I came to editing The Cambridge Companion to Baseball as a scholar and teacher of literature, a baseball fan, and (of course) an admirer of the Cambridge Companion series. My work on the CCB thus began with an intensive education in “baseball in culture, baseball as culture” by way of the large body of scholarship and other good writing on baseball, an education that continued right through our editing of the contributors’ essays. As co-editor Leonard Cassuto and I brought The Cambridge Companion to Baseball together, we saw how many themes and narrative arcs have recurred in the stories our culture tells about baseball.
One of this year’s stories features pitcher Jamie Moyer of the Colorado Rockies, who recently became the oldest pitcher in major league history to post a win. This is a less glamorous record than some, and Moyer a less famous player. It wouldn’t be fair to call Moyer a journeyman, but he has pitched for eight teams, and while he has won twenty games in a season twice, he has never won the Cy Young Award as his league’s outstanding pitcher. Moreover, Moyer’s presence in the Rockies’ rotation is a surprise, so fans and media did not have months or years to look forward to his feat – as has been the case for Mark McGwire’s and Barry Bonds’ pursuits of home run records, for example. Not only is Moyer 49, but he’s returning to baseball after an entire season away due to reconstructive surgery on his pitching elbow. Although he never announced his retirement, hardly anyone – except Moyer – expected him to be pitching this year.
In other words, this is not a story about an achievement that elevates a player to the pantheon of all-time greats. It is not even a story about an old warrior recapturing his youthful glory or leaving the game at the same high level he always performed at – though such tales abound in baseball culture (Ted Williams, Nolan Ryan). Moyer’s story is more purely about the baseball themes of time, longevity, and faith in oneself. (“If you build it, they will come.”) As reports on Moyer’s return like to note, he made his major league debut (in 1986) before some of his Rockies teammates were born, but his first few seasons in the majors were hardly spectacular. In fact, to some observers, his playing career seemed over as long as twenty years ago, and he has enjoyed his best campaigns in his late thirties and forties. Although his career has been extended by surgery, the very steadiness of Moyer’s achievements, his “normally fit” physique, and the fact that he has never been a dominant player all argue that he is not indebted to chemical assistance. For baseball and its fans, this is a significant, if generally unexpressed, contrast with the spectacular late-career achievements of Bonds, and with others accused of (and ultimately, in McGwire’s case, admitting to) steroid use. That Moyer is a family man with eight children has also provided the media an alternate narrative to the marital scandals that have affected the image of professional sports.
As all these things about him suggest, Jamie Moyer is not an outsized, mythical hero for kids – as many baseball heroes, real and fictional, have been. (Nor, we trust, will he prove to have feet of clay.) Jamie Moyer is for grownups – because Moyer, born in 1962 and apparently the last Baby Boomer playing at this level in any major sport, appeals to all his fellow Boomers who want to believe they are and will be freaks of vigorous longevity (even if they were never superstars). Although for reasons I’ve suggested above, the media are late getting to his story, expect to see a lot more coverage of Moyer’s record-setting victory and his entire season. That coverage is likely to say, often implicitly: have faith in your abilities, draw on the wisdom age brings, take care of yourself physically, honor your responsibilities to others, and the best years of your life will be still to come. Whether or not that’s the “real” story about Jamie Moyer – and I have no reason to think otherwise – it’s a story many fans want baseball to tell them.
Stephen Partridge is Assistant Professor of English at the University of British Columbia and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Baseball.