Ben Moore isn’t your normal independent league player.
He will never play in the big leagues. And he’s fine with that.
He reached Double-A with the Yankees for “about 30 seconds,” as he describes it. He’s fine with that too.
Moore isn’t the independent player who feels jobbed out of his chance at the big leagues. As he sees his career, it was amazing that he ever got to pitch in high Class A, much less make a single appearance in Double-A.
Now, nine years after he was released by the Yankees, Moore is often in awe about what he’s accomplished in baseball. He long since gave up focusing on what he hasn’t been able to do; he’s more happy to look at all the amazing opportunities he’s had.
The Sioux Falls Canaries ace has pitched on four continents. He has been the American Association pitcher of the year in back-to-back seasons. He set the American Association record for career wins (41) and single-season strikeouts (144).
And he’s done it all because of a decision four and a half years ago to stop being conventional.
Back in 2009, Moore was a self-described back-of-the-rotation innings-eater. He was a dime a dozen righthander: over-the-top delivery, 88-91 mph fastball and a decent changeup. On his good nights, he’d give you a solid seven innings. On his bad nights?
“I’d be sitting and watching for seven innings,” he said.
Near the end of a third straight season in independent ball with an ERA above 5.00, on his way to setting a league record for home runs allowed (25), Moore knew that being durable was only going to take him so far. He didn’t have a pitch to get righthanders out, and since, as he notes, there are a lot of righthanders in every lineup, he was in a whole lot of trouble.
So while messing around between starts, he dropped down to a sidearm delivery and tried throwing a breaking ball. It was ugly.
“I said, ‘I’ll try to make a curveball break 20 feet.’ I kept practicing it. My pitching coach kept saying, ‘That’s terrible,’ ” Moore said. “It’s not a real pitch. You don’t want to throw a curveball without any depth. With this one, I’d try to start it behind the guy and have it finish in the lefthanded batter’s box.”
It was the end of the season, and nothing else was working for Moore, so pitching coach Mike Meyer told him he might as well try out the pitch they called “the sweeper.”
To the first batter of the next game, Moore threw a first-pitch fastball to start the game off. He followed it with the sweeper.
“He missed it by three feet,” Moore said. “The next one he missed by even more. I looked into the dugout and started laughing. My pitching coach and manager in the dugout were laughing too. That’s the pitch that saved my career.”
Once he committed to the sweeper, Moore gave up being a conventional pitcher. That 88-91 mph fastball became an 82-84 mph heater from his lower arm slot. Other pitchers can try to blow fastballs by hitters. Moore started to preach the virtues of slowing down.
“I used to throw hard for a minute, then I started throwing the same as every other righthander, 88-to-91. Hitters really liked that, so I decided I had to do something different. When I was throwing hard, guys were taking really good swings off of me,” Moore said. “They were enjoying their at-bats. Now I feel like they get mad at me because I throw 2-0 changeups and 3-1 breaking balls.”
Most pitchers fear giving up a long drive. Moore likes to give up long foul balls. As he figures, he can come right back with an even slower fastball the next pitch, knowing the hitter is likely to hit it even farther, and even farther foul.
“Now I’m up 0-2,” he said. “Then I can take even more off of it and he’ll swing right through it.”
With the sweeper, Moore went 11-8, 3.10 to be named the AA pitcher of the year in 2010. In 2011, he won the award again after going 13-4, 2.92. He went to the Atlantic League in 2012, hoping success in that league would give him a chance to play overseas. It worked, as the China Professional Baseball League’s Lamigo Monkeys signed him. He spent four months in Taiwan pitching for the eventual league champs before heading back to the States.
Now he’s back in Sioux Falls, having the same success he had since he adopted the sweeper. Moore is comfortable being unconventional. One hitter, frustrated by striking out time after time on Moore’s changeups, stood on the top step of the dugout yelling, “Why don’t you take off your skirt?”
The next day as he went out to man the ball bucket during batting practice, Moore wore a pink tutu. His most recent victim soon wandered out to apologize.
“He said, ‘Sorry, I was just so frustrated facing you,’ ” Moore said.
As a 32-year-old who is durable, Moore likely has several more years to travel the globe because of his pitching. Not every pitcher can make the transition to slow and slower, but the style fits Moore perfectly.
“He’s become a pitcher who is very comfortable with his stuff,” Sioux Falls manager Steve Shirley said. “He uses the stuff to the best of his ability. He’s not looking at the gun saying I’m only throwing 82-84 so I’m going to try to throw harder. He’ll change speeds, take more off rather than add. He’s smart and he’s become comfortable with who he is.”