James Abernathy DeForest Moyer was born in 1875, on the 30th anniversary of baseball’s documented invention by Alexander Cartwright. A precocious child, Moyer was often told to “knock that off” and “put that down.”
At the age of 10, “Young Master Jamie” (as Moyer was referred to at the time) became entranced by the pastoral sport being played with gusto by strapping young American men on the fields of Central Park. However, his parents highly disapproved of him watching or participating in what was considered an “uncouth” athletic pursuit, which was known equally as much for its physical excitement as it was for the players’ constant and creative use of phrases involving cocks and the act of sucking them.
Undeterred, Moyer would sneak out behind the livery stable each night, where he had constructed a crude pitcher’s mound out of empty oat sacks, and practice throwing cutters, changeups and fastballs exactly the way he’d seen them thrown in games. Soon he developed a formidable repertoire of pitches and ran away from home at the tender age of 35 to follow his dream of becoming a major-league pitcher.
Moyer’s first mentor in the big leagues was none other than the legendary “Cy” Young, who offered his protégé this piece of advice: “Kid, if you want to win games in this league, you have to get into the batter’s head. Make him think you’re gonna throw a strike, and then don’t throw anything at all. Just stand there. It’ll confuse and enrage him. Also, whenever possible, hit Ty Cobb in the ass.”
After several decades toiling in futility, throwing for 5 cents a pitch on the barnstorming circuit, Moyer made a courageous decision. With the help of his manager, Franklin “Shifty” Boras, he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1946, becoming the first Caucasian to play for a Negro League Team. The reaction to this historic feat among white Americans was mostly negative, while black Americans were flat-out pissed.
At first, Moyer’s new teammates were guarded and aloof around him, but he soon won them over after an incident at a St. Louis tavern. The team had entered the establishment after a road game for a drink. (“It was like the beginning of a bad joke,” recalled Moyer. “Twenty-four black guys and a white guy walk into a bar…”) The bartender refused to serve Moyer’s teammates. In solidarity, Moyer decided to join them in leaving the bar. Later, at a juke joint further along the same road, he paid for round after round of drinks for the other players after which, according to Moyer, catcher Willie O’Neill bestowed upon Moyer the affectionate nickname “White Knight.”
[Editor’s Note: O’Neill responds, “Bull-SHIT. We called him ‘Flapjack Ass.’ I guess nobody ever bothered to tell him the truth. Maybe I was supposed to and I just forgot. Oh, well. [Chuckles] Yeah, ‘Flapjack Ass.'”]
After the Negro League disbanded in 1952, Moyer once again packed his bags and continued his quest to return to the big leagues. His next stop took him across the Pacific Ocean to Asia, where he played for the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Central League. Although welcomed as a curiosity by his new teammates, Moyer had difficulty adjusting to the cultural differences of his new home, particularly with the language. His teammates made little effort to assist him; in fact, as a hazing stunt they taught Moyer how to say, “Which one of you assholes fucked my sister?” An appropriate question at times, perhaps, but certainly not when asking an old Japanese lady for directions to the train station.
Eventually Moyer did gain an understanding of Japanese culture and became such a popular player that Nintendo made him the face on the label of several 8-bit video games. But by 1992 Moyer’s body began to betray him on the mound. After one particularly grueling victory, a scout from the Seattle Mariners approached him in the locker room.
Seattle Scout: “Kid, that was a great game out there today. Say, I’ve been meaning to ask you about your changeup.”
Moyer: “What about it?”
Scout: “Well, I noticed how it seems to cut late as it crosses the plate. How do you get that kind of behavior from a changeup?”
Moyer: “Uh, that’s my fastball.”
Scout: “…No shit?”
In 1996 Nintendo purchased the Seattle Mariners, and sent Moyer back to the States to join the team as a counterpunch to the flamethrowing Randy Johnson. Together they helped lift the Mariners to a level on par with the elite teams of the American League in the late nineties.
After almost eleven seasons in Seattle, the now 131-year-old Moyer would get the chance to end his career not far from where it began: Philadelphia. Former Mariners GM Pat Gillick, now working for the Phillies organization, traded for the saggy southpaw in August, 2006. His performance helped sparked resurgence among his (much) younger teammates, helping the Phillies capture their first division title since 1993.
Moyer has often been quoted as saying he might pitch for another ten seasons or until he dissolves into a cloud of dust, whichever comes first. For those of us watching in the stands, it will be an entertaining outcome either way.
[Editor’s Note: Christ, we get it, he’s OLD! Did we really need over 800 words to explain that? Jim Caple at ESPN had a far more concise take on this tired joke.]
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