Moyer dazzling in his later years

After a tremendously slow start to his career, Jamie Moyer has sparkled as he's aged.

Originally Published: September 22, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

What's amazing about Jamie Moyer isn't that he's still pitching effectively in the major leagues at 40. There have been plenty of pitchers like that, and in fact there are two others right now, in the persons of Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.

No, what's amazing about Jamie Moyer is that he's still pitching effectively at 40 after he spent his 20s not pitching effectively.

Since turning 34, Moyer has won 111 games. That's impressive; only 14 other pitchers in major league history have won more than 100 games from their Age 34 season (the season in which they were 34 on July 1) through their Age 40 season.

                   34-40  Before 34 
    Cy Young        171      286
    Warren Spahn    143      166
    Eddie Plank     135      186
    Early Wynn      123      161
    Gaylord Perry   121      158
    Phil Niekro     121      158           
    Roger Clemens   117      192
    Tommy John      114      134  
    Pete Alexander  113      235 
    Jamie Moyer     111       72
    Dazzy Vance     111       64
    Charlie Hough   111       53
    Joe Niekro      109       95
    Steve Carlton   107      192
    Randy Johnson   105      124
    

Nine of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame, and two others (Clemens and Johnson) will be, the moment they're eligible.

Jamie Moyer
Jamie Moyer is 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA in three starts in September.

What's most interesting about this list? Well, again, most of them were great pitchers for a number of years before they turned 34. What sets Moyer apart is that he wasn't. But as you can see, he's not unique in this respect. There have been a few other pitchers who didn't find themselves until their middle 30s.

Just a few, though.

Dazzy Vance, due mostly to a serious arm injury, didn't establish himself in the major leagues until 1922, when he was already 31 years old. But Vance, who at the time probably threw as hard as anybody in the world, immediately became a star. He led the National League in strikeouts seven straight seasons and eventually earned a plaque in the Hall of Fame. Vance enjoyed his last great season in 1930, when he was 39.

Charlie Hough and Joe Niekro both have excuses for winning fewer than 100 games before their Age 34 seasons: they were knuckleball pitchers. Unlike many knuckleball pitchers, though, both actually reached the majors at fairly young ages.

Hough debuted with the Dodgers when he was only 22, and became a valuable member of the staff when he was 25 ... as a relief pitcher. Hough didn't become a regular starter until 1982, by which time he was working for the Rangers. And then for the next decade he was one of the more reliable starting pitchers in the game. Hough wound up winning 216 games, and 163 of them came after his 34th birthday.

Niekro, too, reached the majors when he was 22. But his first team, the Cubs, wouldn't let him throw his knuckleball, and he basically spent the first eight seasons of his career trying to establish himself as a quality major-league pitcher (and not quite succeeding). But in 1975 he hooked up with the Astros and began to rely on his knuckleball. And like Hough, once he got into a rotation with a reliable knuckleball, he enjoyed a long (if late) career.

But Jamie Moyer doesn't throw a knuckleball, nor does he resemble Dazzy Vance in any fashion (other than his late-career success). As near as I can tell, Moyer is the only "conventional" pitcher who essentially struggled throughout his 20's (for no apparent reason), and then learned how to pitch brilliantly in his mid 30s (for no apparent reason).

In 2001, Moyer became the oldest first-time 20-game winner in major-league history, and he's got a real good chance to win 20 again this season. He turns 41 in November, but his contract with the Mariners runs for two more seasons. So how many more games can Jamie Moyer win?

Pick a number out of a hat. There's never been anybody quite like him.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.

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