For pitchers, there is no more painful moment than when their handiwork is walloped over the fence. Given that the average home-run trot takes 21.89 seconds, according to a Marquette University data coordinator, Mr. Moyer has spent a full three hours—the equivalent of one game—doing what pitchers dread the most. In a sense, though, this record that he’ll soon set is a mark of greatness. The pitcher at the top of the list, Mr. Roberts, who died this month, is in the Hall of Fame. So are Nos. 3 (Ferguson Jenkins), 4 (Phil Niekro) and 5 (Don Sutton). Giving up that many home runs is a testament to longevity, a sign Mr. Moyer must have been doing something right to hang around this long. Indeed, he has the most wins, 263, of any active pitcher.
“I’m not sour about it; I’m not bitter about it,” he says. “I’ve had enough repetitions to create this.” His 24-year career has been a study in quiet steadiness. After winning 34 games during his 20s, he became a reliable double-digit-game winner through most of his 30s. His best years were 1998-03, when he had five sub-4.00 ERA seasons for the Seattle Mariners. Still, he has only made the All-Star Game once, when he went 21-7 in 2003, at age 40. Mr. Moyer is also famous for his velocity. That is, the lack of it. In an era when many major leaguers throw 90 miles per hour, and one reliever, the Detroit Tigers’ Joel Zumaya, regularly hits 100, Mr. Moyer’s fastball averages 81.4 mph. And it’s not like he had it and lost it: He threw in the mid-80s when he was a prospect. He has succeeded because of his precise control and his ability to keep hitters off-balance, which he does by using both sides of the plate. “I don’t know that there’s ever been a major-league baseball player who’s done more with less,” says George Bennett, who coached Mr. Moyer at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
The scouts had started to notice him at St. Joe’s, but one day, with several of them in attendance, Mr. Moyer served up a grand slam in the first inning. “By the third inning, I looked to my left and to my right, and nobody was there,” says Chicago Cubs scout Billy Blitzer, who stuck around. The Cubs wound up taking Mr. Moyer and a waify righthander named Greg Maddux in the 1984 draft, two outstanding choices that defied baseball’s devotion to measurables like velocity and size. Mr. Moyer throws so softly, even laymen are convinced they can hit him. Howard Eskin, a sports-talk-radio host on WIP in Philadelphia, has said on-air that he wishes he could face Mr. Moyer. “I just can’t believe he gets people out,” Mr. Eskin says. “Is that disrespectful? I don’t think so. I can’t even figure out whether I’m criticizing him or if I’m just amazed. I’m just amazed that he gets as many people out as he does.”
Indeed, Mr. Moyer is off to a decent start this season, with a 5-3 record and a 4.30 ERA, including a complete-game shutout of the Atlanta Braves this month. But then there are the homers. Mr. Moyer has allowed 10 this season, tied for the second most in the majors through sunday. Lifetime, Manny Ramirez has taken him deep 10 times, the most of any hitter, according to Baseball-Reference.com, a statistical website. Once at Safeco Field in 2006, Mr. Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox tagged Mr. Moyer for five homers in a single game.
The first big-league homer Mr. Moyer allowed, to Phillies second baseman Juan Samuel, occurred June 23, 1986, in Mr. Moyer’s second major-league game. The final score: Phillies 19, Cubs 1. Mr. Moyer remembers vividly. “I was back in my hometown [Philadelphia], a couple of busloads of people came down, my parents were there—and I get knocked out of the game in the third inning,” he says. “If I could’ve crawled from the mound underneath the Astroturf to the dugout, I would’ve.”
Mr. Moyer’s willingness to challenge hitters inside also has led to home runs, as such pitches are easier to launch than outside ones. He also has pitched in some hitter-friendly ballparks like Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Boston’s Fenway Park (briefly) and Seattle’s Kingdome. His current home, Citizens Bank Park, is one of the most notorious home-run parks in the majors. But he says he likes pitching there, even though he knows he’s going to get hit. “There probably aren’t a lot of pitchers who like to come here to pitch,” he says. “The mind set for me is a little different. I’m not concerned about my ERA; I’m concerned about giving us a chance to win.”
Although his contract expires after this season, Mr. Moyer says he doesn’t know when he’ll retire. (Pat Gillick, who once was Mr. Moyer’s general manager in Seattle and who acquired the pitcher when Mr. Gillick was the Phillies’ GM, thinks he’ll try to pitch at least until he’s 50.) Mr. Moyer also has a charity, the Moyer Foundation, that helps distressed children.
One plus for Mr. Moyer is that his arm hasn’t changed much over the years. Because he never could blow hitters away, he never had to adjust to not being able to, as so many other pitchers do. “You’re right in saying that,” Mr. Moyer says, “but try pitching with the stuff I have.”