Commentary

Moyer on the verge of joining HR history

Once veteran LHP gives up four more homers, he'll tie mark for most long balls allowed

Originally Published: June 1, 2010
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

America's newest home run king wouldn't mind returning the crown to the factory.

"It's nothing I'm proud of or I'm going to gloat about," Jamie Moyer said with a laugh recently as his rendezvous with home run history drew just about imminent. "I'm sure I'll be the brunt of many jokes about it. But I've been the brunt of many jokes before. So I'm not going to lose any sleep over it."

[+] EnlargeJamie Moyer
Dale Zanine/US PresswireJamie Moyer, 47, has allowed 10 home runs in 10 starts so far this season.

And why would he? He's 47 years old and still pitching in the major leagues. So he finds himself making some kind of history or another pretty much every time he grabs a rosin bag. It's just that, this time around, it's a slice of history he didn't exactly grow up dreaming of making.

When the Phillies' high-mileage left-hander heads for the mound again in a few days, he'll find himself a mere four home runs from a record that has stood since the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration:

Most home runs in the history of baseball.

Uh, home runs allowed, that is.

The late, great Robin Roberts has held that record since 1966 -- exactly as many years, amazingly enough, as Hammerin' Henry Aaron once hung on to his all-time record for home runs hit. Roberts served up a staggering 505 homers over 19 Hall of Fame-worthy seasons, from 1948 to 1966. Moyer was precisely 3 years and 10 months old when Roberts served up the last of those 505 bombs, to Willie Stargell, on Sept. 3, 1966.

Now Moyer finds himself with 501 home runs allowed over 24 seasons (but also in 700 fewer innings than Roberts). The good news is that Moyer has gone three straight starts without giving up a homer, for just the second time in his past 40 starts. But the bad news is that unless this crafty changeup artiste can find a way to turn himself into a ground ball machine in about the next 30 seconds, there's no stopping this particular journey on the old history train.

Home run history is bigger than pretty much any other kind of baseball history, of course. Moyer has caught on to that. But just so the decision-makers in Bristol, Conn., are aware of this, if it were up to Moyer, he would encourage ESPN not to break into any regularly scheduled programming to show this historic blast. He wouldn't mind if we'd even forget to mention it on "SportsCenter."

But he knows there's about as much chance of the world ignoring this momentous feat as there is of all 30 teams ignoring his birth date when they go free-agent-pitcher shopping this winter.

Asked whether he wants people to say, as he walks down the street, "There goes the new home run king," Moyer chuckled: "No. No. No. I don't want to be associated with it. But I'm sure there'll be some association. There's some people in my family -- namely, my father-in-law [ESPN's own Digger Phelps] and an uncle-in-law and a brother-in-law -- who like to rub it in. So I'm sure I'll hear about it. But it's all good. Just conversation."

And it is, indeed, all good -- because think how good a pitcher has to be for anybody to allow him to face enough hitters to give up 505 homers. But if you start rummaging through the details on all those home runs, boy, is there plenty to converse about. For instance …

• Moyer has allowed home runs to 319 different hitters, by far the most of all time. The next-closest pitcher in history, according to SABR home run historian David Vincent, is Randy Johnson, with "just" 279. Frank Tanana (273) is the only other pitcher within 50. And Roberts divided up his homers among "only" 209 different hitters, in part because baseball forgot to invent expansion for most of his career.

• Those 319 hitters sure span the generations. Moyer has given up home runs to men born in the 1940s (Mike Schmidt), '50s (Bill Madlock to Pedro Guerrero), '60s (Darryl Strawberry to Frank Thomas), '70s (Johnny Damon to Jason Bay) and '80s (David Wright to Prince Fielder). And he recently faced a guy born in the '90s (Starlin Castro) -- but kept him in the yard.

• Fortunately, Jamie Moyer has not served up a home run in every stadium ever built. But we'll say this: He gave it a heck of an effort. He's given up at least one home run in 41 ballparks -- including 15 that are now defunct, destroyed or imploded.

• Want a breakdown? Moyer has allowed 292 solo homers, 143 two-run homers, 59 three-run homers and seven grand slams. He has divvied them up into 100 two-homer games, 28 three-homer games, one four-homer game and one five-homer game. And his 500th gopherball -- to Jim Edmonds, on May 14 -- came in just the second three-homer inning of his career.

• If hardware adds any luster to this feat, you should know that Moyer has given up homers to 12 MVPs, 22 rookies of the year and six Hall of Famers (Schmidt, Cal Ripken Jr., Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and newly elected Andre Dawson).

• Being the family guy he is, Moyer also has served them up to one set of brothers (Bengie and Jose Molina, but not Yadier) and two father-son combos (Prince and Cecil Fielder, Tony Pena Jr. and Sr.).

• He has allowed home runs to a Crime Dog (Fred McGriff), a Wonder Dog (Rex Hudler), a Mad Dog (Bill Madlock) and an O-Dog (Orlando Hudson); to a Bass (Kevin) and a Salmon (Tim); to a Brown (Emil) and a Greene (Todd); to a Snow (J.T.) and a Raines (Tim); to a Bay (Jason) and a Brooks (Hubie); and to two different Alex Gonzalezes.

• He has even given up home runs to 11 hitters who haven't shown up in a box score for at least 20 years -- including two men (Madlock and Terry Harper) who last played in a big league game in 1987.

And those are just the highlights. So we asked Moyer to reflect on some of the other diverse home run memories that are still trotting around the bases in his head.

• On what it takes to give up this many home runs: "I chose the opportunity to have that many repetitions, and this is what it's led to. So be it. I'll take the repetitions, and I'll take that chance. I'm proud to have had the opportunity to have that many repetitions, to be able to throw that many pitches."

• On the one thing he actually likes about home runs: "The good thing about a home run is it clears the bases. It can be a rally killer. When you give up a hit, a hit, a hit, a walk and then a hit, you think, 'When's it going to end?'"

• On Manny Ramirez, who has hit more homers off him (10) than any other hitter: "This is going to sound odd coming out of my mouth. But I always felt like I challenged him with fastballs. When he was in Cleveland -- and I really remember this -- I felt like, on every borderline pitch, he got the call. And I always felt like when you had to throw a guy like that, in my opinion, an extra strike or two, it's going to come back to bite you because he is such a good hitter."

• On Carlos Delgado, who has hit more homers off him (eight) than any other left-handed hitter: "There's another guy I felt like I challenged a lot, not necessarily with the mentality of a guy who throws 95 and says, 'Here, hit it if you can.' But it was more with the attitude of, 'I'm going to make a good pitch with my fastball.' And man, I made a lot of mistakes to him."

• On Bernie Williams, who has hit more homers off him (seven) than any other switch-hitter: "I have a friend who used to kid me all the time about Bernie. He'd say, 'Bernie just hit a home run that went by my house.' Or, 'You're facing the Yankees. You think Bernie's going to play today?' And I'd say, 'Yeah, he's picking me up at the hotel.'"

• On Roberto Alomar, the hitter with the most career plate appearances against Moyer (49) never to have hit a home run off him: "That surprises me because 500 is a lot of home runs. I've faced a lot of people. And he's a very good hitter."

• On his first home run allowed, to Juan Samuel in Philadelphia on June 23, 1986: "That was in my second start. Lasted like 2 1/3 [innings] that day. … But the thing I remember most about Juan is that he broke up my no-hitter [the next year]. It was in my first start of '87. I took a no-hitter into the eighth. And the thing that's most vivid in my mind is that I walked six, and, going into the eighth, I'd struck out Juan three times. Then I hung a changeup, and he got a base hit, right over [Ryne Sandberg's] head."

• On the only walk-off homer he ever allowed, to Alfonso Soriano in Texas on June 24, 2004: "We were in extra innings, and we ran out of pitchers. So I went down to the 'pen to get loose. I think I got out of a bases-loaded jam in the previous inning. But then I went out the next inning and gave up a home run. Yep, I do remember that one -- vividly."

• On pitching in his first home park, Wrigley Field: "When I pitched there, I felt like the wind blew in more than it blew out. But when it blew out, it really blew out. I mean, you could give up a pop-up that was in the basket [just above the wall]. But to be honest, I don't remember any like that. That was a long time ago. That was 400-some-odd home runs ago."

• On the toughest park to serve up home runs in: "I was going to tell you Safeco Field [his old home park in Seattle]. But … I led the league [in home runs] one year [2004] pitching in Safeco Field. So I guess that's a contradiction."

• On how hard it is to keep the ball from leaving his current home park, hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park: "I remember I gave up one [in '09] to Milton Bradley where he hit a fly ball to left field and he saw it off the bat and, in disgust, he threw his bat away. Then he just started jogging, thinking it was a fly ball. And the sucker went out. So he left home plate upset, and he crossed it smiling."

• On watching all those home run trots: "Some of the hardest things to deal with were that part of it -- the trots, or the walk around the bases, whatever you want to call it. … My feeling is, 'Hey, you hit the home run. You deserved it. But don't show the other guy up, the pitcher.' I don't think I've ever said anything [to anyone who took an extra-showy trot]. But I've stared at guys. I know that."

• On his most memorable flap after a home run -- the fallout after a Carl Everett homer in 2001: "Carl Everett used to hit left-handed off me. … And he stood right on top of the plate. So I pointed at [catcher] Danny Wilson and said, 'Watch his feet because I don't think he's in the box.' … But Carl thought I was pointing at him. Carl then hit a home run, and he did some antics around the bases, and that flustered me a little bit. I thought that was quite disrespectful. But the whole thing was a total misunderstanding, and I found that out when we became teammates in Seattle. We talked about it, and we laughed about it. He said, 'I thought you were pointing at me.' And I said, 'I didn't even know you as a person.'"

• On allowing all those home runs but never hitting one: "It's easy to remember the balls I've hit [hard] because I haven't hit that many. But I did hit a ball once off a guy named Terry Leach, who was a side-arming right-hander with the Mets. It was at Wrigley Field. The wind was gale-ing out. And I hit a fly ball that I think hit off the wall in deep left-center field. … I can still remember the feeling when I hit that ball. It felt like a knife through butter."

• On giving up three home runs in one inning three starts ago in Milwaukee: "In the middle of an inning, it's not the kind of thing you think about. But after the game, I was thinking, 'How did Bernie the Brewer get up there [to the top of his slide] three times in one inning?' Maybe I wore him out."

After all these homers and all these years, however, the one guy Moyer hasn't worn out is himself. Which explains why he's still rolling, even though he's now a whole decade older than the next oldest starter in the National League (Derek Lowe). And why there isn't another active pitcher within 100 home runs of him. And, most important of all, why there isn't another active pitcher within 28 wins of him.

So now he's about to join a club he never expected to find himself in -- the Home Run King Club. Think about this group: Ruth … Aaron … Bonds … and, uh, Moyer?

"People kid that I played with Babe Ruth," he said. "But no, that's not true."

What is true, though, is that, after more than 600 starts and nearly 4,000 innings, one more line in the history book is about to have Jamie Moyer's name attached to it. It might not be his favorite line of the history book. But if anybody can appreciate what this slice of history really means, it's baseball's walking history museum.

"Somebody's gotta do it," said baseball's next Home Run King. "It might as well be me."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com