop the rotation, and Moyer's the one who got the boot. Maybe it wasn't as clear-cut a decision as we all thought at the time, and maybe Jamie's reaction is what we should expect, or want, from a competitive athlete celebrating his 24th year in the league.

As evident by his two-hit shutout of the Atlanta Braves last night, Jamie Moyer still has value as a major league starting pitcher. He isn't gonna dazzle you with a fancy ERA or double-digit strikeouts, but he's a great change-of-pace lefty that'll keep more than a few teams off balance this year. $6.5 million isn't too much to ask for that, not when you're paying Ryan Howard $25 million. On a team where fifth starter Kyle Kendrick goes from 5 innings, 4 earned to 7 innings, no earned, any level of consistency is certainly worth rewarding.

I'm not saying that I now agree with how Jamie responded, but I understand. And now that we need him to steady the rotation more than ever, he's responding with the occasional dominant outing and the otherwise-consistent six inning starts that are tailor-made for this powerful Phillies offense. In fact, I just made another Jamie Moyer-related purchase: a glossy photo of Moyer parading around Citizens Bank Park post-championship with that famed pitching rubber. It'll fit in perfectly above my desk, another testament to a truly unique pitcher that Philadelphia, and maybe all of baseball, will never see the likes of again.

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