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Balor Moore

November 17, 2008
 Untitled 
“People ask me if I would go back to the game if I was offered a position, and I don’t think that I would, because I wouldn’t want the insecurity.” – Balor Moore, “No Moore regrets for first Montreal pick”

I.
Balor Moore is shown here throwing a pitch that clearly has very little chance of reaching the mitt of his catcher. I wonder if the catcher’s body language is similar to that of the figure partially visible at the left border of the photograph. This must be the third baseman, and from the look of it he has no intention of readying himself for a positive conclusion to Balor Moore’s attempt. As Balor Moore pitches, the third baseman seems prepared only to amble a few steps to his right to cover the bag once the ball is stung on a line deep into an outfield gap, or better yet prepared to not move at all except to turn his head and watch the soundly hit ball arc high above everyone’s head before disappearing into the left field stands.

You could argue, as I have tried to argue to myself, that the third baseman’s hopeless slackness is due to this not being a photo of an official pitch at all but simply a picture snapped of Balor Moore as he is tossing the ball to the umpire in exchange for a new ball. I believe this argument fails on the grounds of two bits of evidence: the bulging muscles in Moore’s right forearm and the intense, albeit somewhat battered, look of concentration on Moore’s face. These elements suggest that despite the overall impression that no power whatsoever is being generated by Balor Moore, that the pitch by Balor Moore will loop toward the plate as big and soft as a multicolored beach ball, that Balor Moore may in the next second have to duck to save his own life, Balor Moore is trying as hard as he possibly can.

II.
Balor Moore once possessed a gift about as rare as any that these brief lucky lives of ours can contain. He was a high school legend, his left arm a bazooka, his teenage bat-gripping opponents little more than trembling props in a prodigy’s tour de force. In 1969, the brand new Montreal Expos sought to build the future of their franchise on his shoulders by making him their first-ever number one draft pick. Just two months after that draft, according to a cartoon on the back of this card, the 18-year-old Moore pitched a no-hitter for an Expos’ minor league affiliate in West Palm Beach. The following year he was in the majors, the second-youngest player in the league after Cesar Cedeno. He was raw that year, and appeared in only six games, but after spending 1971 in the military, Moore seemed to attain the security of being a legitimate major leaguer that had been preordained by the sizzling life in his pitches. He posted a 3.47 ERA and struck out 161 batters in just 148 innings. The following year produced similarly promising signs that he was warming up for a long and successful stay in the major leagues, as he finished tenth in the league in hits per nine innings and second in the league, behind only Tom Seaver, in strikeouts per nine innings.

III.
His body betrayed him the following year with a string of injuries that ultimately led to elbow surgery. He appeared in just eight games in 1974, and then was out of the major leagues altogether for the following two seasons. He managed to get into seven games for the California Angels in 1977, his meager contributions part of the tearful element of the Angels’ lament in those years: Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin’. It must have been difficult to be a faceless addition to the two days of cryin’ for a guy who not that long before that appeared destined for the kind of power-pitching success of his two dominant Angel teammates. In 1978 he moved on to the Blue Jays, perhaps the only player in history to debut for the two Canadian major league expansion teams in their second years of existence. (He also bridged the Bob Bailey-Bob Bailor continuum as sturdily as anyone ever has, considering his first name and his status as teammates of both of the similarly-named early members of the Canadian expansion teams [Bailey the second acquisition of the Expos, after Don Bosch, Bailor the second pick in the 1976 expansion draft, after the Mariners took Ruppert Jones, who went 0 for 6 against Balor Moore, but I digress], but I digress, but what else is there to do but spiral from digression to digression [happily, I might add] when considering the entropic career of Balor Moore [and thank the gods for Balor Moore, for in his meandering insignificance there is the gateless gate to the interconnectedness of all]?)

IV.
Anyway, Moore set his career-high in games pitched in his first season with the Blue Jays, but the team’s reliance on him was more a testament to their general ineptitude than any return to promise by Moore. They had no Tanana or Ryan. All they had was day after day after day of cryin’.

V.
The back of this card tries to put a happy face on the coming irrevocable doom of Balor Moore’s career. Is there anything more unshakably cheerful than the back of card text on a baseball card? The statistics and even the picture might hint at sheer desolation, but the text will always seek out the one thing that escaped the leveling storm of failure:

  • Threw Complete Game Victory as Blue Jays won their first game ever in Metropolitan Stadium in 5-1 Toronto Triumph, 7-26-78
  • Had 1.69 ERA vs. Twins in 1978.
  •  

     

You’ll notice that the second of the two nice things the Topps writer could think to say about Balor Moore overlaps the first nice thing. In fact, Balor Moore only pitched twice against the 73-89 Twins in 1978, and he lost the game not mentioned in the first point. The undertone of desperation becomes even more apparent in the text when the reader notices that the year mentioned in both bullet points is the year before the most recent season on the card, implying that nothing at all positive, not even one good game against a mediocre team, occurred in 1979.

VI.
But 1979 probably seemed like a golden age compared to 1980, in which Moore posted his highest ERA yet, not counting his brief callup in 1969. Before the season was over, he was released, ending his major league career. I wonder if in some ways, deep down, the release was a relief. The previous decade had been spent worrying that the rapid and mysterious erosion from within of his rare, glowing, almost supernatural gift would cause him to be cast out of the only adult life he’d ever known. When it finally happened, for good, maybe Balor Moore was glad to be able to move on, to start trying to find more solid ground to stand upon than the fault-riddled earth of a major league pitching mound.

14 comments

  1. 1.  The last thing I thought, while dong my usual “figure out what game it was” exercise, was that I’d come up with any evidence as to why Moore was throwing in the style he was. But I think I did!

    The game’s at Yankee Stadium. That’s clear. (To me, anyway, though I really can’t explain why to the non-baseball fan.) So I checked ’79, and thought I had my game, but a quick check of Dressed to the Nines told me the Jays had “BLUE JAYS” on their road unis that year, and “TORONTO” the year before. So it was ’78, which confirms A. my theory that Topps often used photos going back further than just the previous season and B. Josh’s theory that they ignored Balor’s ’79 season in every way.

    So…it was 1978. (He didn’t pitch in NY at all in ’77, the Jays’ first season.) The only day games he pitched at Yankee Stadium that season were both games of the Memorial Day doubleheader. In game one, he came into a bases loaded, no out situation in the bottom of the eighth, down one. He gives up a sac fly to Mickey Rivers on which all runners advance. Leadoff man Willie Randolph came up, and the Jays’ manager held up four fingers. An intentional walk! That’s it! I think that explains the 3/4-hearted delivery. He’s not trying to throw a strike, but he is, as Josh thought, “trying as hard as he possibly can” to make sure that ball doesn’t get past the catcher.

    Note: They’d lose that game, and game 2 in 13 innings, though our boy kept his team in it in extras. Had they just won one of those games, Bucky Fuckin’ Dent is just Bucky Dent right now.


  2. 2.  1 : That’s some excellent work, man. It does makes some sense that Balor would be struggling to execute an intentional walk, given that he never was able to cure his wildness, even long after he lost his ability to throw hard.

    But I have to ask (even though I’m sort of afraid to since you implied that only a non-baseball fan would have to ask): how can you tell it’s Yankee Stadium? I’m slow about things like this, much slower than I should be after all this time spent staring at cards…


  3. 3.  Thanks. I guess it’s a combination of the blue tarp, the angle of the shot, the way the fans are situated and the sun…am I stretching? I don’t know, that stuff and just seeing so many games there on TV and in person. I guess it could also be proven by process of elimination.


  4. 4.  I looked at a bunch of ’79 Jays’ cards, and they were also at Yankee Stadium. The batters make it easier to tell–same low angle from that same camera well on 1st base side–and in front of the gray dugout with the outlets and pipe along the back wall. In the batter shots, you see the metal railings of the box seats among the blue chairs, whereas in the pitcher shots the railings aren’t there because the boxes end a little past the dugout.


  5. 5.  In fact, Balor Moore’s ’79 card is probably from the same day as his ’80 card. (ebay’s a great place to see almost any card you want.)


  6. 6.  3 , 4 , 5 : Makes sense. Thanks for the extra info.


  7. 7.  2 through 6 I asked the same question at first. Then I realized that the tarp is a definitive tipoff. I believe it’s unique to Yankee Stadium.


  8. 8.  Josh, first of all, excellent writing as always.

    I thought this would be as good a place as any to post this: I was in my local baseball card shop yesterday and one of the owners — a Brewers fan — told me he started and completed a project a few years back. He has one baseball card for every Milwaukee Brewer that ever played at least one game for them. Using Baseball-Reference.com, I see there are 680 players, so this was quite a collection. In some cases, there is no Brewers card for a player so a card with another team is used.

    This sounded like fun, so I am going to do the same for the LA Dodgers. I will eventually get one card of all 714 players that have played at least one game as an LA Dodger. About 90% should be easy, but some (I’m looking at you Dave Sells) will be difficult.

    I was inspired that I found a 1985 Topps German Rivera card (http://tinyurl.com/5f44xf). If I can find him, anyone is possible!

    5
    Ebay is great, and also baseballcardproject.com is a good spot to view or lookup old cards.


  9. 9.  “the bulging muscles in his right forearm…”

    That’s no evidence of effort or lack thereof. No matter how comfortable his glove is, he needs some tension in his muscles to make sure it doesn’t fall off his hand.

    Also, I recently got a hold of some pictures of me while running. Running, particularly distance running (which is what I was doing) doesn’t really require the use of the arms for anything but balance. So, the arms aren’t doing anything, and yet, they still look like they are. I’m not particularly cut, but my arms looked about the same as Balor’s here.

    So I’d think that the upright posture of the third baseman would be more significant, really.


  10. 10.  I think another reason you can tell it’s Yankee Stadium is the fact that almost all Topps’ action shots then were from there. You just get used to the angle of the shot and that blue wall/tarp. For example, look at the 1980 set. Other than spring training shots, the photographers didn’t go to too many places other than Yankee Stadium. I see a few Tigers in Tiger Stadium, but most players (again, besides the ones with palm trees behind them) are either on the mound at Yankee Stadium, at bat at Yankee Stadium (with telltale gray dugout in background), or on the sidelines at Yankee Stadium, with the Brut sign behind them.

    And like I said about process of elimination–you can usually weed out the obvious ones: Fenway’s green wall, Comiskey’s green wall with yellow box seat railings, Milwaukee’s red gate-fence, which also gave itself away in the Cleveland shots in Major League, Memorial Stadium with its short, see through fence, the turf fields, etc. (I’m talking foul territory fences, which is what’s usually in the background–when it’s the outfield fence, it’s even more obvious.) Even Tiger Stadium, which has a very similar blue wall to YS, had a metal railing above that wall, whereas YS has no railing atop the wall. And there really is a telltale sun/shadow line, halfway up the lower deck at YS, right at the walkway.


  11. 11.  While I am impressed by the explanation in 1 , I prefer to think that Balor in this pic is making that last warm-up toss before the catcher throws down to second.

    Y’know, chuck a nice soft pitch and get out of the way.

    But that’s just my theory.
    (Who knew the 1980 Balor Moore card, like the Kennedy assassination, could spawn multiple theories?)


  12. 12.  According to Wikipedia:

    “On September 16, 1972 [Balor] Moore extended his scoreless-inning streak to 25 before serving up a 7th-inning 3-run home, the first for Phillies rookie Mike Schmidt.”

    It seems like that may have been better fodder for the 1980 card. But I, too, digress.


  13. 13.  I love your first paragraph.

    I believe that Balor’s Moores pitch was clocked at 18 mph when that photo was taken. Great mechanics, Balor!


  14. 14.  12 ……just to clarify, I meant fodder for the text on the back of the 1980 card. The text of “Cardboard Gods” is always exceptional ;)



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