Scout Billy Blitzer Believed In Jamie Moyer From The Start
CHICAGO—Labor Day isn't a holiday for scouts, not if there's a worthwhile game going on. In 1983, that meant Billy Blitzer attended the annual Colonial York (Pa.) Baseball Tournament.
The event, still going strong today, features dozens of amateur teams, including ex-pros and current collegians. In his second of 28 years as an area scout for the Cubs, Blitzer headed to York and looked for rosters with younger players. A team from Collegeville, Pa., caught his eye (and would go on to win the tournament).
Blitzer was the only scout at a game where a junior from St. Joseph's took the mound. Jamie Moyer didn't dazzle Blitzer's radar gun, but he intrigued him nonetheless.
"He threw 82-83 mph on the Ra-Guns we used then, which is like 86-87 mph on the current guns," says Blitzer, 58, and now a pro scout for Chicago. "He was a skinny lefthander with a feel for pitching and he got guys out. He showed me great pitchability, and that's what drew me."
College teams from the North travel to the South to play early-season games, and Blitzer headed to Florida along with them the next March. Seeing Moyer again was a priority. Blitzer watched him spin a shutout in his first start, as did three other scouts, including Brad Kohler from the Major League Scouting Bureau.
Kohler filed a report that drew 20 scouts to Moyer's next start against Central Florida. After a single, walk, error and grand slam, he trailed 4-0 after four batters.
"By the third inning, I looked to my right and there were no scouts there. I looked to my left, and there were no scouts there either," says Blitzer, who helped sign Shawon Dunston as the No. 1 overall pick in 1982. "I was the only one left. Jamie went nine innings and didn't give up another run. He once asked me why I didn't leave, and I told him I didn't know any better. I wanted to see him pitch."
A Bargain At $13,000
Moyer set a still-standing school record with 90 strikeouts in 1984, and he ranked 12th in NCAA Division I with a 1.82 ERA. Yet his lack of overwhelming stuff and that first inning against Central Florida diminished interest in him from pro teams.
It's one thing for an area scout to fall in love with a player, and another to get his team to draft him. Considering that Blitzer graded out Moyer with a below-average fastball and two average secondary pitches (curveball, changeup)—albeit with above-average command and control—that could have been a hard sell.
It wasn't. When Cubs farm/scouting director Gordon Goldsberry saw Blitzer's initial report, he called the scout.
"It was one of the few times Gordie ever called me," Blitzer says. "He said, 'You seem to have a really good feel for this kid. Tell me about him.' I told him Jamie was a guy who really had a feel for pitching. Frank DeMoss, my crosschecker, really liked him.
"They believed in me. They saw how passionate I was for him. Most scouts would walk away today like they did then. I stuck to my guns. It just came down to gut feel."
Chicago drafted Drew Hall with the third overall pick in June 1984, some guy named Greg Maddux in the second round and popped Moyer in the sixth. After some brief haggling, Moyer signed for $13,000.
Continuing To Beat The Odds
Moyer never appeared on any Baseball America prospect lists, not for the draft or the Cubs or any of the minor leagues he pitched in before he reached Chicago two years after signing. He injured his shoulder after a trade to the Rangers following the 1988 season, got released in 1990 and spent most of the next two years in the minors bouncing between four organizations.
Once he got healthy again, Moyer launched one of baseball's most successful second acts ever. He has won 234 games since turning 30, the sixth-highest total in MLB history. Only Phil Niekro can top Moyer's 104 wins since turning 40.
Moyer missed all of 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, then returned with the Rockies to post a 2.28 ERA in his first four starts and on April 17 became the oldest pitcher ever (49 years, 150 days) to win a big league game. There's no point in checking the calendar or the radar gun when he pitches. He has averaged 78 mph with his fastball this year, yet has kept hitters off balance by mixing in cutters, curveballs and changeups.
"When Jamie hit 40, I started kidding him that he could pitch until 50 because he wouldn't lose anything more off his fastball," Blitzer says. "When we talked before he had Tommy John surgery, he told me he was going to rehab and try to come back. I told him, 'You've got to be kidding me. You're almost 49.' He stopped me right there and told me, 'You were the guy who always told me I could pitch at 50.'
"That's his makeup. Everyone told him in high school and college that he couldn't pitch in the big leagues. He proved them wrong, and he's still doing that."