Moyer is ashamed for the game
CLEARWATER, Fla. – The oldest player in baseball sat in the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring clubhouse and lamented what it must be like for a rookie walking into New York Yankees camp for the first time and passing through the looking glass of the biggest steroids scandal in the sport.
“That’s got to be a huge distraction to that clubhouse and just to that environment,” Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer said. “I couldn’t imagine a 23-year-old kid, a first-time roster player coming into that clubhouse. It’s got to be mind-boggling. How do you focus on your job?
“People say, ‘That’s part of it, you just deal with it.’ You know what? It is, but to put that on a kid? It’s a shame we have to talk about it. Hopefully people can learn a lesson. But we’ve been saying that for years, and (names) keep coming out. I just wish there was some way we could expose it all and be done with it, just get rid of it.”
Moyer is 46, a 16-game winner and first-time World Series champion in 2008, and the recipient of a two-year contract that will pay him $13 million through his 48th birthday, with performance incentives that could tack on another several million. He ought to be feeling only joy, but the seemingly never-ending steroids revelations concern him deeply.
“At times, I’m almost embarrassed as a player to be in the middle of this,” he said. “I haven’t taken them, I haven’t tested positive, but still I’m a part of it. You’re guilty by association and it’s embarrassing.
“I’ve never really had anybody out on the street, a fan or somebody say, ‘You know what, you should be ashamed.’ But I feel that way sometimes. You sit and watch on TV, and that’s our industry.”
Few players represent the industry with more distinction – and none with greater longevity. Only six National League pitchers won more games last season than Moyer, who has more wins in his 40s than he did in his 20s. Only six other pitchers in big-league history have thrown 100 innings after turning 45: Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, Satchel Paige, Nolan Ryan, Tommy John and a spitballer from the ’20s named Jack Quinn.
It is an extraordinary achievement, one crowned last October when Moyer, pitching for his hometown Phillies, became a champion at last. He dug up the pitching rubber that night, tears streaming down his face.
“I can remember when there were two outs,” he said. “My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. When there were two strikes, it seemed like there were three minutes between every pitch. Then it’s strike three, and your feet don’t touch the ground.”
It is a story Moyer will never tire of telling, one surely worth reliving on the day the defending world champions reconvened for spring training. But it leaves Moyer frustrated that the Phillies’ saga and every other worthy plot line of a new baseball season are dwarfed by another steroids storm.
In the course of his career, Moyer played for the Texas Rangers, identified by many as an epicenter of the steroids era. He was a teammate of Roger Clemens in Boston and of Alex Rodriguez in Seattle before either of the game’s biggest stars were tainted forever.
When the news broke about A-Rod, Moyer said, he registered sadness. But surprise?
“Nothing surprises me anymore,” he said. “We’re all big boys here. He knew what he was doing.”
Friday night in Miami, Rodriguez attended ceremonies dedicating the University of Miami’s new baseball field, built in large part with the millions he contributed to the hometown school he planned to attend before signing with the Mariners out of high school. The field will bear his name. It should have been pure celebration. People stood and cheered, but there was something queasy about the whole affair.
“What a horrible example we set, as athletes in general in professional sports, for college athletes and high school athletes,” Moyer said. “I wish at some point we could talk about the players who didn’t use steroids or aren’t using. That’s what we should be celebrating instead of the ones who have or are.”
The long-fractured relationship between the owners and the players union, Moyer believes, helped create an environment in which neither side acted to stem the flood of performance-enhancing substances. In the new book, “The Yankee Years,” written by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, the story is told of how pitcher Rick Helling, the player representative for the Rangers, stood up at a meeting of the union’s executive board and warned that steroids were imperiling the game. That was in the winter of 1998, fresh off the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa lovefest.
It was a message no one wanted to hear then, or in the subsequent years Helling repeated his warning.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people, the press, the owners, the players, they turned the other cheek,” Helling said in “The Yankee Years.” “I was like, ‘Are you serious? Can’t you see what’s going on? Are you seriously going to let these guys get away with it?’ Unfortunately, it turned out just the way I thought it would. It blew up in our face.”
Moyer thinks about the players who elected not to use steroids and paid for that stand by never making it to the big leagues, and about the fringe players who did use and were rewarded for their compromise.
“The choices – the peer pressure, the money – I don’t get it,” he said. “I just don’t get it. But again, I’ve never been the highest paid pitcher on a team, the guy who is going to have five 20-win seasons or be a 10-time All-Star, and you’ve got the weight of the team on your shoulders. I’ve never been that player, so I don’t know how I would have reacted in that situation. But I know how I was raised.”
For nearly a quarter-century, Moyer has been the soft-tossing lefty with a fastball that barely breaks 80 miles an hour, but an assortment of other pitches – killer changeup, slow curves, sinker, slider, cut fastball – that on his good days still leaves hitters reeling, even after all these years. And he’s done it by staying clean, he said, even if he understands that you might not believe him or any other player at this point.
How to regain the public trust? Moyer likes to believe that there are enough smart people within the game to figure that out, without the government pushing its way into the equation, though it took pressure from the feds to get baseball to adopt the testing program it now has.
“I think honesty is still the best policy,” he said. “Just come clean, come forward and admit it. We live in a society that forgives. As long as you haven’t hurt somebody, usually people will forgive or forget.”
Maybe you clean it up once and for all, Moyer said, by suspending players for a year if they test positive once, and forever if they flunk a second test. Mention to him that the chemists are likely far ahead of the testers, and he shakes his head.
“That’s when I’m way over my skis,” he says. “But there just needs to be an ending to it all. Turn it into something of a happy ending, one that he can live with and learn from. This is such a great game, and we’re missing the joy.”