How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

“I am 439 years old,” says Tom Hazard in How to Stop Time. “I am 49 years old and just won a Major League game,” Jamie Moyer might have said on May 16, 2012, when he extended his record as the oldest pitcher ever to win a game (He also became the oldest player to record an RBI in the same game. Take that, Designated Hitter!).

Jamie Moyer’s changeup sometimes appeared to stop time. Jamie Moyer’s FASTBALL sometimes appeared to stop time. In his last games, 25 years after making his Major League debut, Moyer’s fastball would top out at 85-86mph, slower than many players’ changeups. But, thanks to his years of experience and years working the practices suggested by famed sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, he continued to fearlessly work the inside corner on batters who were significantly bigger and stronger than the average hitters from two and a half decades earlier. With the increased emphasis on strikeouts, and by extension velocity, it’s quite possible we may never see a pitcher like Jamie Moyer ever again.

I may reach a little here, but there are so many reasons why Jamie Moyer works as a bookmark with this book. How to Stop Time is about Tom Harzard, one of a small group of people who age at a much slower rate than the average population. The “albatrosses” reach puberty then the aging process grinds to a slow crawl. The same could be said of Jamie Moyer’s career. Through age thirty, Moyer had just 32 wins. But he was able to slow down the usual decline of a player’s career and managed to pitch until age 49, winning another 237 games for a grand total of 269 wins.

Tom Hazard’s story spans over four centuries. Jamie Moyer is one of only 29 players who has appeared in games in four different decades. Over the course of the book, the protagonist meets several historical figures, including William Shakespeare, Captain Cook, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Over the course of his career, Jamie Moyer overlapped with several generations of players. His rookie year he was not only teammates with future Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Dennis Eckersley, Greg Maddux, and Lee Smith, but also with 27 year old Terry Francona who would be in his 12th season as a big league manager when Moyer played his last game. He was teammates with Rafael Palmeiro in Chicago, then again in Texas, then again in Baltimore, and when Palmeiro retired with over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, Moyer still pitched another seven years. In addition to being teammates with Palmeiro three times, he was teammates with Jose Canseco twice, Bob Tewksbury twice, Raul Ibanez twice, Lee Smith three times, and Ruben Sierra twice. Moyer was teammates with Gary Matthews, then pitched against Gary Matthews, Jr., and was teammates with Andy Van Slyke then sat in the opposite dugout from Andy’s son Scott. In all, Moyer played with 17 Hall of Famers, not including two sure-thing future Hall of Famers Ichiro and Adrian Beltre.

Tom Hazard is a musician who plays the lute in the Globe theater, then adapts over time to play several different instruments, including the piano and guitar. Similarly, Jamie Moyer learned to use different tools as a pitcher, beginning as a fastball-curveball pitcher, learning to throw the changeup more, then adding a cutter that he would bore in on the hands of right-handed batters.

I can’t write about Jamie Moyer without mentioning his book, Just Tell Me I Can’t. I put this up there with Open by Andre Agassi and The Game by Ken Dryden as the best sports autobiographies for getting into the minds of the athlete in competition. It’s a pitching coach’s best friend for ideas, and it was the first place I heard the phrase “white on white baseball,” referring to the danger of a pitcher putting the white ball over the white part of the plate when the goal is to always keep it over the black edges of the plate or off the plate entirely. I recommend both Moyer’s book and Matt Haig’s wholeheartedly.

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