The Future Hall of Fame pitcher isn’t just the oldest player to toss a win, he’s also the most active crusader against addiction in the game—both in and out of the locker room.
By Joe Schrank
When future Hall of Fame pitcher Jamie Moyer pitched his first big league baseball game, Ronald Reagan was president, cell phones were the size of TVs and Johnny Carson was hosting The Tonight Show. He was starting for the Chicago Cubs in June, and won a pitcher’s duel against aging Phillies ace Steve Carlton, who at 42 was considered one of baseball’s eminence gris. This April 17, the 49-year-old Moyer notched a victory for the Colorado Rockies, breaking the record as the oldest starting pitcher to win a major league game.
Moyer has been on the diamond long enough to see an entire generation of pros struggle with addiction in the locker room. His rookie year, the New York Mets won the World Series with a roster that would come to look like a rogue’s gallery of substance abuse: Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Lenny Dykstra have all battled demons. Moyer witnessed first-hand the rise and fall of the Steroid Era, an epidemic of amphetamine abuse, the advent of Human Growth Hormones, and enough booze to rain out a stadium.
But longevity isn’t the only thing that makes Moyer stand out. He and his wife, Karen, started The Moyer Foundation, which helps kids who are battling addiction or who come from troubled homes. Knowing that 95% of adult addicts start to use drugs before the age of 20, the Moyers have decided to intervene before that happens, and launched a treatment franchise called Camp Mariposa as a refuge for kids who come from addicted homes, or who are starting to land in trouble. Moyer opens up about how he going into the treatment world, how he managed to stay in the game so long, and what baseball can do to help players who are struggling with their own demons.
Joe Schrank: First of all, congratulations on being the oldest major league pitcher to win a game. I’m 43 years old and I can barely make it up the subway stairs anymore. Your victory at 49 is an inspiration to a generation of middle-aged fat guys.
Jamie Moyer: You’re too kind.
You and your wife, Karen, have taken real strides in addressing a serious problem in the US: that children are a forgotten casualty of alcoholism.
Absolutely. That’s what the Moyer Foundation grew out of. The whole point of Camp Mariposa is to reach out to kids between nine and twelve years old, because there’s nothing out there for them. And unfortunately, there’s 8.3 million kids in this country living under the roof of a parent in need of treatment for alcohol or drug abuse. That’s a large number, and growing up in this environment means they’re three times more likely to be abused and four times more likely to become an addict. Here’s the shocker: 95% of adult addicts started to use drugs before the age of twenty. So we’re trying to stop that cycle early on. What we do at the Camps is reduce the feelings of isolation, fear, guilt, loneliness. Addiction is not their fault. We need them to recognize that and help them make the right choices from the get-go.
How many Camps are there?
Five so far—in Washington State, South Bend, Bradenton, Florida, and in Philadelphia, not far from where I grew up.
The Betty Ford Clinic and the Caron Foundation have children’s programs, but beyond that, and the Camps, we’re a culture that really doesn’t address this subtext.
Life is all about making choices, right? But for a kid 10 year old kid in an alcoholic household, where they see some of the bad choices being made by adults, it’s hard to pin it on the kid. So if you put them in an environment with other children, and they realize they’re not alone in dealing with this, they can learn from each others’ experiences. That’s how you address it.
We say that all the time in rehab that when a patient goes home, they set new boundaries. If that means you have to move out, then you move out. Well, when you’re nine that’s not an option.
At that age, it would be tough to make that decision when you’re that young.
One of the things that we’ve we’ve written about in The Fix is The Dry Tailgate Party, which you host at Notre Dame. How did that become an event?
When you have big sports events and you serve alcohol, you’re also condoning the abuse of alcohol. We thought a great way to get a message across is to have a dry tailgate. When you think about a tailgate, people are having a good time, they’re having food, and maybe they’re drinking, and hopefully, if they’re drinking, they’re drinking responsibly. But that’s not always the case. At a dry tailgate, there’s food and people are having a good time—but there’s no alcohol. And we’re trying to create an awareness of Camp Mariposa and the positive effects that we can have on a community.
Is it going to continue and be an annual thing?
As of now, yes. I mean we’ve done it in South Bend at Notre Dame, and I think we’re going to continue that, and as model grows we’ll expand. That’s the plan..
Well, I’m going to be there this year. I promised your wife, and I have a feeling people don’t say no to your wife.
I know that people have found it hard to say no to her.
Baseball’s had trouble dealing with drugs and alcohol. But there are exceptions. The Texas Rangers have been really supportive of Josh Hamilton and Ron Washington as they struggle with addiction. They seem to handle it better than any other franchise. Why do you think more people aren’t taking that leap?
That is a great question. This case is two people—Ron and Josh—who have been adult enough or man enough to stand up and say, “Look, I have a problem.” And I think the organization is lucky that it’s run by Nolan Ryan, who was an teammate of mine. I know him as a person, and I know that if he sees a problem, he’s going to address it and set a positive example. That’s exactly what’s happening. In Josh Hamilton’s case, I think at some point he realized his life was going down the drain. So he had two choices: either continue the spiral and lose his family, his career, and everything else, or be a man and step forward and take care of his issues. And I think it started when he was in Cincinnati. They had somebody who traveled with him and helped him out. Obviously, he’s chosen to take the high road. I thought was really cool when the Rangers won in the playoffs the first time, their teammates were celebrating with beer, but when he entered the room, they celebrated with soda and ginger ale. I thought, “Wow, what a great message.”
But that didn’t just happen. Somebody had to say, Look, let’s be supportive of him and spray ginger ale on each other instead of champagne. Even with Ron Washington testing positive for cocaine, the Rangers said, We’ll roll with this. People are not disposable just because they have a problem.
I get it. It’s a great example, and kudos to the Texas Rangers for not turning their backs on them, and for taking a negative and turning it into a positive.
Yeah, and even when Josh tripped up the Rangers supported him. He has done exactly the right thing. He’s owned it. He’s not blamed anybody.
Exactly. I think it’s important to realize that the Texas Rangers have taken this issue and done something with it. Why aren’t other clubs doing it? I don’t know. When you have a problem like this and you do either publicly come up front and talk about it, or you have the problem and you’re afraid to address it, an individual needs to know there’s support out there. And that’s what we’re trying to create with our foundation. But we need financial help and we need to educate people. Hence the dry tailgate.
There’s going to be plenty of people that stick their noses up to it. But when they’re in need, they’re going to say, oh my gosh, there is an organization out there or there’s many organizations out there that I could go to for help. And that’s what we’re trying to create with these kids and with Camp Mariposa that, you know, let’s help these kids who probably right now at the ages of nine to twelve don’t know where to go for help.
No, they don’t and there’s limited resources that they get.
You’re exactly right. So being able to partner with the Penn Foundation is a huge privilege. It’s going to take time and finances, but over time we can make a difference in children’s lives.
And the community. I always thought, well, if I just don’t drink I’m helping the world because I’m not clogging up the judicial system. I’m not going to get stitches and take up space at the ER.
I think the way our society deals with alcohol is why some of these kids drinking. Take a beer commercial on TV: it talks about drinking responsibly, which is great. They’re doing their due diligence with that. But think about it: What’s the first thing you think about when you go to college? You party.
It’s always been that way.
Even though high school kids are underage, they’re still finding alcohol, they’re still finding drugs. Asking them to drink responsibly is asking a lot. Potentially, the solution starts in our government. I know our government has been working hard at the problem for years—I watch the TV shows of Feds catching people at the border transporting bales of marijuana and bricks of cocaine and all that kind of stuff. They’re very interesting and intriguing shows to watch, but the drug trade is a huge, huge business. People have figured out ways to make money off of it, and that’s what it’s all about.
A Black Hawk helicopter is $20 million and they’re used to defoliate coca fields in Colombia. And nobody stays sober because of that. And what could you do for kids with $20 million?
Exactly. You could actually set up programs in schools, in preschool, in high school, and meet in the middle and re-educate people, show the problems, and teach people how to make better choices. Also, give people better alternatives to drugs and alcohol. People use those things to forget their problems. And when they eventually sober up they realize their problems have not gone away.
Or, they’ve been exacerbated by the drinking. I always say, well look, if you drink, then you’re going to have two problems. You know you’re going to have the drinking problem.
The San Francisco Giants will be hosting Recovery Night at AT&T Park this year. Do you think that other teams will take that lead or take interest?
Well, I’m sure organizations will be watching how that goes. The community of San Francisco has a lot of street people, a lot of drugs—there’s drugs everywhere unfortunately—but the Giants are taking the initiative, and I think that’s awesome. I think there will be some organizations that follow their lead.
Baseball is really intertwined with beer. You must know, since you pitch for the Rockies, who play at Coors Field.
So let me ask you, should Coors be giving the Moyer Foundation $1 million to help these kids?
I like how you think.
There are lots of people who are not impaired by using that product. But a byproduct of their profit could very well be an abusive father parked on the couch drinking Coors. Tobacco companies contribute to cancer research; shouldn’t alcohol companies help with this?
That makes total sense.
There have been a lot of drug-related fatalities in sports lately, especially with avoidable tragedies like the new York Rangers’ Derek Boogaard. What should be changed?
Well, I’m going to answer that, but I’m going to veer off a little bit and get back to it.
A lot of Major League teams have taken alcohol out of the clubhouse. So organizations are noticing that there are problems—whether it’s a responsibility issue or a liability issue or what. At the Rockies, we have no alcohol in our clubhouse. And the name on our sign is Coors Field! So our club has taken that initiative. I think the Cardinals, who are owned by Anheuser-Busch, don’t have beer in their clubhouse anymore. Don’t hold me to that. But there are clubs that allow it—they believe it takes the pressure off, after a game, to have a drink. I don’t know if there is a definite answer out there.