Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Extended Interview with Balor Moore (Part II)

By The Common Man

Earlier this week, The Common Man published the first part of his interview with former Expo, Blue Jay, and Angel lefty Balor Moore, whose career TCM explored in detail back in March. Moore was the first ever draft pick of the Montreal Expos, and went 28-48 with a 4.52 ERA in his career. But in his first season in the minors, Balor Moore gave up just 4 earned runs (10 runs total) in 88 IP, for a 0.41 ERA. In 1970, he came back to Earth somewhat, but still managed to make his Major League debut and pitch most of the year at AAA. In Part Two, Mr. Moore speaks about his first two seasons in the minors, the challenges of being a phenom, and the sad reality of playing in the bushes for an expansion club. Once again, TCM is deeply grateful to Balor Moore for his time and his incredible storytelling.

TCM: They kind of threw you in the deep end there, didn’t they?

Balor Moore: Well yeah. And I wasn’t prepared. It wasn’t like you were infantry. You were inexperienced. You’d never been anywhere. And I flew from Atlanta to St. Petersburg, and took a limo down to Pirates City, and when I flew back, I booked a flight from St. Petersburg to Atlanta and from Atlanta to Houston. I didn’t know you could fly direct. Talk about green.

So I just went ahead and pitched that summer, and of course you look at the stats that you wrote about, it’s actually hard to believe. I remember, I look back, and I knew I was doing good. But of course at that point the level of competition highly exceeds high school ball. And you had college guys. And I’ll never forget when I gave up my first earned run, I started crying. I remember thinking, “God, I hope they don’t send me home, because guys are dropping like flies around here. Especially with an expansion team, and we’re sharing a facility with the Pirates and the Reds, so you make a friend one day and he’s gone the next at that level.

So anyway I remember that season really well. I threw really really well that year. I don’t know why. I had two or three times in my career that’s absolutely perfect. That your mechanics, your release, everything was perfect. And somehow I came out of high school that season, and was absolutely perfect. Only a few times did I ever throw that well again. I mean, I didn’t progress through my career and ever get better than I was in that very first year as far as just pure D raw fastball that just exploded. And the stats reflect that. I don’t care what level you’re at when you pitch a whole season and only give up two runs, I don’t care where you are, you just go “Wow.” It doesn’t matter where you are. And they call me up to Class A ball at West Palm Beach, where I did pick up a loss, but I don’t remember how I did that. But I won two games and lost one, and one of them was a no-hitter.

Then, because of Vietnam and the draft, I was eligible for the draft, I had to go to college. So I went back to rookie ball and went to the Junior College there to keep my deferment and play instructional ball that season. So that’s kind of how I started. That next season, what happened is that I was an athlete in High School like everybody. So you never stop doing something athletic. So between that winter and the next spring I didn’t do anything. I mean, I lived in Florida and went to college for reasons I just stated.

So when I went down to Spring Training for the first time, I didn’t have the same rhythm and mechanics and the coordination. Just a little something was off, and it doesn’t take much for your timing to be off. And I was in big league camp and trying to impress, and I’m trying to impress early, and I got kind of out of whack with my mechanics. And I started fighting the strike zone real bad. And it came from rushing my delivery and trying to impress, being billed what I had coming in, and what I had already done, and being the Number 1 pick, etc.

And also, your first spring training, you’re there year round, but I was around Gene Mauch, who was nothing but wonderful for me, but he was intimidating to me, he was intimidating to everyone around him. He was the Little General, right? Well, especially so for a 19 year old, barely 19. Which made me nervous. Of course, one time he said I made him nervous. So sometimes you get two people around each other that’re trying too hard and nothing goes smooth, right?

TCM: Did he say how you made him nervous?

Balor Moore: Because he was trying to put me at ease. And he was trying to say the right thing to a young guy who was sensitive, like I was, and so nothing flowed naturally, because he pressed. And he told me that one time, he said privately, “Do I make you nervous?” And I said, “Yessir.” And he said, “You make me nervous, because I want to say the right thing for you, to know when to pat you and when to kick you, and when to be positive and when to be stern with you, and sometimes I try too hard. So then you’re not sure.” It’s no different from handling a teenager as a parent. It’s like, Oh my gosh, what do I do about that? And so, it was a two-way street there. And you know it makes sense now; at the time, it didn’t.

Anyway, I go through the first spring training, and I think I tried too hard, I was jumping out there, and trying too much to do this, and I got Don Drysdale standing beside me all the time, I was like his shadow. They told me one time, “Donny, take this young kid and make him a big leaguer.” Well, that worked ok at the time, except years later I realized, I’m not Don Drysdale. And of course he thought that meant on and off the field, so I got a crash course in all of it.

So anyway, that kind of is running into the second year. I think I was probably better coming out of high school and pitching than I did in the second year when they called me up to the big leagues. And you did note, in some of those articles that I did get called up early into the season, and pitched three games, and then got sent down, but the environment I was sent to, even looking back now, I think I was accurate with my criticism at the time, I think it was an unhealthy environment to send me back to AAA, the International League.

I remember sitting in Gene Mauch’s office and [GM] Jim Fanning was there, and the pitching staff. And I said, “First of all, OK, I understand I’m not throwing the ball anywhere close to how I was throwing it last year. And I can see how you don’t want me to be at this level, but if you’re going to send me down to the minor leagues, send me down to AA, which was Jacksonville, Florida, an established ball park, an established league, there were a bunch of players there I had played with before, and the level of competition would have added to my confidence.

Instead, I was sent back down to AAA in the International League, and actually, people don’t realize this, but they didn’t have a place to play when I got sent down. They had left Buffalo, which was at Memorial Stadium, so they were nomadic at the time. But they had agreed to play in Winnipeg, Canada. Except that Winnipeg didn’t have a ballpark, per se. So they would convert their football stadium into a baseball stadium, which is common in a lot of places. I mean, Exhibition Stadium in Toronto wasn’t really that much different. It seemed I played in so many ballparks that were football stadiums converted.

So while they’re getting this ready, we proceeded to go on a 47 day road trip, and we would play our scheduled home games in either Richmond, Virginia, which was the Braves affiliate; or if they had scheduled home games, we would move over and play in Tidewater, which was the Mets’ team. If they were on the road, we went back and forth. If both of them were scheduled to be at home, we actually on two occasions went to Montreal and played our scheduled home games in Montreal while the Expos were on the road.

TCM: That sounds like a mess.

Balor Moore: Well, it was something. And again, I’m 19. And let me factor something else in. And don’t mistake my tone, I’m not being critical, I’m just repainting the picture for you. Because sometimes good stories and memories are made out of these crummy little things that happened to you.

You gotta remember too that Montreal was an expansion club that in 1970 won something like fifty-plus games. Now how would you like to be Maury Wills, who was traded from the Dodgers over to with the Expos? Or how many people really wanted to be in Montreal as opposed to where they were before? Well, not many. And you’re playing in Jarry Park, and you’re playing in snow. That a franchise, and all that goes with it. The language barrier, it’s a hockey town, etc.

So the attitude in the big leagues probably wasn’t as healthy as it would have been with another ball club, but factor in AAA. Now who do you think is playing at AAA at the time. Do you think Montreal has any prospects there? And you’re in the middle of a road trip that’s 47 days long back and forth between the cities as I’ve just described.

Well, we get to Winnipeg finally, and we’ve got a 10 game home stand. Now this is a funny story, but I do love to tell it. Now in left field there wasn’t any fence because it was a football stadium. So they built a fence out of 2x4s. They cut 2x4s, laid ‘em across, and put chicken wire across the front, and it was about waist-high. And that was your leftfield fence, it stretched from the LF foul line in a straight line to CF, where there were bleachers. And they were held up by cinder blocks. So we get out there the first day, and they had no idea where to put it, I guess, the grounds crew, so LF was like 290 feet. And we go, “well, we don’t like this, but we can fix this.” And all the pitchers get together and we decided that we would be the first to the ballpark. So the next day we get to the ballpark, and leftfield was like 360’. So it got to be a contest to see who would get to the ballpark first to decide what the dimensions of leftfield would be. And sometimes they’d schedule a split doubleheader, so you could have two gates. Well in between, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would come out and have their practice, and then we’d have our second game of the split double header. So it got to be a decision of “where’s the fence going to be?” And Jimy Williams, you know, he was my SS and roommate the year we were there. Later on, he ended up being the manager…

TCM: In Toronto.

Balor Moore: Well, actually, in Toronto he was the coach while I was there. But he ended up being the manager on in Boston and Houston, and I can’t really say enough good things about Jimy Williams, I really like him. But everybody always says, “Well, what kind of player were you? We see here where you hit four home runs in one game.” Because he wasn’t known as a power hitter; he only had one year in the big leagues as a player, right? Well, I was doing a radio show, and they said, “Do you remember the day Jimy Williams hit four home runs?” And I said, “I absolutely do; that was the day the hitters beat us to the ballpark!”It was really a popup to deep short.

TCM: Is that the way he tells it too?

Balor Moore: Nah, he doesn’t tell that part of it. So anyway, that’s kind of how it went. At 19 years old, in that kind of environment, I don’t think I really progressed with my growth as a ballplayer experience on the field, with that going on. I remember when they did send me down, Gene Mauch sat down across from me. I think I had just pitched against Cincinnati, I think it was the night before. And he looks at me and says, “We’re going to send you down, let you get some seasoning, some experience. We’re not going to ruin you, like they’re going to do with that other left-hander over there. And he was speaking of Don Gullett. Because Don Gullett, in 1970, was a rookie just like me.

But Sparky cherry-picked every single situation. Now, you can probably look back and see, Gullett came in, never put him in a situation to fail, but they kept him in the Big Leagues, and they brought him along that way. Now, I don’t know what they said to him. You know, “You’re here, don’t worry about it, I don’t care if you walk everybody.” I don’t know, I have no idea, but Montreal decided to send me back down.

You know how this plays out a little bit, through my whole career, only twice I think did I finish the season with the team I started with. I was always up and down and up and down and moving around a lot. And that makes a difference. And I look back, and only once did I start the season where I wasn’t sent down to AAA. Only once was I called up to AAA. Still the same AAA ball club, still the same minor leagues, right? But can you see the difference in the attitude if you were sent down to AAA as opposed to being promoted to AAA?

TCM: Absolutely

Balor Moore: And I could be a little off on that, and you could check on that, but this is my memory over these years. But I just remember thinking so many times, “God, I’d like to be called up to AAA.” Like a promotion, as opposed to... And you know, a lot of my time in the Big Leagues seemed to come down to how you did the day before deciding whether you had a locker and a uniform the next day. A lot of that, I’m sure I put on myself; it wasn’t the case. But I pitched that way. It’s hard to pitch that way. It was. But when you’re young, the communication was different back then, the game was different back that. So that was kind of the up and down part of it that made it hard; you see my career as a lot of unfulfillment of potential.

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