Friday, March 12, 2010

Belated Random Thursday: Balor Moore

Yesterday, The Common Man got tied up in important doings at work, and missed out on his day of randomness. As this seems to be a relatively slow news day on the baseball front, TCM thought he’d just pretend it was still Thursday and let fortune find him something interesting using’s “Random” button. From Farmer Vaughn two weeks ago, The Common Man jumped to the page for Balor Moore, a journeyman lefty pitcher for the Expos, Angels, and Blue Jays from 1970-1980. During those 11 years, Moore only spent five receiving any real roster time. His peak came in 1972 (9-9, 3.47 in 147 innings with 161 Ks), but had serious trouble finding the plate the next year (7-16, 4.49, 109 BB and 151 Ks in 176 IP) and began his sink into obscurity. Moore finished his career 28-48 with a 4.52 ERA in 718 innings and an 87 ERA+.

You wouldn’t know it from his career numbers, but Balor Moore had a hell of an incredible start to his career. Moore was a terrific high school prospect out of Texas in 1969. He threw hard and had a knack for making batters miss. “I was 25-9 in high school ball,” he told The Palm Beach Post. “I really didn’t have the best defense behind me at times. I threw three no-hitters in high school—and got beat.” Scouts noticed, and during the June draft, Moore was the first ever amateur draft choice of the brand spanking new Montreal Expos (22nd overall). The ’69 Expos were horrible, finishing 52-110 and struggling from a lack of quality pitching. Their fan base was less than rabid in those early days, and the club finished 7th in attendance in the 12 team National League. Moore was celebrated by the Expos as the club’s future, compared to Sandy Koufax, and treated like royalty, “a Messiah to lead the Expos with a golden whip for a left arm.”

Reporting to the team’s Rookie League team in Florida, Moore made 9 starts and gave up 2 earned runs (5 total) in 67 innings for a .27 ERA (yeah, you’re reading that right) and struck out 74 in his first 49 innings according to The Herald Tribune of Sarasota. Promoted to the club’s A ball team in West Palm Beach, Moore responded again in his three starts, going 2-1 in 21 innings and again giving up 2 earned runs (and 5 total) for a .86 ERA. Moore finished the ’69 season 9-1 with a .41 ERA, and was invited to hang out with the big league club in September (though he was not added to the roster). The team was effusive. GM Jim Fanning warned “He might be moving pretty fast” through the system. Manager Gene Mauch told the Montreal Gazette “He’s got a good, athletic body and a lively throwing arm. He’s got a major league arm, no doubt….He’s a sound young pitcher and all his stuff happens right out front.” In another article, Mauch went beyond the usual platitudes, “It’s this way: Balor just can’t throw a ball straight. His arm is so live, so strong that the ball moves a different way each time.” Don Drysdale claimed that “He can get the National League All Stars out right now.”

1970 proved to be more challenging for the 19-year old Moore. After three more excellent starts at West Palm Beach (3-0, .72 ERA, and 31 Ks in 25 IP), the young lefty skipped AA entirely and was assigned to the AAA Buffalo Bisons on May 1. Just two weeks later, the Expos decided to see their phenom first hand and called him up to the big leagues. Mauch told the Montreal Gazette that he “would prefer to introduce the 19-year-old in relief—in a mop-up job if one arises. ‘I didn’t bring him up to sit around.’” On May 21, Moore debuted at home against the Pirates with his team leading 5-2. Relieving Steve Renko, with two out and two on, Moore was brought in to face Willie Stargell, who represented the tying run. Some mop-up situation. Welcome to the Big Leagues, kid. Stargell lined out to LF and the Pirates ended the threat. Moore was removed for a pinch hitter, and would be credited with a hold. Moore would pitch three more times in May, tossing an inning in a blowout loss to Pittsburgh, striking out Denny Doyle in a one-batter appearance against the Phillies, and walking Bobby Tolan in another one-batter appearance against the Reds.

After facing eight total hitters across four games, at 19 years old, Mauch and Fanning decided to give the kid a crack at the rotation. On June 3, Moore faced the Houston Astros and gave up five runs across six innings, and was otherwise underwhelming. The youngster struggled again on June 9, getting pulled against the Reds in the third after allowing 8 base runners and three runs. After the game, Fanning made the decision to send the youngster down. “He’s got everything but he’s just not comfortable yet.” We can see the promise and I’ve told him we can. Not one righthander or lefthander pulled him. It was either singles up the middle or to the opposite field. He can handle major leaguers. It’ll just take a little more time….He can pitch in complete relaxation.” Asked if he thought the decision was the correct one, Moore said, “Hell no.”

But team officials pointed out something ominous in his review of Moore’s promise, “The Expos, carefully watching and nursing their primary prospect, believe Moore has an outstanding big league fastball but somewhere between West Palm Beach and Parc Jarry he misplaced his curveball strike. He can regain it quickly, but without the pitch the best batters can work at his fastball.” Moore returned to Buffalo and would continue to struggle with his control. In 119 AAA innings that year, he would 99 batters and strike out 100. While his BB/K ratio improved in 1971, he struggled even more, going 2-11 with a 6.33 ERA and 62 BB in 91 innings before leaving for a six-month stint in the Army. Fanning was philosophical, “It’s a blessing. We might have brought him along prematurely. I’m more convinced than ever that it takes four years and we’ve got to have patience, developing our players slowly as they should be developed.”

When he came back in 1971, the now 21 year old Moore was demoted to AA, where he dominated, giving up 16 runs (5 earned) in 91 innings for a .63 ERA and a 5-3 record. His control problems seem to have been minimized (35 in 71 innings) and he struck out 72 batters. At the end of June, Moore was recalled to join the starting rotation and struggled at first. However, he improved dramatically each month. His ERA dropped from 6 in June to 4.20 in July to 3.35 in August to 2.47 in September. He was especially dominant over the final two months, going 7-4 with a 2.84 ERA in 95 innings with 40 BB and 103 Ks. It looked like Moore had finally fulfilled his promise and become the ace Montreal envisioned in 1969.

Alas, that was the high point for Balor Moore. By the middle of 1973, Moore was sent back to AAA again. Tim Burke of the Montreal Gazette, writing about the Expos’ pitching woes, lamented, “When he first came up at 18, he was far too immature to harness his great throwing talents. He still is. He may always be. But the Expos were desperate at the time.” Moore, understandably, remembers it a little differently. “They rushed me up,” he told the Montreal Gazette in 1978, “but I wasn’t ready. Then as soon as things would go badly they’d send me down again. There was too much pressure. I was afraid that with one bad outing I’d be gone. And those were bad teams in the minors. They’d send me to Winnipeg and Buffalo and Newport. The players had bad attitudes. It was no place for a 19-year-old-kid.

A couple years later, still mired in the minors, Moore got hurt. “My arm was hurt and they wouldn’t believe me. They had made up their minds that they were finished with me and they wouldn’t listen. The manager…wouldn’t talk to me. When I’d tell him my arm was hurt, he thought I was dogging it. He wouldn’t’ believe me. Then they traded me to California. I was only there a couple of weeks and they realized that I was hurt. Those two years with Winnipeg were wasted. They didn’t teach me anything. They just thought my ability would overcome my inexperience. I’m sure that my injury was due to my delivery. They never taught me differently.” Moore did claw his way back, first with the Angels and then with the Jays, becoming a largely underwhelming swing man from 1978-1980. Moore bounced around on minor league contracts for the next couple seasons, but never made it back.

Whatever happened to Moore, and how he was treated or mistreated, his story is a sad reminder that TINSTAPP, and a cautionary tale for young phenoms such as Stephen Strasburg and Ardolis Chapman.

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