Peter Handrinos is a frequent
contributor to Scout.com and author of the upcoming ‘The Best New York
Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard
The conventional wisdom says that
big-time sports are about larger-than-life athletes, the ones with enough money
and fame to be treated as immortals and idols. Gods, even. We don’t want
ordinary, everyday guys.
Baseball may be beloved exactly
because it’s such a human game. It’s in the nature of the sport for ball players
to stumble and fail while overcoming the limitations of their very normal-sized
physiques and, very often, those with the kind of persistence needed to overcome
those challenges can be exceptionally humble, down-to-earth individuals. It’s no
coincidence that ball players have long been counted among the most generous
philanthropists in sports - for all the extraordinary performances, the game
forces its players to develop an appreciation for everyday struggles, on and off
Jamie Moyer is an example of the
extraordinary/ordinary guys to be found within baseball.
Throughout his early career, Moyer
struggled to find a place in the game, going 66-77 with five organizations,
mostly due to his lack of power pitches. He finally established himself as a
Seattle Mariner in 1996, however, and more than made up for lost time since
then, going 145-79 from 1996-2005. Well before his 2006 trade to
Philadelphia, he’d utilized a devastating
changeup to establish himself as the Mariners’ all-time leader in
Moyer’s elite success is special
enough, but what really sets him apart is the way he’s kept faith with the less
fortunate. First inspired by his father-in-law, former Notre Dame basketball
coach Digger Phelps, Jamie Moyer has been among the great baseball
philanthropists of the modern era, committing his fame and fortune to establish
a foundation dedicated to fighting childhood diseases and enhance quality of
life for trauma victims. The Moyer
Foundation has raised more than $6 million since 2000, and used it for good
deeds like medical research, bereavement camps, and family counseling.
All along, Moyer has been more
than a famous name on a recruiting poster - he’s been a driving force in the
charitable work, the leader who’s solicited donations, met with volunteers, and
organized the events. On many occasions, he’s opened his own home to givers and
volunteers, and on even more occasions he’s taken the time to meet with the
Foundation’s many beneficiaries.
They’re the reasons why Jamie
Moyer was selected as the 2003 recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award, given
annually to the individual who best typifies both best ideal in outstanding play
and devoted community work.
Recently, Jamie discussed his
career in baseball and humanitarianism:
What did baseball mean to you when
you were growing up?
I grew up in a small town between
Philadelphia and Allentown, Pennsylvania, and baseball was a passion for me,
even as a young child. I was lucky in that I grew up with a great family and a
great group of kids. We were all very athletic and we pushed each other to get
I watched the Phillies on TV from
time to time but I was a little hyper. I couldn't sit still for too long, I had
to get up and do something. Looking back, baseball was primarily about getting
out with my friends.
As a young man, did you think of
ball players as role models off the field?
Probably not. I probably didn't
understand that much, even on the field. Sure, I saw Steve Carlton, but I really
understand what he did as a pitcher? No, not really, not like I do today. I
didn't get a sense of ball players' off-field character until much later, when I
had a chance to meet guys like Ernie Banks in person.
One of the things that's unique
about baseball is the emphasis placed on character, on ‘the right way to carry
yourself’ and relate to others. Did you have a sense of that when you were
coming up to the Majors?
The Cubs organization definitely
taught us about that kind of thing. 'It's a privilege to wear the uniform'.
'Take pride in it'. 'Know that whenever you wear the uniform, others are
watching you'. 'Be a professional, on the field and off'. There was a gentleman
in the Minor League staff, Jim Snyder, who constantly emphasized those kinds of
Were charities a big part of your
Not really. I think it all started
when I met my wife and lived in South Bend for a time. I saw my in-laws'
activities in the larger community, especially my father-in-law and, over time,
through that example, I saw how you could make a difference in people's lives.
You know, just by going over to a school and doing a book reading, or signing
some autographs. Just showing people that you care.
In the past you've mentioned a
young man named Gregory Chaya as an important inspiration in your getting more
involved. How did that start?
There was a little bit fate in
that. A parish church priest, who had married my wife and I, told us he had a
parishioner who could use a visit. That's all he asked, just one
Gregory was two years old when I
met him in 1993, as a patient in Johns Hopkins Medical Hospital. He was a very,
very sick little boy, afflicted with a rare form of leukemia. Karen and I had a
one-year old at the time, and to see a kid battling for his life - it really hit
home. It didn't take much for us to put things in perspective and appreciate how
fortunate we were.
It was tough for Gregory - after
he was first diagnosed, he went into remission for a time, then the cancer came
back at Christmastime. He had to go back to the hospital and some good medical
people said, 'Let's just make him comfortable and give him the best quality of
Fortunately, the Chaya family
didn't accept that and they had the foresight to seek out a great institution,
the Fred Hutchinson Research Center of Seattle. They didn't know what was going
to happen when they walked through those doors, but the family had faith.
Gregory's still alive to this day,
as a healthy 15-year old boy, the only one that made it from his time at Hutch.
He's a miracle. I don't know how many times I've talked about that meeting and
the relationship since then, but I just don't have the words to completely
describe it. It's just a special bond that developed over the years, through our
visits and calls.
As you know, others might have
avoided that situation in the first place, if only because of the potential
heartbreak involved. Why did you decide to establish such a personal
Gregory, thankfully, survived his
illness, but we've had our share of losses. You might know that we named our
bereavement project, Camp Erin, after a brave young lady named Erin Metcalf, who
didn't win her battle.
I don't minimize the heartbreak.
It's there. It can be so, so difficult when you see kids and families suffering
terribly through absolutely no fault of their own, but if you step back and
listen, though, you can learn a lot in their stories. It's amazing what you can
learn from children. Gregory's survival is a tribute to some terrific doctors,
but it was about a belief, too - the Chaya's believed, Gregory believed. After a
time, so did we.
In his own way, he's been a
fighter. He taught us to be fighters, too.
Is it ever draining for you on a
One thing I've found out over the
course of, now, a relatively long career - you really find out about true colors
during struggles. When a player or a team is facing adversity during a slump,
that's when you find out how strong they really are, and it's the same thing in
a hospital. Helping distressed kids helps you see that strength,
I'll tell you what, you don't see
a lot of sick kids sitting around saying, 'Poor me'. They're very resilient.
They find ways to believe. This may sound corny, but most of the kids I've come
across, whether they make it or they don't make it, have ended up inspiring me. There are big lessons in their
bravery, and openness to that's helped make us better
How have you gone about
establishing a personal bond?
Kids, when you first meet them,
they might be a little nervous, they might not know how to act, but after a
little bit, they warm up to you. All you really need is a good attitude and some
You know, it's like meeting
someone out in the community, say at one of my kids' ball games, for the first
time. They might be afraid to talk to you, it can be a standoff. If you welcome
them, though, the next thing you know, you're chatting away. That's the neat
A lot of people give their time
and money to charities, and that's generous enough. Why did you decide to take
the extra step in establishing your own foundation in 2000, then becoming so
involved in its operations?
When I had a chance to really
establish my career in Seattle after 1996, we realized there was
a great need out here and we could help. As I mentioned, I knew about Hutch due
to my friendship with Gregory.
Why do my wife and I get so
involved? Because, if you do it, you do it right. We wanted to make sure to
prove our legitimacy; that we weren't going to spend the money frivolously or
hire family members on the payroll. My wife works [at the Foundation] a lot, but
donates all her time as an unpaid employee.
We wanted to be hands-on for
another reason - to ensure that operating costs are kept to an absolute minimum.
When people give to the Moyer Foundation, they can be completely comfortable
that their donation will impact on those who need it. Our goal has been to keep
operating costs under 10% and, at certain events, a full 100% of the funds go
right back to the community. That's key.
I don't doubt your sincerity, but
it's kind of remarkable that you'd be so willing to roll up your sleeves so
often. I mean, Major Leaguers, on some level, are like astronauts and Presidents
- the elites of the elites. It's not necessarily reasonable to expect them to excel in their job, then
turn around and give back in their everyday lives.
I think the media attention has
changed everything from 25, 40, 50 years ago, whether through national ESPN
coverage or local coverage. I think - and I don't mean this in a disrespectful
way - that the fans and the media can put players on a pedestal. They can forget
that we are human beings, that we do have issues in our lives, just like
Of course I want to be a great
baseball player. It's nice to be in front of big crowds and to be on TV, and I'm
not fooling anybody - the salary's pretty good. At the same time, I would never
put myself above anybody as a person. I don't think it's a good way to go
It's funny - when I was a young
player, I ate, slept, and lived baseball, and I couldn't let it go. When I was
struggled, I couldn't get away, and it drove me crazy. The experiences with the
Foundation have taught me that, you know, I can give 100% at work and still have
other things in my life. It's OK. The charitable stuff is sort of like my six
children - it's a good outlet away from the professional
I'd never make a comparison
between sports and someone’s fight to live, but there is at least a superficial
similarity in that ultimate success can turn on mental focus and motivation. Can
you talk about that?
You're right, saving lives is a
lot more serious, but there is some connection.
The first thing that comes to mind
is - conquering fears. Anyone who tells you that he doesn't have fears is lying.
We all have fears. We all fear failure. We all fear dying. What I've learned in
the course of my career is to be persistent and channel that energy in a
positive way, so fear isn't a roadblock, but a motivation. That's how you can be
I know that, in my younger days as
a pro, I used to say 'Why me?' or 'Here we go again'. I've been able to turn my
career around partly because I learned to say, 'It is what it is. It's up to me
to get better'. So, I'd say that facing your fears is key - in baseball and in
Another thing that comes to mind
is balance. I played with guys like Andre Dawson [of the Cubs] and Nolan Ryan
[of the Rangers] and if there’s one thing I learned from those gentlemen - if
you have a bad day, it's OK. You don't have to like it, but, hey, you can learn
from bad days, work, and turn it around. That always
Coincidentally or not, your
arrival in Seattle marked an ongoing period when you've been one of the most
successful starters in baseball. Has your celebrity helped recruit volunteers
Well, my job definitely allows me
to introduce myself and establish positive relationships, because people
naturally want to be associated with positive things.
That's helpful, but it's really
not about Jamie Moyer and Karen Moyer, the president and vice president of the
foundation, it's about taking ideas and energy from a lot of good people and
making them happen. Without the volunteers and the in-kind contributions, the
Foundation wouldn't exist, and that's why we make a point of constantly thanking
them. It means so much to us. Like police officers and firefighters, they can
help save lives.
At the Foundation, it's about all
of us. It’s a team. You don't know how many times my wife says that word -
Speaking of another team - did
Mariners contribute to the Foundation's work and events?
I try to be respectful in asking
my teammates in asking for help, but I believe the majority know about our work,
and many have helped out at events like our bowling tournament. They're very
relaxed environments for families, and a chance to have
You're in elite company in being
cited for the Roberto Clemente Award, as you know. What did that recognition
mean to you?
I never had a chance to meet Mr.
Clemente, but I did meet his widow and his grown children. He was an
outstanding, outstanding player on the field and someone who had to lay down his
life in the service of others.
It was incredible, a huge honor.
Again, I'm at a loss for words to express what's it's really like. I've never
had the chance to win the World Series, but I imagine it would be that same kind
What do you see in the
Hopefully, we can gain more
awareness of our charity's work and our web site, www.moyerfoundation.org,
so we can grow in Seattle and the Northwest. I certainly
hope we can do more nationwide efforts, like our bereavement camps for the
families affected by 9-11 and our relief drive for the victims of the
More than anything else, I just
hope we attract more and more good people to the Foundation, long after I retire
as a player. I've seen it make a remarkable difference.
The complete Table of Contents for
the ‘Baseball Men’ interview series can be found here.