Post number 300

I previously wrote a little bit about Jamie Moyer here, although my purpose for writing was more to describe something on one of his old cards than to talk about him. So now, on the occasion of my 300th post on this blog, I’ll return to Jamie Moyer for a few more comments.

This would be considered Jamie Moyer’s rookie card because it’s the first time he ever appeared on one of these things. He made his major league debut a few weeks after I graduated from high school, back when Ronald Reagan was president. This means that before anyone named George Bush had ever been president, Jamie Moyer was pitching in the major leagues.

I like the idea that somebody who was in the big leagues during that transitional summer when I couldn’t wait to get out of my parents’ house could still be playing the game. Everybody else from the pre-steroid era is long gone from the game, but Moyer still pitches on, possibly.

Moyer had elbow surgery and missed all of the 2011 season, and he’ll turn 50 at the end of this year. Yes, Jamie Moyer is presently 49 years old. But if he gets an offer from a big league team, and he is reported to be working towards one, then he gets back in the game needing just 33 wins to get to 300 for his career.

What’s so important about that? It’s pretty simple: win 300 games as a pitcher, and you’re in the Hall of Fame. No debate, no discussion, nobody bringing up stats like ERA+ or WAR, which didn’t even exist when Moyer began his pitching career. Moyer won’t get to 300 wins, which would take three or four seasons to accomplish. But it’s fun to think about it anyway, especially since we won’t see another pitcher approaching 300 wins for a long, long time.

Moyer has more wins than several pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame right now, including Bob Gibson. With one more win, Moyer will match Jim Palmer with 268 career wins. But Palmer is enshrined in Cooperstown already, while Moyer won’t get a whiff of the place unless he reaches 300 wins.

Wins and losses for a pitcher are the easiest stat to understand. That’s what baseball is all about, isn’t it? 18 players take the field, with umpires keeping watch over the game and fans in attendance in the grandstand, not to see who can hit the most doubles or record the most putouts in the outfield. The bottom line, for every baseball game ever played, is who scored more runs than their opponent did. Some pitcher’s going to take the win for that game, and some other pitcher is going to take the loss.

It has taken Moyer a quarter of a century to pile up 267 career wins, and only 35 men who have ever played the game can lay claim to having more wins than Moyer does. And yet, somebody somewhere made winning 300 games the bright line between an automatic Hall of Famer and somebody who we’ll have to argue over ad infinitum.

I hope Moyer does sign with somebody this year, and gets a spot in their starting rotation. I’d love to go to a game and watch a 49 year-old do battle with players who weren’t yet born when he made his big league debut, such as the Cubs’ Starlin Castro and the Braves’ Jason Heyward. And the closer he gets to 300 wins, the more foolish that arbitrary line will appear. If you can still pitch at age 49, that’s a pretty remarkable feat, Hall of Fame or no Hall of Fame.

A card unlike any other

I was going through an stack of old baseball cards today, when something caught my eye. And I have to admit that it’s a fairly exciting find, too. But first a few words about the intended subject of this card, Jamie Moyer.

Moyer began his long professional career (24 seasons, and possibly still counting) with the Chicago Cubs in the late 1980s. He spent three years with the Cubs, and was traded to the Texas Rangers late in 1988. The Cubs gave up Moyer, first baseman Rafael Palmiero, and pitcher Drew Hall, in return for Mitch Williams (who would be a key part of the Cubs’ division winner the following season) and five other players. Moyer spent two seasons in Texas (1989 and 1990), and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent in early 1991. In fact, he may have already been a Cardinal by the time this 1991 Upper Deck card hit the market. And there’s also a tell-tale can of spit tobacco (Joe Garagiola’s preferred term) in his back pocket, which is something I’ve written about here and here.

But take a look to Moyer’s right. In the first row behind the Rangers’ dugout, with both feet up and resting his arms on his knees. Wearing a red cap on his head, and staring right into the camera. He seems to be more aware of the camera than Moyer is. I think that’s George W. Bush, the son of the sitting president (at the time the picture was taken), and part of the Texas Rangers’ ownership group.

Think back to the 2011 postseason for a moment. When George W. Bush sat next to Nolan Ryan, they were not in an owner’s box, but right behind the Rangers’ dugout. This was an extension of the way that he raised his personal visibility as a private citizen in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His path to public life began with the Texas Rangers, then went to the governor’s office in Texas, and then to the White House. Visibility was the key, and you don’t get that from sitting in a skybox. Sitting behind the home team’s dugout, on the other hand, is exactly the way to draw attention to yourself.

Sitting presidents appearing on baseball cards are certainly nothing new. Topps included a number of “Presidential First Pitch” cards as an insert to their 2011 Opening Day set, and my favorite one appears below. It must be the Cubs jacket.

But to have a future president appear on a baseball card? I’d be surprised if there are any others, besides this one that I found. It’s enough to take an ordinary baseball card and turn it into something unique. I didn’t say valuable, because I believe that those who would monetize these things are missing the point. These cards are meant to connect us to the game, not to provide investment opportunities.

Baseball cards went off the rails sometime in the 1980s, when they turned into a business proposition. That’s why there’s such a severe glut of them now, where a bag of 30 old baseball cards costs one dollar at a local dollar store. There must be millions of these things out there in circulation, and the value of them collectively is next to nothing. And that’s as it should be.

These things are fodder for storiesĀ  about baseball, at least for me, and that’s why I acquire them as I do. I find these stories, and put them on this blog when I have a few moments to write them down, but I have no illusions that they will ever be anything more than that. Nor do I want them to be.