Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Extended Interview with Balor Moore (Part I)

In March, The Common Man wrote a Random Thursday that highlighted the career of Balor Moore, the first ever draft pick of the Montreal Expos, back in 1969, back when he was an 18 year old, fireballing lefty. Alas, Moore’s career never reached the peaks of what Montreal fans expected, and Moore finished his eight-year career just 28-48, with a 4.52 ERA. In April, TCM was lucky enough to be able to interview Mr. Moore, who currently is President of Brittex International Pipe in Houston, TX. That interview has, shamefully, not been published until now, which does a disservice to just how warm Mr. Moore was, and how interesting his story was. But it turns out that Balor Moore is an incredible story teller, so TCM is going to post his interview in several parts because otherwise we'd be here all day. The first installment follows and details the experience of a big time pitching prospect in Texas before agents and professionalism entered into the draft process. Mr. Moore’s text is edited slightly for the sake of readability.

TCM: I want to start at the beginning of your career. You were drafted in 1969 and were the first ever draft pick of the Montreal Expos. Did you know you were going to be drafted in 1969? How familiar were you with the draft process, and where did you think you would be taken?

Balor Moore: Where I came from, which was Deer Park [Texas], it was very hard getting any kind of press coverage. Houston had two newspapers, the Houston Post and the Houston Chronicle, and they didn’t really extend out into the area that we were in for any kind of large coverage. There were a couple of local papers that covered local high schools and such like that, football being the biggest thing like it still is in the area. My dad was not a big sports person. He worked for Ford Motor Company, so what little I knew about baseball had to do with baseball cards that we collected through the summer, like all kids did. And you memorized the cards, and the stats on the back, and you traded them, but there was no national coverage so there was no way to keep up. One time my dad brought home a Sporting News, that’s the only thing I ever had from a national level. And, of course, you only had the game of the week on Saturdays, which was usually the Yankees. And you know, Mickey Mantle. I had two boyhood heroes actually, and that was Mickey Mantle and Audie Murphy. And that’s all I really knew about baseball.

But I knew that I had a talent, and I knew I was dominating, and I knew the scouts would come out and scout me. And so, they said I had a chance to be drafted. But I didn’t understand how the draft worked at all. I didn’t understand about minor leagues, development, money, etc. I really was the most na├»ve that you could be, but I figured “what difference did it make?” Baseball’s baseball. You know, the mound’s the same difference no matter where you went.

TCM: Do you remember being scouted?

Balor Moore: I tell this often, and very many people say, “you gotta be kidding me, you’re not accurate,” but I am. I pitched on Tuesday in a high school game; I didn’t pitch on Thursday (we had our games on Tuesdays and Thursdays), but we signed up at the last minute for a tournament on the weekend, which was a single-elimination tournament. So I pitched on a Friday night, and the game goes into extra innings, I pitch nine innings and we win. So we advance in the tournament, and Saturday at, like 1:00 is the next game. So I was going to play first base or right field; our pitcher who was going to start that game throws, like, one pitch and says his arm’s blown out, it’s hurt. So the coach comes out, and he really wasn’t a baseball coach, he was a football coach. So he brings me into the game, and I pitch seven innings. And we win again. So we advance to the final game on Sunday during a day game. And I go out and pitch, and it goes into extra innings, and I pitch nine innings and give up one of my only home runs of my high school career in the bottom of the ninth and we get beat, like, 1-0. So you add that up, and I got nine innings, seven innings, and nine innings. And I’m scheduled to pitch the next game of our high school schedule on Tuesday.

So I go out, and I remember because my dad’s there, and he sees the opportunity. And all he wanted me to do was, because we were blue-collar people, limited financially, he had hoped that I could get some assistance going to college, get my education paid for. There were a bunch of college scouts that were in the stands on Tuesday night, and every major league team had a scout there, except I think the Yankees, because I remember being disappointed about that (obviously, you grow up watching the Yankees). So I go out to warm up and I tell my coach, “you know, my arm really feels funny.” And he goes, “well, what is it?” And I said, “well it kind of hurts when I throw.” And he said, “OK, you’re not pitching tonight and he put me in right field. So about that time, when we start the game, and I don’t start as a pitcher, and everybody runs up to the fence and says, “what’s wrong with Baylor Moore?” Now this is really, really bad here. The coach, who means no harm here, he’s actually trying to protect me, he says, “Look, the kid told me his arm hurts, so I’m not going to ruin his arm. He’s not pitching tonight.”

Uh Oh. You can see at this point everybody leaves right? So we know now, well I was just stiff. You know, even at a young age of 18 years old, I was stiff. I pitched the following Thursday and I was back on my game. But it took three weeks for another scout to show up to even look at me, except for Red Murph. Red Murph called and asked, “Is your arm really hurt?” And I said, “Yeah, well I mean, it’s never felt like this. It’s tight. It hurts when I throw.” And he says, “well, have you had your teeth checked?” And I said, “What could that possibly have to do with it?” And he said, “Anytime you have a bad tooth that poison goes into your system.” And he’s doing all this old-fashioned country type remedies. Well, sure enough my mom up and took me to the dentist just to make sure. But it just turned out that I was stiff, so I pitched the Thursday night, and was back on track. I finished great.

So when I graduated from high school, and became eligible for the June draft, I went to a tryout that Red Murph had in Brenham, Texas, and he invited a lot of the top prospects from around. Now this was probably not done that often in that time; it’s very common nowadays. These tryout camps pop up everywhere. Especially after the June draft, because there’s a lot of players that go unscouted. Red Murph scouted me for four years of high school. So he knew me, I mean he came by on a constant basis to visit with me. That’s probably why he’s one of the better known scouts, other than the signing of a lot of major league players.

But a week after I graduated, I went up to the tryout camp and pitched. And we were supposed to do all the drills. The speed and the different skills and such. And Red Murph said, you just go sit up in the bleachers and relax. I’m going to have you start the game tonight for all the camp kids, and you’ll be the starting pitcher. You’re going to pitch against the Brenham Junior College baseball team, and at the time Brenham was one of the better Junior College teams in the nation, if not the best. And so I started that night against the Brenham starting lineup, pitched three innings and struck out all nine hitters that I faced.

TCM: Well, that’s pretty good.

Balor Moore: Yeah, and he come out. And I had no idea. I thought, “I’ll pitch a game.” It’s nothing. Because in the level I was at in high school, you pitched the whole game. I don’t ever remember getting taken out of a game. So my thought was, I wonder what they’re going to play tonight, whether it’s seven or nine innings. Because, you know, high school games were seven innings. So after the third inning, he told me “Well, that’s enough for tonight. Everybody’s seen what they need to see. And then he wanted to hide me, I guess. But I remember the scouts and the coaches being in the stands.

Anyway, I get drafted, and, well, that was on a Saturday that I pitched against Brenham, and the June draft, as I remember it was in a week or a week and a half, and I got drafted by the Expos. And they show up and they offer me ten grand. Well, I don’t know, but I kind of thought it would be more than that, and my dad said, “well I don’t know, what do you think?” And we didn’t have anybody to talk to about it.

So we called the only college coach we knew, the coach of Texas, Coach Gustafson,* because I had signed a letter of intent to go to the University of Texas. And he says, “I wouldn’t sign for ten grand; you need to get to twenty before you make a decision.” And so we wait, and the following Sunday (this has been about a week of a holdout), I had agreed to pitch in a, I don’t know what kind of league it was at the time, but you gather up a bunch of guys and you play another organized team, so I went down to the University of Houston, and I pitched five, or, let’s see, I think I pitched seven innings, and I struck out all 21 guys I faced. And we left and went home that night and they offered me twenty grand and we signed. And my dad says, “you know, I don’t make but $16,000 in a year, and they’re going to give you more just to sign, it sounds like an easy decision, and they threw in the fact that if you go to college, they’ll pay for your tuition, and he said, “well what’s wrong with this?” And I say, ok, so I sign Sunday. And I’ll never forget they say, “OK, you’ll leave tomorrow morning.” And I didn’t even have time to pack. I didn’t know anything about where I was going, what level. I mean, I just knew nothing about baseball. But I knew I was a pro. And at the time you get $500 a month, and that’s all they could pay you. And I reported to Bradenton, Florida.

*Ed. Note: This is legendary coach Cliff Gustafson, whose Longhorns went 1,466-377 from 1968-1996.

Next time: Balor Moore becomes a professional baseball player.

No comments: