We don't often think of professional athletes improving with age, but Jamie Moyer was a better pitcher in his 40s than he was in his 20s. Moyer became the oldest pitcher to win a Major League Baseball game when, in April 2012, at the age of 49 years, 150 days, he pitched the Colorado Rockies to a 5-3 win over the San Diego Padres.
Moyer's story isn't just the tale of a talented guy who hung on to his game a little longer than others. He managed to gain control of the mental side of his sport — and he did it with the help of a gruff, self-taught sports psychologist named Harvey Dorfman. Moyer pitched for eight teams, but his best years were with the Seattle Mariners, where he became an all-star, and the Philadelphia Phillies, where he was a starter in a World Series run.
Moyer chronicles his journey in a new book, Just Tell Me I Can't: How Jamie Moyer Defied the Radar Gun and Defeated Time. The memoir, which he co-wrote with writer Larry Platt, is full of inside-baseball tales: how he got inside hitters' heads, worked umpires to get a better strike zone, and learned to use his teeth — yes, his teeth — to tell his catcher he was changing the location of the pitch he was throwing.
Moyer was never blessed with a blazing fastball. His speed was below average even in his youth, and to compete in the big leagues, he had to locate his pitches with pinpoint accuracy and outthink his hitters.
"I had a real up and down career," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "As a pitcher I was very inconsistent; I was still in my late 20s trying to find myself in the major leagues — which was kind of scary, when I look back at it."
Moyer talks with Davies about how he's kept his mind and his body in shape to compete with men half his age.
On how Harvey Dorfman, his mental skills coach, influenced his approach to the game
Harvey was really into sports but was born with an asthmatic disorder and really wasn't able to be an athlete ... but really followed sports and had a passion for sports. He ended up getting an English degree and was an English teacher. He coached the women's basketball team and somehow got a job with the Oakland A's. ... He did a lot of the sports psychology with the A's, and he wrote a book, The Mental Game of Baseball, with Karl Kuehl. ...
He really taught me to think about what I was doing, analyze what I was doing. In the book he talks about paralysis by analysis. I think sometimes we can get too much information and paralyze ourselves with all of the information and forget the task at hand. ...
"What is the task that I'm trying to conquer?" For me, that was the mental side of the game; it was my preparation, my focus, my accountability, who I was as a person, staying in your own person, not trying to be somebody else. All of these things I was trying to do as a competitive Major League Baseball pitcher. I was really so concerned about results that I was losing focus on really who I was and what got me to the major league level.
On using psychology to frustrate batters
Knowing that we all have an ego — and that in baseball sometimes those egos can be really big — hitters can have really big egos and not only do they want to hit home runs but they want to hit them 30 rows back, because that's what people want to see. So now take that ego that they have and use it against them. ... If I can throw a hard pitch — maybe it's just off the plate — but [then] I throw the same pitch or a pitch looking just like it, but it's 8-10 miles an hour slower ... and they swing like it's the hard pitch, now all of the sudden they're thinking it's a fastball and they're swinging way ahead of the ball, and now they become frustrated. And that's where the game of chess, of cat and mouse in baseball really comes into play.
On the pitcher's posture — and what it can communicate
The posture that you never want to show, for me, is to throw a pitch and your body gets a little droopy ... your body kind of crumbles, and you catch the ball and you snap at the ball, you're glaring at the umpire, you're "whining" to the umpire, and that's very visible from 60 feet away. The hitter sees that, your teammates see that, the fans see that, the broadcasters see that, everybody sees that. To me, you want to show absolutely nothing. You want to have strong eyes, you want to be staring at your target, and you're really showing no emotion, you want show that "I'm in control here." You want to get the ball back; you want to create a good tempo between pitches.
On strategically talking to the umpire
You can respectfully give him a little bit of a glare. There have been times where I didn't like where the game was going in terms of balls and strikes and I'd call my catcher out to the mound, for no particular reason. ... If you stand there long enough talking to your catcher the umpire will come walking and usually ... the umpire will say, "Hey let's go, let's speed it up here." And I'd wait until the umpire would get all the way to the mound and I would continue to talk to the catcher, but I was really talking to the umpire ... and I'd be asking him about, "Hey where was that last pitch?" or "Is my catcher blocking your pitches?" Or "Are you having a tough day?" Because there are a lot of times where I'd walk off the field and say, "Bear with me, I'm having a tough day." ... What I was really just trying to do was get the umpire to think about what he was calling and trying to do it in a respectful way. I don't want to be demonstrative. I do respect that this is his job, too, and I'm not trying to create any animosity between myself and the umpire because the umpire can really be beneficial to me.
On being considered "old" for the major leagues
At first it bothered me a little bit but after a while I realized that some people just don't know how to react to things. ... I actually learned to enjoy it and I learned to have fun with it. I know when I played in Philadelphia my teammates would always be rousing me about something about age, and it would always be funny, I would give them a little snarl and say, "Respect your elders." But we had a lot of fun with it. In baseball terms, I really was old, but in everyday life, I really wasn't. Again, I really found that playing into my 40s uplifted a lot of people. You don't know how many times I would walk on the streets and people would say, "Keep doing what you're doing."
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Last year, our guest, Jamie Moyer, became the oldest pitcher ever to record a win in the majors. He was 49. But Moyer's story isn't just the tale of a talented guy who hung onto his game a little longer than others. He was actually a more effective pitcher in his 40s than in his 20s because he got control of the mental side of his game, and he did it with the help of a gruff, self-taught sports psychologist named Harvey Dorfman.
Moyer was never blessed with a blazing fastball. His speed was below average, even in his youth. And to compete in the big leagues, he had to locate his pitches with pinpoint accuracy and out-think his hitters. He's managed to do that plenty and, with an extraordinary work ethic, keep his body in shape to play with men half his age.
In fact, when he beat out an infield hit last year, he also became the oldest big-leaguer to ever get a run batted in. Moyer pitched for eight teams, but his best years were with the Seattle Mariners, where he became an all-star, and the Philadelphia Phillies, where he was a started in a season they won the World Series. His new memoir, with writer Larry Platt, called "Just Tell Me I Can't," is full of inside baseball tales like how he got inside hitters' heads, worked umpires to get a better strike zone and learned to use his teeth, yes his teeth, to tell his catcher he was changing the location of the pitch he was throwing.
Moyer spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
Well Jamie Moyer, welcome to FRESH AIR.
JAMIE MOYER: Thank you, Dave.
DAVIES: You know, you look at a baseball diamond in a stadium, and the field and the mound are the same dimensions that you pitched on in high school. But ballparks differ in some ways. Are there some where the mound felt different?
MOYER: Yeah, yeah, there are dimensions, you know, and, you know, height restrictions that we're able to use, but it gets policed quite stringently by the league. But if we'll call the tabletop, the very top of the mound, some of those are built differently. I can tell you the one in Oakland seems like you're on a huge, huge stage, whereas some of the other ballparks don't seem as big.
And I think sometimes the background that - where as a pitcher where I'd be facing behind home plate, some are a lot closer. Some are brick. Some have signage on them. But the ones that are further back make the plate feel like it's further away from home plate. So it's just, it's a visual, but it's - also creates a feeling for you, as well.
DAVIES: Did you have tricks to making yourself feel comfortable in a place that you didn't particularly like? You didn't like Pittsburgh's mound, I read.
MOYER: I didn't, yeah, I didn't. I wasn't real fond of Pittsburgh's mound, and the only reason I wasn't fond of it, I didn't like the clay that they used. It was very difficult to work with. It was usually very hard. It seemed to dry out as the game went on. And I could usually tell after a game because my calluses would have blisters, if you can believe that or not.
But, you know, my feet would be really sore after I pitched there.
DAVIES: You had Pittsburgh feet that day?
MOYER: Yes, I did.
DAVIES: You know, Oral Hershiser once said after - in a post-game interview, I remember this, he said that pitching in the big leagues is like climbing a mountain when you start a game. What did your body feel like the day after you, you know, pitched five or six or more innings?
MOYER: That's a great question, and, you know, it depends. I think it depends on the duress that you went through during the course of a game. If it was an easy game, and - or easy and - and they're never easy, but if you didn't have a lot of guys on base, and you weren't pitching out of jams constantly, and you got a lot of, you know, easier, you know, one, two, three, pitch, outs during the course of the game, and, you know, like I say you weren't under stress you had to make quality pitches all the time to get out of a jam and to get out an inning, inning after inning after inning, those days you kind of felt the next day like...
You know, I knew that I worked the day before, but I didn't feel like I was beaten up, whereas the games where you were in trouble, say some games I was in trouble from the first pitch, you know, maybe I - there were a number of games where I led, you know, when the games started off with the guy hitting the first pitch of the game as a home run.
So now I'm losing one-nothing, and I've thrown one pitch. Or the first pitch of the game, the guy hits a double, then the next guy hits a single, and then maybe I walk a guy, and then maybe there's an error. Now all of a sudden, you're creating a lot of distress, and now you're fighting your way through that, and you constantly have to make a good pitch.
And early in the game, you're trying to establish, you know, what you're going - what you want to do. You're trying to create a tempo. You want to take control of that game. And the offense is not allowing that to happen. So those types of days, the next day after, you're usually a lot more sore, and mentally you're exhausted.
DAVIES: Harvey Dorfman is an important figure in your life and in your story, kind of an early sports psychologist. Tell us what was happening in your career when you first went to see him.
MOYER: I was really - I don't want to say I was quite at crossroads, but I had really an up and down career. My - if you're looking at numbers, I had a career-losing record. As a pitcher, I was very inconsistent. I was still - I was in my late 20s trying to find myself as a - you know, in the major leagues, which was kind of scary when I look back at it.
Harvey was really into sports but was born with an asthmatic disorder and really wasn't able to be an athlete, per se, as a child and through his youthful years but really kind of followed sports and had a passion for sports. He ended up, you know, getting a degree, an English degree, he was an English teacher, coached a women's basketball team and somehow got a job with the Oakland A's.
Harvey Dorfman and Karl Kuehl, and, you know, he did a lot of this sports psychology stuff with the A's, and he wrote a book, "The Mental Game of Baseball," with Karl Kuehl. And like I said, I read that book, thought I understood it and then spending time with Harvey really realized that I didn't understand it. And he really taught me to think about what I was doing, analyze what I was doing and not - you know, in the book he talks about paralysis by analysis, and I think sometimes we can get too much information and paralyze ourselves with all of the information and forget the task at hand.
And he was really big on trying to teach, focusing - you know, what is the task that I am trying to conquer? And for me that was, you know, the mental side of the game, and it's my preparation, my focus, my accountability, who I was as a person, you know, staying in your own person and not trying to be somebody else and all these things I was trying to do as a competitive Major League Baseball pitcher, and I was really so concerned about results that I was losing focus on really who I was and what got me to the major league level.
DAVIES: Now Harvey, he didn't rub your shoulders and say it's going to be OK. He was a tough guy.
MOYER: No, he was a harsher - a little bit on the harsher side, brash. His language was - you know, I didn't mind it, though. I enjoyed it because, you know, he was challenging. He was always trying to challenge you. I really enjoyed that aspect of it.
One of the things it seems you had to address was pitching afraid. You know, you're pitching, and you're looking into the dugout to see if the manager's picking up the phone to get somebody working in the bullpen. You're wondering what's going to happen if I don't make this pitch. And he wanted you to be aggressive. Talk about your fear of pitching inside, that is to say throwing pitches close to the batter.
Right, and that's a great point, and it really wasn't being afraid of throwing the pitches necessarily close to the batter, but if I throw it inside, and I miss, and I don't miss on the inner part of the plate towards the hitter, I miss over the middle of the plate, oh my gosh the results are going to be a home run, or they're going to hit it hard, they're going to hit - you know, and I'm going to have bad results.
Well, what I was focusing on was the result instead of focusing on the task. So the task for me, what he taught me, was to let's focus on good mechanics, which are going to allow me to make that appropriate pitch and hit the location that I want to hopefully give the hitter the wrong results that he wants and make him become the frustrated person and not myself.
DAVIES: You were never a guy who threw 90 miles an hour.
DAVIES: You know, you - and so you relied upon finesse, pinpoint location, picking the right pitches. And one of the things that it seems Harvey got you to see is the need to be aggressive, to use your offspeed pitch, to use that slow stuff aggressively on hitters. Explain what that means. How does that work?
MOYER: Well, he got me to realize the - what my abilities were, and again you're right, my fastball was below average, but my changeup was really my, if you will, my money pitch or my out pitch, but...
DAVIES: And for folks who don't watch baseball a lot, a changeup is the pitch that you throw that looks like a fastball coming at the batter, but because of the grip, it comes more slowly, and they swing too quickly, miss it.
MOYER: They react to a fastball because that's what their eyes are telling them, and that's where I had a lot of my success in the minor leagues and not as much success in the major leagues because again I didn't have the confidence in my own abilities. So what he was trying to teach me was to say look, here's your fastball, learn how to locate it, which that's what I was in that process of doing, you know, good mechanics is going to allow good location, but, you know, my focus on that had to be that, but using that as a tool, or as if you will a weapon even though I wasn't using it at the hitter, I was using it against the hitter, and then my changeup that I threw, again being aggressive with, not passive with it, you know, now using that against him and knowing that we all have an ego.
And in baseball, those egos sometimes can be really big, and hitters can have really big egos, and, you know, not only do they want to hit homeruns, they want to hit them 30 rows back because that's what people want to see. So now take that ego that they have and use it against them. So now if I can throw a hard pitch, maybe it's just off the plate, but now I throw the same pitch or a pitch looking just like it but it's eight to 10 miles an hour, 12 miles an hour slower, and they swing like it's the hard pitch, now all of a sudden they're thinking it's a fastball, and they're swinging way ahead of the ball, and now they become frustrated.
And that's where the game of, if you will, the game of chess or the game of cat and mouse in baseball really comes into play.
DAVIES: Do you think hitters sense doubt in a pitcher?
MOYER: Oh, yeah, body language or your posture on the mound, the way you act and react in situations, hitters feed off of that, and you could tell on days when guys are showing bad body language on the mound, you know, it would almost be like the hitters were running up to home plate to hit.
But you could also flip that, too. As a pitcher, when things were going really well, you could read hitters if - say you threw a pitch, and a guy took the pitch, and it was a called strike, and you got a reaction like, you know, his shoulders went down, or he complained to the umpire, all of a sudden now, you know, it was like hey, that wasn't a strike. Now they've become distracted with what was going on.
So, you know, for me to be able to read that, and now I'm ahead in the count, maybe now the next pitch doesn't have to be a strike, but if I can make it look like a strike as it's approaching the plate, but when it gets to the plate it's not a strike and I get them to offer at it, again they're swinging at something that they didn't really want to swing it or they weren't comfortable swinging at.
DAVIES: And that's being aggressive. You're taking this hitter out of his focus and reacting to what you're doing. Now you say that a pitcher can have bad posture, which will indicate that he's frustrated. What's the posture you want to never show on the mound, and then what's the posture you do want to show?
MOYER: The posture that you never want to show, for me, is to throw a pitch and, you know, you kind of get - your body gets a little droopy. You're whining. You know, you just - everything kind of - your body kind of crumbles. And, you know, you catch the ball, and you snap at the ball. You know, you're glaring at the umpire. You're whining to the umpire. And that's very visible from, you know, 60 feet away.
The hitter sees that, your teammates see that, the fans see that, the broadcasters see that, you know, everybody sees that. But, you know, to me you want to show absolutely nothing. You want to have strong eyes. You want to be staring at your target. And you're really showing no emotion, and you want to show that, you know, I'm in control here. You want to get the ball back, you want to create a good tempo between pitches. You don't want to lollygag around and kick the dirt and, you know, mosey around like, you know, this is a drudgery.
You want to get the ball, you want to get back up on the mound, take your sign and make your next pitch.
DAVIES: You know, you pitched late in your career here in Philadelphia, so a lot of us saw a lot of Jamie Moyer, and I remember your expression on the mound. You could never tell what you were thinking.
MOYER: And that's ideal, and, you know, those who watch the Phillies play, you watch Chase Utley hit, he shows no emotion at home plate, and that's exactly, as a pitcher, that's exactly what I'm trying to do as well. You don't want to give the hitter anything to feed off of.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Jamie Moyer. His new memoir is called "Just Tell Me I Can't," and we'll talk some more after a quick break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, our guest is Jamie Moyer. He is the oldest pitcher ever to win a game in the big leagues, had a long career. And he's written a book about the mental side of pitching and his own career. It's called "Just Tell Me I Can't."
A lot of the book deals with the rigor with which you prepare for a game, with which you train and discipline yourself. And one of my favorite stories about your work ethic and preparation comes from 2012 when you're making a comeback, and you're in the spring training camp for the Colorado Rockies.
There's this assignment to introduce another team player. Tell us that story.
MOYER: Yeah, well, it was interesting. The very first day, they had, you know, new complexes now in the Rockies and the Diamondbacks share a beautiful, beautiful, state-of-the-art complex. And inside of our part of the complex they have like a - or a movie room. It's like a theater. It's - you know, it's tilted. There's theater seats in it, and, you know, you can put video up, you can speak and all that kind of stuff.
So part of what the Rockies were going to do that year is they wanted everybody to pick a name out of a hat and introduce that person.
DAVIES: A teammate.
MOYER: Yes. My - the teammate that I picked was Jeremy Guthrie, who I didn't know very well. I was a new guy to that organization, and plus he was a new guy to that new organization. And I volunteered to go first. So I thought OK, I'm going to make mine stand out. I don't know Jeremy at all. And the person wasn't supposed to know that you picked him.
So what I did is I talked to the PR people. I got a phone number to his wife, who then gave me a phone number to his mother, who then I kind of did a little bit of an interview about Jeremy's background and upbringing, got a bunch of information from his mother, and then I talked to his wife, and then I just kind of wrote out what I wanted to write.
And it was my day to go, and I got up, and I had about a page and a half to two pages of information about Jeremy, and as you gave your information, the rest of the group was to try to guess who that person was. So it was a way for people to get to know about their teammates.
DAVIES: Right. A lot of the other players, they Googled the guy, you know, they gave his stats. You told them that he was a chess champion and was a bad little boy and drove his Big Wheels too fast.
MOYER: Yeah, he actually ran away one day, and his mom had to call the police to find him.
DAVIES: But I guess the point is, if you're going to do a job, do it right.
MOYER: Exactly, and go to, you know, some length and detail. And I thought, you know, some of these things would be fun for his teammates to know. Actually, one of the things was in junior high he was a businessman, and he went out and bought candy bars and sold them in school out of his locker, and he got caught, and he got in trouble for that, too.
But he was showing his, you know, entrepreneurial side.
DAVIES: Right, so we'll see if he doctors the baseball as he moves down the road.
DAVIES: Now one thing ballplayers do is to visit kids in hospitals and do other, you know, charitable and community work. There's a story in the book about your interaction with a two-year-old child named Gregory Chia(ph). Do I have the name right?
MOYER: Yes, you do.
DAVIES: Yeah, tell us his story and what the relationship you developed with him and his parents.
MOYER: Well, Gregory was a cancer patient, and he was at Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital in Baltimore, and the priest that married my wife and I asked us to go visit him. And we did, and at the time we had a one-year-old son who was healthy and vibrant, and, you know, I've been - had made many visits to hospitals previous to this visit.
And, you know, they'd always be cordial, and you'd go in, and you'd sign things, and you'd chat with the patients and, you know, you wish them well, and you kind of walk out the door, and in a lot of cases you don't hear from them again.
Well, in this particular case when we went to visit Gregory, you know, knowing that he was a very sick little boy, and us having a very healthy boy, I felt very privileged to have healthy son, but on our visit, you could see his pain. You could see his family's pain.
But the cool thing was you could feel it through his mother at the time of the visit, Marge(ph) and through Gregory that he was going to survive this very rare form of cancer that he had, it was a leukemia, AML. And I felt very sorry for him.
I mean, here is a little boy who is fighting for his life on a daily basis, and here was Jamie Moyer, the selfish baseball player that was so concerned about his baseball life and his baseball career that this just didn't make sense to me, how I could be so selfish in worrying about my career, and this little boy may not be living for more than another month or two.
And for some crazy reason, Gregory and I created a bond, and to this day I don't know how to explain that, but it was amazing the support he tried to give me and not only tried, he did as a two-year-old little boy gave me support. And I was trying to support him, and we were trying to support he and his family that it just struck me that you know what, there's more to baseball.
DAVIES: Right, well, I mean, clearly you were moved by this, and your wife Karen(ph) spent - had a lot of contact with him after that and the family. But shortly after that first visit, you put his initials on your cleats and where, on your cap?
MOYER: Yes, not only my cleats, my hat, on my glove and actually would put them in the dirt on the back of the mound. It just - you know what? He was in my heart daily, constantly.
DAVIES: And then reporters noticed it and asked you about it.
MOYER: Yeah, and, you know, at times it was very difficult, and even at times it's very difficult for me to talk about. I mean, here's a little boy, like I said, struggling for his life, and it just, it just really humbled me, and it really allowed me to put my baseball career and my life into perspective.
And from there, you know, we would talk quite often. If I was on the road, we would talk on the phone, we would talk after games. You know, he would watch the games on TV. I'd go back to the hospital. We would kind of play in the room with a Nerf ball. And, you know, he went into remission, which was just - it was just amazing.
DAVIES: He overcame a very grim prognosis and made it through. And did your - do you think it changed your ability, your performance as a ballplayer, that experience?
MOYER: It did, it did. I had energy that I never knew that I had. I was at peace. Win or lose I was at peace, whereas before my career, if I lost or didn't pitch well, it would eat at me, and it would bother me, and I would - it would affect me at home. It no longer affected me at home. I left my baseball at the ballpark, and my home life was my home life.
GROSS: Jamie Moyer will continue his interview with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in the second half of the show. Moyer's memoir is called "Just Tell Me I Can't." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with Jamie Moyer. Last year, at the age of 49, Moyer became the oldest Major League pitcher ever to win a game, and the oldest to record an RBI. His new memoir, "Just Tell Me I Can't," is full of inside baseball stories, including how he became a more effective pitcher in his 40s than he was in his 20s.
DAVIES: You played for Baltimore and then you went to Boston and then had great years in Seattle. I mean great years for you as a pitcher, great years for the team and the city. Talk about the chemistry on that team.
MOYER: Well, I really believe that the Seattle Mariners, you know, and not just because I was there. I was a part of it. I could witness it. But they had an uncanny knack of bringing quality people to the organization. And our manager at the time, Lou Piniella, did a great job in getting guys to believe in themselves and to play together as a team. And I think that was really, really important. And Lou was very passionate about winning, my most favorite manager that I've ever played for. But it was about, you felt like Lou was another teammate. And that's really what it was about, playing together. And again, the fan base really kind of wrapped their arms around us and it was very exciting times in Seattle.
DAVIES: Well - yeah. And folks who don't know Lou Piniella, I mean should know that he threw a, you know, a tantrum on the field better than anybody. I mean ripping his hat off.
MOYER: Yes he did.
DAVIES: Throwing bases more than once.
MOYER: But that was a way - that was also a way for him to motivate us as players. You know, by him going out and showing his anger, yeah, people look at it as kind of a circus act. But, you know, there were, you know, many of those times when he did those tantrums or he took his hat off and threw it around and kicked it around, you know, and everybody laughed at it, but it was a way for him to let off some steam, but it motivated us players.
DAVIES: I want to talk some more about keeping the mental edge as a pitcher and how you practiced that over the years. One of the things that you've said is that hitters had big egos and you would use their egos against them - try and get them frustrated, break their concentration. Would you say things to hitters often, like speak to them directly?
MOYER: There were a couple of times back when David Justice was with Cleveland and I was pitching and it was in the middle of the game. We were up a couple of runs and we were in a particular batch, which is foul ball, foul ball, foul ball, foul ball. We got to like nine, 10, 11 pitches and I walked towards home plate to get another ball from the umpire. And I stopped and I said, David. And he kind of looked at me. Because you usually don't talk, you know, from pitcher to hitter too often. And he kind of looked up at me and I said, where do you want the pitch? And he kind of looked at me like what did you just say to me. And he said and he just kind of pointed, you know, out in front of him like right down the middle. And I said OK. And I turned around...
DAVIES: And he wanted a fastball, right? Yeah.
MOYER: Yeah. And he wanted a fastball. And now, you know, now for me the cat and mouse game begins. All right, is he going to think I'm going to throw him a fastball? Is he going to take the pitch? Is he going to swing at it? Is it, you know, what's going to happen? So I could never tell him I'm going to throw something and throw something else because I had it already set in my mind. So I threw a fastball. He hit a homerun - while he started laughing around the bases. And, you know, I couldn't fault the guy, you know. So he goes back in the dugout. He starts telling his teammates, they were all laughing, blah, blah, blah, blah. And but he was, you know, the bat was over and like I said, I was starting to get a little tired then. So I was like all right, we're done, you know, you're out of here. It's a solo home run. No big deal. We ended up winning the game. Next day I see him and he said that's crazy. I can't believe you did that. And I said well, you know, I kind of explained to him why I did it. And it's funny. I've seen him how a number of times in the last couple of years and he, every time I see him, we laugh about it. But, you know, I've done it a couple of times in my career and...
DAVIES: Well, well, hang on. Explain to us why you did. I mean you're serving up a pitching hand...
MOYER: Well, I did it because again, I was trying to break up that tension that he and I had created. And I was trying to get him off of what, you know, he was kind of really focused on, you know, getting a hit. And, like you said, I just kept throwing pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch. Everything I threw, he fouled off. So I was to the point where it's like - again, I'm not going to say I gave up, but I wanted to try to beat him on the mental part of it, hoping that he would do something he didn't want to do. But he stayed...
DAVIES: Lose his focus. Yeah.
MOYER: Right. Yeah. But he stayed on course and he beat me at my own little game. So again, I try to pick and choose when I would do that, but I did it a couple of other times in my career and, you know, I didn't do it real often but it was just one of those times where that tension was building and building and building.
DAVIES: Now you're a pitcher that relies on accuracy and on finesse and on mixing up pitches, rather than speed. You don't overpower...
MOYER: Changing timing. What I'm trying to do is I'm trying to affect timing, because that's all hitting is is timing.
DAVIES: Right. So the 79 mile an hour pitch, followed by a 62 mile an hour pitch can be tricky.
DAVIES: Right. Or vice versa.
MOYER: Right. Right. Especially if I can make them look the same out of my hand.
DAVIES: Right. But location is critical, which means that if you have an umpire that is as they say, pinching the strike zone, calling a narrower strike zone...
DAVIES: That's going to be - I can remember a few starts when...
DAVIES: ...when that happened to you.
MOYER: Yeah. I had a game in the playoffs against Milwaukee...
MOYER: ... that, you know, I really struggled.
DAVIES: Paul Runge was the umpire.
MOYER: Yup. Yup.
DAVIES: We all remember on...
MOYER: Yup. Yup.
DAVIES: And what I wanted to ask, you know, it's illegal in the game. You can argue a lot of things in the game. You're not allowed to argue balls and strikes. You can be ejected for it.
MOYER: Yes, in today's game, yes. You can, that's the way it is.
DAVIES: But is there a way you can work an umpire from the mound?
MOYER: You can. You know, you can, you know, respectfully, you know, give him a little bit of a glare. Or, you know, there've been times where I didn't like the way the game was going as far as balls and strikes, and I'd call my catcher out to the mound. And for no particular reason did I want to talk to my catcher, but if you stand out there long enough with the catcher, the umpire will come walking out. And usually while I was having a conversation with the catcher, when the umpire would walk out and he'd come out and say hey, let's go. You know, let's speed it up here. And I'd wait until the umpire got all the way to the mound and I would continue to talk to the catcher, but I was really talking to the umpire.
DAVIES: And saying what?
MOYER: And I'd be asking him about, you know, hey, where's that last pitch or is my catcher blocking your pitches or, you know, are you having a tough day? Because they're a lot of times where I'd walk off the field and say, hey, bear with me. I'm having a tough day, you know, when I wasn't throwing strikes or consistent strikes. So I'm trying to - what I was really just trying to do was get the umpire to think about what he was calling and trying to do it in a respectful way. I don't want to be demonstrative because I do respect that he is - this is his job too. And I don't want to try to; I'm not trying to create any animosity between myself and the umpire because the umpire can really be beneficial to me.
DAVIES: All right. So anybody on the stands or watching on television who looks at that encounter sees you talking to your catcher.
DAVIES: So you're not embarrassing the umpire, you're not showing them up, you're not yelling at him.
DAVIES: But he is hearing you make your case.
DAVIES: Did you find it worked?
MOYER: At times it did. Here's another one. Maybe we were in a key point of the game and my catcher would legitimately come out and say hey, what do you want to do here? And I'd be like - I'd be in between thoughts. I'd be thinking about well, maybe this pitch or that pitch. That's what I was thinking about. And I'd say to the catcher well, what do you think? And he'd say, well, maybe a changeup here. Well, at that point the umpire would be walking out to the mound and he'd say OK boys, let's go. You know, let's get back at this. And I'd, you know, and I'd make sure he was close enough and I'd say OK, let's go with the changeup. And I'd say it loud enough that the umpire could hear it. Now he would have time to think about it and he'd be prepared for me throwing that changeup and he usually knew where I was going to be throwing it. Now he was prepared and looking in the area that I was throwing that pitch. You know, maybe I'd get the benefit of the doubt and get the call because we're in a tight situation.
DAVIES: There are a lot of great baseball stories in this book. And one of them that I loved that was new to me was you using your teeth to signal a change in the pitch the catcher wanted you to throw.
MOYER: Yeah. A change in a location.
DAVIES: Yeah. Explain this.
MOYER: Yeah. Well, and for most pitches you don't change location. I would change location with my changeup, and I would change location with my fastball and I would change location with the cutter, it's almost like a slider.
DAVIES: And when we say change, the catcher gives you a signal sort of pitch.
MOYER: So he gives me a, say we're going to throw a fastball and he calls for a fastball and I say yes. And then I change my mind and want to throw it away. Well, if I say yes, and no...
DAVIES: Meaning you nod your head. Right.
MOYER: ...if I say, yeah. If I'm nod my head yes, and then shake my head no, well, most hitters know that, you know, most pitches you're going to change location with is going to be a fastball. So they're going to sit on a fastball. And I learned this real quick. I mean here's a little side story off of that. I played with a wily catcher, Jim Sundberg, who was a teammate but faced him in spring training and an inner squad game. And I did that. I went yes and I went no. And I changed the location with my fastball and he hit a homerun. And afterwards, I said how did you know that? And he said well, of course, you know, you're crazy. You should know that. And I didn't at that time, I was a very young player. So I...
DAVIES: So the point was you tipped him by nodding your head yes and then shaking your head no.
DAVIES: So he knows, ah ha. He's changing the location.
MOYER: Right. Right.
DAVIES: It's got to be a fastball. Here I go.
MOYER: Right. Yup. So it was a learning lesson as a young player in spring training. So now what I would do in a game, if I wanted to change that location... Now we're back to that fastball in - the catcher would move in - and as I started my motion, I would show my catcher my teeth. OK, like smile and that would change the location. So we would go from a fastball in to a fastball away.
DAVIES: Wow. Did you do that a lot?
MOYER: And he would pick up on that. I did a fair amount. It depended on my catcher. If I felt like my catcher had been really observant to what was going on or I had just I had conversation or reminded him about it. Yeah, I would do it a fair amount. I wouldn't do it a whole lot. I learned that trick from Nolan Ryan.
DAVIES: Hmm. And you just better hope your catcher doesn't go to another team and tell other hitters, when Moyer shows his teeth, he's changing the club position.
MOYER: Yeah. But you know what? I can, all I have to do is I can do that and then throw a curveball.
MOYER: Because I would, you know, if I did it on a curveball, I would tell my catcher it means absolutely nothing.
DAVIES: Mm-hmm. OK.
MOYER: So every now and then I'd throw a curveball and I'd show him my teeth. So if I ever had that doubt that the other team had it and now I'd show him my teeth.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Jamie Moyer. His memoir of his life in baseball is called "Just Tell Me I Can't." And we'll continue our conversation after a short break.
This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR and we're speaking with former Major League pitcher Jamie Moyer. His memoir of his years in the big leagues is called "Just Tell Me I Can't."
You know, as your career stretched on, I mean you were pitching in your 40s - pitching effectively in your 40s - but it became a story. I mean, you know, the old guy, the ancient Mariner.
DAVIES: And, you know, I mean here you are, you are an elite athlete. And guys in bar leagues or just in bars are calling you, you know, this old guy. How did you feel about that?
MOYER: You know, at first it bothered me a little bit. But after awhile I realized that, you know, some people just don't know how to react to things or, you know, speak to people in ways. And I learned to respect it and I actually learned to enjoy it and have fun with it. I know when I played in Philadelphia my teammates would always, you know, be razzing me about something about age. And, you know, it would always be funny. I could always look around and give them a little snarl and say, you know, respect your elders. But we had a lot of fun with it. And, you know, in baseball terms, I really was old. But in, you know, in everyday life I really wasn't. But I really found that, you know playing into my 40s uplifted a lot of people. You don't know how many times I would walk on the streets and people would say, you know what, keep doing what you're doing. You know, I used to work out and now I started watching you pitch and now I'm back into working out, or I'm into walking again or I'm into, you know, physical activity again. And, you know, that made me feel good. I never really looked at it that way. I never did it for those reasons. But it really started to make, allowed me to feel good about, you know, who I was and what I was doing. And if I could help somebody that way, I think that was awesome.
DAVIES: You have a shaving kit you carry with somewhat memorabilia and, kind of, reminders. Among them...
MOYER: Well I have, yeah. I have, I'm going to get to the serious stuff first. You know, through this work with Harvey I carried a concentration grid that I made. And, you know, the concentration grid was numbers in little boxes. And from 00 to 99 and they were, you know, spread out all over and I visually had to go from 00 to 99, and I would time myself. And I couldn't use my fingers. There were some things, words that I had written on cards that I would read. I read them for 19 years, the same cards and the same concentration grid and it really allowed me to refine my focus before I went out to pitch. But the fun thing that I had in my shaving kit was - back when I was in Baltimore, if you remember the movie "Bull Durham." And...
MOYER: ...there was a scene in the movie when somebody gave one of the players a garter belt for good luck. And I had a buddy who sent me one of those when I was struggling and when I was with the Baltimore Orioles for good luck. And, you know, it was just one of those things that, you know, he said all right, you know, I want you to wear this and it'll, you know, bring you good luck. And I'm thinking oh my gosh, what am I going to do with this? You know, and so I thought, all right, I'll wear it. But I'm thinking well, how am I going to get this on? And I didn't want to, you know, we get dressed in the clubhouse with a bunch of guys and I'm thinking, I'm not going to pull garter out and put it on. So I would get myself dressed and I'd put it in my back pocket and go in the bathroom, in the bathroom stall and pull my pants down, put the garter on...
MOYER: ...and pull my pants back up, and I'd go pitch with it. But I was really concerned because it was purple - purple and black. I was really concerned that you were going to be able to see through it through my white pants. So I had to, you know, those long things that kind of hang down the side, kind of had to pull those up and tuck them in the waist...
MOYER: ...and, you know, and off I went. But, actually, the first night that I wore it I won a game against the Red Sox and I started to wear it religiously after - or when I pitched. And my buddy that I grew up with, Scooter Myers, at home to this day still doesn't believe that I wore it. But I did.
DAVIES: Well, you know, it brings up the subject of superstition, you know, and I remember a scene in "Bull Durham" where Crash Davis is talking to Annie, folks who know that.
DAVIES: And the pitcher, Nuke LaLoosh...
DAVIES: ...who's all over the place is not having sex and is on a winning streak. And there's a whole reason that Annie's angry about that, but Crash Davis, the veteran catcher, says you respect a streak and if I guy is winning - thinks he's winning because he's having sex or because he isn't having sex, then he is. And this raises a question since a lot of what you've done is this really kind of rational focus. I mean, kind of bringing the powers of focus to the game.
DAVIES: Which is sort of at odds with, you know, some of the superstitions, you know...
DAVIES: ...that ballplayers - are you at all a superstitious guy?
MOYER: Not really.
DAVIES: Does Harvey respect superstition?
MOYER: No. He would not respect that at all. He thinks that's a bunch of hogwash. And, hence, I never told him that I wore that garter belt either. But, yeah, I - actually, I call it stupidstitious(ph) and, you know, guys do their things and, you know, Wade Boggs used to eat chicken before he played. And, you know, it worked for him.
And I think, you know, for some people, you know, if they feel like that helps, then, you know, let it be. But I don't know that it really helps. You know, it's a long season and it can get kind of monotonous so, you know, you kind of have fun with things and it just kind of breaks things up at times. But, no, I'm a believer that, you know, if you can focus and you have that will of concentration, your ability will take over.
DAVIES: After a game, could you remember every pitch?
MOYER: There are some games, yeah, I could go back for a couple of days and pretty much tell you every pitch I threw. And then there are other games when, you know, maybe my focus and concentration wasn't there and I couldn't - you could take me off the field and talk about a pitch two innings previous and I wouldn't remember it.
DAVIES: Now that you're out of the game do you ever dream about playing, about pitching?
MOYER: I dream - I have dreams about when I have pitched. And they're pleasant dreams. They're pleasant dreams about playing. A dream that I had while I was playing, a lot of times I'd wake up in the middle of the night and I think it was, you know, one of those subconscious dreams where you didn't really remember or you didn't know what was going on in the dream, but I'd wake up with a line drive coming right at me and I'd be sweating.
MOYER: That's not a good feeling to have.
DAVIES: Did you ever get hit?
MOYER: I have gotten hit. Nothing serious, but I have gotten hit and I've seen guys get hit and hurt seriously. And it's not fun.
DAVIES: No. I have to ask you this before we leave. You pitched in the big leagues last year. I mean, after recovering from surgery, Tommy John surgery. Is it over?
MOYER: It is. It is. I'm done. I don't think I'll be playing again. I do miss it. But I also respect that, you know, it's time for me to leave the game and, you know, my talent level has probably dropped off a little bit. And, you know, I enjoyed my career. I would not look back and say I would change one thing. And I can walk away from the game smiling and feel like I did it the way I was supposed to do and that was hard work. And that's how I was raised. I was raised with parents from southeastern Pennsylvania, blue collar family. And work and dedication is what it was all about.
DAVIES: A lot of people think you'd be a natural pitching coach or a big league manager. Is that an aspiration?
MOYER: It's something that, you know, I would always consider. Right now we have a foundation, like I said, the Moyer Foundation, and I'm actually going to try to open up a pitching academy called the Moyer Pitching Academy and try to share the experiences that I've had over the course of my career, and share the knowledge that I've been able to gain from others and the experiences that I've been through. And I feel it's a great way for myself to be able to give back to the game of baseball.
DAVIES: Well, Jamie Moyer, it's been fun. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
MOYER: Dave, thank you for your time.
GROSS: Jamie Moyer spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Moyer's new memoir is called "Just Tell Me I Can't." You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org. Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the debut album by the pop group HAIM which has opened for Vampire Weekend and Mumford and Sons. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.