- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Who knows? The Red Sox, not the Yankees, might have been the team dominating baseball over the past half dozen years had they not made one terrible decision with a pitcher in 1996.
Boston, not New York, might be such a perennial World Series presence that it includes "celebrating on the mound'' in spring training fundamental drills had they not made a move that should haunt them more than the words, ''Mike Torrez.''
The Fenway Faithful, not the Bronx Zoo, might be the smuggest, most insufferable fans in baseball had the Red Sox not let go of one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.
As Clemens nears his 300th victory, consider these comparisons. Since leaving the Red Sox as a free agent following the 1996 season, Clemens is 107-43 and has been paid $59 million. Since the Red Sox traded Moyer to the Mariners earlier that year, he is 105-50 and has been paid $31.5 million.
In other words, the Red Sox could have a pitcher with more than 100 wins over the past seven seasons and easily have enough money to have signed Pedro or anybody else to front the rotation.
You don't hear much about Moyer. He's never struck out 20 batters in a game. He's never been ejected from a postseason game in the second inning while wearing warpaint. He's never assaulted Mike Piazza with a splintered bat.
All he does is win. And win. And win. Since 1996, he has a better winning percentage than Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux. In fact, he has the best winning percentage in baseball during that span (minimum 15 decisions each season).
Granted, that doesn't make Moyer the best pitcher in baseball. But he's the best pitcher who was once released by the Texas Rangers.
No, the Red Sox weren't the only team to underestimate Moyer. The Mariners are his seventh organization since he was drafted in 1984. He once was traded for Mitch Williams. He pitched for Joe Torre -- in St. Louis.
He learned quite a bit about pitching during all those journeys and finally put it all together in 1996. He is the second big-league pitcher to go from as many as 23 games under .500 for his career to 23 games above .500.
"He's like a fine wine, he gets better with age,'' said Minnesota third base coach Al Newman, who faced him as a player more than a decade ago. "No, actually, he just gets slower.''
It's true. Moyer can pitch in the mid 80s, but he loves to make batters look ridiculous by throwing curveballs and changeups in the 70s that appear to defy gravity. He throws slop up there so tantalizingly slow that scouts can measure his pitches by counting "One Mississippi, two Mississippi.'' As one opponent said after Moyer made him look silly this year, "He was throwing feathers up there.''
Moyer is as old school as they come -- he still shows his stirrup socks -- and even without a blazing fastball he can be a mean SOB on the mound. He isn't afraid to pitch seriously inside and if a batter crosses him, he isn't afraid to leave a bruise. On several occasions, catcher Dan Wilson has heard Moyer shout at the batter and ask what pitch he would like him to throw next. "They don't know what to make of it,'' Wilson said.
He turns 41 this fall, but Moyer is in exceptional shape and is capable of pitching several more seasons. With 171 career wins, he could very well finish with more than 200. That may not be as impressive as Clemens' final total, but Boston fans wouldn't have minded if a few more of them had come in a Red Sox uniform.
Boxscore line of the week
Ken Griffey Jr. delivered one of the most welcome lines of the season when he went 4-for-4 with two home runs Saturday (coming two runs short of a perfect 4 AB, 4 R, 4 H, 4 RBI line) to lift his batting average to .300. But we still prefer Friday's line from the player who replaced him in center field in Seattle, Mike Cameron.
Torii Hunter, Minnesota's gold glove outfielder who makes his living robbing opponents of home runs, finally had it happen to him last Friday when Cameron leaped and reached waaaaaaaayyyyy over the fence to bring back a certain three-run homer in Seattle.
"The thief got robbed,'' Hunter said. "That's the first time anyone has ever done that to me. Now I know what it feels like. And it sucks.''
That wasn't the only notable web gem by Cameron. With Jacque Jones breaking from second on the ball, Cameron speared a low line drive just off the grass for the second out, then kept running in and stepped on second base to easily double-up Jones for a rare unassisted double play and this seldom seen boxscore line:
"I've never done that before,'' Cameron said. "I don't think anyone's ever done that before.''
Well, yes, they have. Joe McEwing was the most recent to do it, pulling off the trick April 4 of last year.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Bob Hope turns 100 this week. The Yankees have won all but 15 of their 8,895 victories during his lifetime. Hope, by the way, was the part-owner of the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s, when his friend, Bing Crosby, was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates. ... Career mark for Clemens since the Red Sox let the Rocket go after the 1996 season: 107-43, 3.34 ERA, 1,386 strikeouts, 1,355.2 innings, 201 starts, three Cy Young awards, two World Series championships, one triple crown, $59.2 million in salary. Career mark for Pedro Martinez since Boston signed him one year later: 91-26, 2.30, 1,102 strikeouts, 1,040.1 innings, 148 starts, two Cy Young awards, no World Series, one triple crown, $72.675 million in salary. ... How tough have the Dodgers and Cubs pitchers been? Both have more strikeouts than hits allowed (419-351 for Los Angeles and 431-365 for Chicago). The only major-league staff to finish a season with more strikeouts than hits allowed was Cleveland in 1968. . . . Detroit's Mike Maroth has lost as many games (nine) in the first two months of the season as Pedro Martinez has lost since Sept. 20, 2000. ... Detroit has been shut out nine times already. The record for a season is 30. ... Physics lesson: How much mass was involved when C.C. Sabathia collided with Dmitri Young in last Wednesday's Detroit-Cleveland game? ... A follow-up to readers who might have enjoyed last week's trivia question regarding the relative ages of Jack McKeon and Wilford Brimley -- Brimley is less than two years older than Robert Redford, the man who called him "Pop'' in "The Natural.''
From left field
Baseball is an expensive game, and it's especially painful for teams when they're paying millions to players who can't even play. For instance, Albert Belle is still officially on Baltimore's disabled list and being paid $12 million even though he hasn't played in three seasons while Pat Meares is still on Pittsburgh's and being paid nearly $4 million even though he hasn't played since 2001.
Compared to that, the teams with these active players who at some point this season were on the disabled list have nothing to moan about. Our All-Star All-Hurt team:
Pos., Player Salary
C Mike Piazza $15.6 million
1B Mo Vaughn $17 million
2B Craig Counsell $2.5 million
SS Barry Larkin $9 million
3B Phil Nevin $5 million
OF Sammy Sosa $16 million
OF Jeromy Burnitz $12.2 million
OF Bernie Williams $12.4 million
LHP Randy Johnson $15 million
RHP Pedro Martinez $15.5 million
-- sign held up by an apparent Red Sox fan when Roger Clemens failed to get his 300th win.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Letting Roger Clemens leave after the 1996 season might not have been the Red Sox's worst move that year.