By MIKE COPPER
Chris Cron regards himself as a teacher of baseball as much as a manager. Maybe more teacher than manager.
It’s why he loves to be hands-on during the Erie SeaWolves’ pregame workouts.
Cron can still be found hitting grounders and fungo-bat fly balls. However, standing behind the mesh netting while tossing batting practice is out for now.
That duty has been delegated to pitching coach Ray Burris while Cron recovers from long-delayed shoulder surgery.
“For me, I did it because I wanted to be able to do normal activities,” Cron said. “I want to be like the people who are reading this article; just get up and reach for a gallon of milk and be able to pour it.”
Doing such a prosaic task without pain is why Cron, like so many in baseball, marveled at what 49-year old Jamie Moyer achieved April 17.
That was the date Moyer — one year, four months and 12 days older than Cron — became oldest pitcher ever to win a major league game. The left-hander went the first seven innings of the Colorado Rockies’ 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres at Coors Field.
It was the 268th career victory for Moyer, whose first was with the 1986 Chicago Cubs. Cron was in his third season of professional ball that year and five away from his first major league game with the California Angels.
What’s more, Moyer put off retirement to attempt a comeback after sitting out all of 2011 because of Tommy John surgery to his elbow.
“It’s really an unbelievable story, because I know how I feel as a 48-year old,” Cron said. “Some days I can barely get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t imagine going out there now and competing at the top level, or even any professional level. Your body just can’t do those things. But, he’s obviously in tremendous shape and it’s a great credit that he is.”
Although Moyer has never been a power pitcher, relying instead on nibbling the strike zone and changing speeds, he’s not a knuckleball pitcher, either. The likes of Hall of Famer Phil Niekro and the recently retired Tim Wakefield were able to pitch well into their 40s because the knuckler puts little stress on the arm and its ligaments.
“That’s what makes Moyer even more special,” said Burris, 61, who retired in 1987 after 15 major league seasons. “It’s like when George Foreman came back in boxing to win the heavyweight title (at 45). It makes us older guys think that, hey, we can still do it.
“If you’ve got the desire, you can still do it.”
Erie outfielder Ben Guez and Zach Miner, who’s now pitching for Triple-A Toledo, were infants when Moyer broke in with the Cubs for the first of his 25 major league seasons.
Guez, 25, suffered a hamstring pull late in spring training that landed him on the disabled list and delayed the start of his fifth minor league season.
“Even at my age, you start to feel it and get worn down by the time August comes around,” Guez said. “With what (Moyer) did, he’s now up there with what Nolan Ryan did.”
Ryan retired at age 46 in 1993 after 27 years — or 21.4 seasons after the average major league career ends, according to a 2007 study by University of Colorado at Boulder.
Miner is attempting to get back into the big leagues at age 30. The right-hander pitched for the Detroit Tigers from 2006-09, which included an appearance in the World Series his rookie year.
Although nearly 20 years younger, Miner, like Moyer, underwent Tommy John surgery to salvage his career.
“I had to do that at 27 and it was still tough,” Miner said. “That’s why it’s impressive he still would want to come back.”
Cron is an optimist by nature. But even he concedes maintaining his positive mindset to do what Moyer did would be overwhelming at this point in his life.
“It’s a tough grind, oftentimes because you’re all by yourself (rehabbing),” Cron said. “Lots of negative thoughts come into your mind.”
And never mind actually playing again, Miner said. He was practical about enduring such a lengthy, painful and tedious recovery — with no guarantee that you’ll even be considered for a roster spot at the end of it.
“Once you start aching, guys that age start asking, ‘Do I still want to do this?’ ” Miner said. “And by then, some guys just feel they want to spend more time with their families. If you’re still pitching into your 40s, you probably have enough money saved.
“Jamie’s got to have enough money,” he said, “but he still goes out in the offseason, works hard and puts his time in prepares for his games.”
There was a time during his career when Burris could have envisioned pitching into his 40s.
“But a lot of things go into that,” he said. “There’s the desire to want to pitch and the passion for playing the game goes into longevity. And, you have to have a team that’s willing to give you a chance. But again, (Moyer) put himself into that position by staying fit.”
Burris did admit that Moyer is likely more a baseball exception and not some imminent rule.
As recently as the early 1980s, pitchers’ careers were considered over if they suffered a rotator cuff tear like the one Cron had repaired. That’s no longer the case, as the evolution of technology and medical procedures like Tommy John surgery certainly help with longevity.
But they don’t mend the mind.
“If I ever did want to come back and play, my brain would be saying, ‘No way. Why would you want to go through this?’ ” Cron said. “But for Jamie, his mindset is the direct opposite of that.”
Could Guez envision hitting, running and sliding at 49?
“I couldn’t imagine it,” he said. “I’d want to stay out of the training room by then.”
Miner also said no. As far as baseball goes, he knows Father Time summons every player to the sidelines at some point.
“Although,” Miner said, “Jamie will probably pitch next year just to say he pitched at 50.”
MIKE COPPER can be reached at 870-1614 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/etncopper. Check the Extra Innings blog at GoErie.com/blogs/extrainnings and post comments.
Major League Baseball age records
Oldest pitcher: Satchel Paige, Kansas City Athletics, 59 years, two months, 18 days. Sept. 25, 1965, against the Boston Red Sox.
Oldest pitcher to win a game: Jamie Moyer, Colorado Rockies, 49 years, 150 days. April 17, 2012, against the San Diego Padres.
Oldest to throw a no-hitter: Nolan Ryan, Texas Rangers, 44 years, 90 days. May 1, 1991, against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Oldest hitter: Nick Altrock, Washington Senators, 57 years, 16 days. Oct. 1, 1933, against the Philadelphia Athletics.
Oldest to hit a home run: Julio Franco, New York Mets, 48 years, 254 days. May 5, 2007, off Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson.
Oldest to hit for the cycle: Dave Winfield, California Angels, 39 years, 264 days. June 24, 1991, against the Kansas City Royals.
Source: Baseball Almanac