We don't often think of professional athletes improving with age, but Jamie Moyer was a better pitcher in his 40s than he was in his 20s. Moyer became the oldest pitcher to win a Major League Baseball game when, in April 2012, at the age of 49 years, 150 days, he pitched the Colorado Rockies to a 5-3 win over the San Diego Padres.
Moyer's story isn't just the tale of a talented guy who hung on to his game a little longer than others. He managed to gain control of the mental side of his sport — and he did it with the help of a gruff, self-taught sports psychologist named Harvey Dorfman. Moyer pitched for eight teams, but his best years were with the Seattle Mariners, where he became an all-star, and the Philadelphia Phillies, where he was a starter in a World Series run.
Moyer chronicles his journey in a new book, Just Tell Me I Can't: How Jamie Moyer Defied the Radar Gun and Defeated Time. The memoir, which he co-wrote with writer Larry Platt, is full of inside-baseball tales: how he got inside hitters' heads, worked umpires to get a better strike zone, and learned to use his teeth — yes, his teeth — to tell his catcher he was changing the location of the pitch he was throwing.
Moyer was never blessed with a blazing fastball. His speed was below average even in his youth, and to compete in the big leagues, he had to locate his pitches with pinpoint accuracy and outthink his hitters.
"I had a real up and down career," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "As a pitcher I was very inconsistent; I was still in my late 20s trying to find myself in the major leagues — which was kind of scary, when I look back at it."
Moyer talks with Davies about how he's kept his mind and his body in shape to compete with men half his age.
On how Harvey Dorfman, his mental skills coach, influenced his approach to the game
Harvey was really into sports but was born with an asthmatic disorder and really wasn't able to be an athlete ... but really followed sports and had a passion for sports. He ended up getting an English degree and was an English teacher. He coached the women's basketball team and somehow got a job with the Oakland A's. ... He did a lot of the sports psychology with the A's, and he wrote a book, The Mental Game of Baseball, with Karl Kuehl. ...
He really taught me to think about what I was doing, analyze what I was doing. In the book he talks about paralysis by analysis. I think sometimes we can get too much information and paralyze ourselves with all of the information and forget the task at hand. ...
"What is the task that I'm trying to conquer?" For me, that was the mental side of the game; it was my preparation, my focus, my accountability, who I was as a person, staying in your own person, not trying to be somebody else. All of these things I was trying to do as a competitive Major League Baseball pitcher. I was really so concerned about results that I was losing focus on really who I was and what got me to the major league level.
On using psychology to frustrate batters
Knowing that we all have an ego — and that in baseball sometimes those egos can be really big — hitters can have really big egos and not only do they want to hit home runs but they want to hit them 30 rows back, because that's what people want to see. So now take that ego that they have and use it against them. ... If I can throw a hard pitch — maybe it's just off the plate — but [then] I throw the same pitch or a pitch looking just like it, but it's 8-10 miles an hour slower ... and they swing like it's the hard pitch, now all of the sudden they're thinking it's a fastball and they're swinging way ahead of the ball, and now they become frustrated. And that's where the game of chess, of cat and mouse in baseball really comes into play.
On the pitcher's posture — and what it can communicate
The posture that you never want to show, for me, is to throw a pitch and your body gets a little droopy ... your body kind of crumbles, and you catch the ball and you snap at the ball, you're glaring at the umpire, you're "whining" to the umpire, and that's very visible from 60 feet away. The hitter sees that, your teammates see that, the fans see that, the broadcasters see that, everybody sees that. To me, you want to show absolutely nothing. You want to have strong eyes, you want to be staring at your target, and you're really showing no emotion, you want show that "I'm in control here." You want to get the ball back; you want to create a good tempo between pitches.
On strategically talking to the umpire
You can respectfully give him a little bit of a glare. There have been times where I didn't like where the game was going in terms of balls and strikes and I'd call my catcher out to the mound, for no particular reason. ... If you stand there long enough talking to your catcher the umpire will come walking and usually ... the umpire will say, "Hey let's go, let's speed it up here." And I'd wait until the umpire would get all the way to the mound and I would continue to talk to the catcher, but I was really talking to the umpire ... and I'd be asking him about, "Hey where was that last pitch?" or "Is my catcher blocking your pitches?" Or "Are you having a tough day?" Because there are a lot of times where I'd walk off the field and say, "Bear with me, I'm having a tough day." ... What I was really just trying to do was get the umpire to think about what he was calling and trying to do it in a respectful way. I don't want to be demonstrative. I do respect that this is his job, too, and I'm not trying to create any animosity between myself and the umpire because the umpire can really be beneficial to me.
On being considered "old" for the major leagues
At first it bothered me a little bit but after a while I realized that some people just don't know how to react to things. ... I actually learned to enjoy it and I learned to have fun with it. I know when I played in Philadelphia my teammates would always be rousing me about something about age, and it would always be funny, I would give them a little snarl and say, "Respect your elders." But we had a lot of fun with it. In baseball terms, I really was old, but in everyday life, I really wasn't. Again, I really found that playing into my 40s uplifted a lot of people. You don't know how many times I would walk on the streets and people would say, "Keep doing what you're doing."