By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Balor Moore says he pitched in so many Canadian cities during his professional baseball career that he’s likely eligible to receive monthly social security payments from Canada.
“It wouldn’t be big money, but it would pay for my golf,” joked the now 65-year-old Texas native, who not only toed the rubber for the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays, but also made minor league stops in Winnipeg, Quebec City and Vancouver.
The former big league southpaw, who now owns Brittex International Pipe Supply in Houston, has fond memories of his 13 seasons in pro baseball, nine of which were at least partially spent with teams north of the border.
“There’s not a single person in baseball that I have ill feelings towards,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I’ve played in some old-timers games where you sit around and you’re drinking a beer and someone will say, ‘Oh, that son of a gun. We didn’t get along.’ I don’t have ill feelings towards anybody . . . If anything, I think when I played I probably held on too tight. I loved baseball so much that when I was in the big leagues I tried too hard because I was always afraid I’d lose it.”
Moore’s love for baseball began in a small town called Smithville, Texas, where he was born in 1951. It was his grandpa who introduced him to the sport and drove him to his games.
But because Smithville’s population was only around 3,000 people, it was difficult to assemble a team, so Moore began playing with kids that were older than him. His coaches quickly discovered his strong left arm and made him a pitcher at an early age.
Moore moved on to more organized teams in Deer Park, Texas and dominated hitters in high school, and by his senior year, he was one of the top pitching prospects in the country. In fact, before one Tuesday game, a collection of big league scouts had gathered to watch him pitch. Unfortunately, Moore had just tossed nine innings on Friday, seven on Saturday and nine more on the Sunday in a weekend tournament. And as he warmed up that for that Tuesday contest, his arm was sore, so his coach moved him to first base.
“Here’s the biggest mistake – and it wasn’t my coach’s fault – he was the freshman football coach and he was the only coach available for the baseball team. We had a football coach that knew nothing about baseball and I knew nothing about how things worked with baseball scouts,” recalled Moore. “So when the scouts said, ‘Where’s Moore? He’s supposed to be pitching.’ My coach said, ‘Look, he said his arm is hurt and I’m not going to risk his career by pitching him tonight if his arm is hurt.’ Well, that dropped me out of sight [as a high first-round draft pick] for the rest of the season. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong with my arm. I pitched the following Thursday. I just couldn’t pitch Tuesday after I had pitched 25 innings in three days.”
It wasn’t until the day after his high school graduation that Moore reasserted himself as a top prospect. Montreal Expos scout Red Murff was holding a tryout camp in Brenham, Texas and when Moore arrived, Murff told him to skip the drills and that he’d be pitching in a game against the Brenham Junior College team that night.
“So I warm up – and Brenham was the No. 1 Jr. ranked college in the nation at the time – so I go out to pitch against them and I strike out all nine hitters I faced. And Murff said, ‘That’s good. You’re done,’” recalled Moore. “The draft was a week later and I ended up getting drafted in the first round (22nd overall) by the Montreal Expos.”
Moore and his dad knew nothing about what type of professional contract he should be signing.
“I remember Red Murff came over and sat down at our dinner table and he says, ‘Balor, I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to give you the opportunity to play professional baseball,’” recalled Moore. “And my dad says, ‘Oh, this is just perfect. What is this going to cost me?’ I can still remember my dad with his head in his hands at the table. He thought we had to pay him [Murff]; he didn’t know they were going to pay me.”
The 18-year-old Moore agreed to a contract that included a $20,000 signing bonus on a Sunday and he reported to Bradenton, Fla., to join the Expos Rookie Level Gulf Coast League club, the next day. The teenage lefty would dominate in his nine starts with the Gulf Coast League club, going 7-0 with a miniscule 0.27 ERA and was soon promoted to the Class-A West Palm Beach Expos where he continued to excel, posting a 0.86 ERA in three starts.
He returned to West Palm Beach the next season and won all three of his starts and earned a promotion all the way up to the big leagues. At 19 years, 116 days old, Moore became the youngest player to ever suit up for the Expos when he debuted on May 21, 1970. In that contest at Jarry Park, he was summoned to face Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell with two out and runners on first and third in the seventh inning with the Expos leading 5-1. He got Stargell to line out to left field to end the inning.
In his ensuing five appearances with the Expos that season, he struggled with his control before being returned to Triple-A after his June 9 start.
When Moore returned to Triple-A, the club was initially located in Buffalo, but financial issues forced the club to relocate and it eventually settled in Winnipeg, where they became the Winnipeg Whips. The team played in a football stadium and shared the field with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“When we first went there, there wasn’t a left field fence and the right field fence was really short,” recalled Moore. “So they went out and cut some two-by-fours in half and they strung chicken wire across the front of them and then they put cinder blocks to hold them up. So the first day we go out there, the fences were like 280 feet and 265 down the line.”
This troubled Moore and the rest of the pitching staff, so he and his fellow moundsmen decided to do something about it.
“The next day the pitchers got to the ballpark early and we got together and we moved the fence back to like 350 feet,” he said with a chuckle. “So throughout that season, it got to be a contest of who got to the ballpark first, the hitters or the pitchers.”
After a stint in the U.S. Army, Moore returned to Winnipeg in 1971 before making the big league Expos the following spring. Unfortunately, when a player’s strike cast uncertainty about when the season was going to start, Moore was sent back to minor league camp.
Eventually Moore was assigned to the Expos’ Triple-A club in Quebec City where he would dominate again, posting a 0.63 ERA in nine starts before being promoted by the Expos. He enjoyed his greatest big league success in 1972, registering nine wins and a 3.47 ERA while striking out 161 batters in 147 innings and tossing six complete games in 22 starts.
“The strike cost me the two months that I should’ve been in the big leagues,” he said. “I was in Quebec City, so I may have got rookie of the year.”
In 1973, Moore was a staple in the Expos rotation, making 32 starts and finishing second in the National League in strikeouts per nine innings (7.7) and 10th in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.7), but he also struggled with his control. His 109 walks ranked fifth in the National League.
His control issues were compounded by the extra pressure he put on himself and an ankle injury he sustained in spring training in 1974. He was also plagued by a sore arm and he’d appear in just eight big league games and six more in Triple-A in 1974. His arm was still hurting the ensuing campaign when in pitched in 14 Triple-A games, before he was sold to the California Angels on June 15. It wasn’t until he was with the Angels that he underwent an early incarnation of Tommy John surgery.
“I came back from Tommy John and they didn’t really have rehab back then. They cut on you and then you’d show up for spring training. They didn’t have any of this kind of rehab that they have today,” recalled Moore.
While still recovering, Moore made 25 starts with the Angels’ Double-A El Paso Diablos in 1976 before being converted into a reliever in 1977. He’d post a 3.52 ERA in 45 appearances between Class-A and Triple-A that season prior to being recalled by the Angels, with whom he’d register a 3.97 ERA in seven games before he was sold to the Toronto Blue Jays on April 13, 1978.
“When I went to the Blue Jays, most of the players had been in the minors the year before and they were just tickled to death to be there. The whole atmosphere in the clubhouse was very appreciative,” he recalled.
The Blue Jays lost at least 95 games in each of the three seasons Moore was with them, but as a left-handed reliever and spot starter, he managed to pitch two complete games in 1978 and five more in 1979.
“I loved playing for the Blue Jays. Exhibition Stadium was fine. The mound was good. The town was great, everything about my experience there was great. It was one of my favourite stops,” he said.
“I wasn’t a go out and eat or a night club type of guy. I was married when I was in Toronto, so after the game, I went back and ate at my apartment in Mississauga and when we had a day off, I’d go fishing or go on a drive out in the countryside.”
After appearing in 31 games for the Blue Jays in 1980, Moore was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers and was sent to their Triple-A affiliate in Vancouver, before he finished out the campaign with the Astros’ Triple-A Tuscon Toros. The Astros wanted him to come to spring training in 1982 and he also was offered a lucrative contract to pitch in Japan, but the then 31-year-old left-hander decided to retire.
Moore settled in Houston where he eventually met the owner of a steel pipe company.
“I met this man from Great Britain and he said, ‘I’m 65 years old and I have no children and no heirs, but I have a company and if you come work with me and if you like what you see, I think we can work out a deal where you can buy the company,’” said Moore.
Moore enjoyed the work and after about 18 months, the owner sold the company to him. But right around the same time, the Astros called and asked him to throw batting practice.
“After throwing batting practice I noticed standing behind the cage were several people I recognized: my agent [Alan Hendricks], the [Astros] manager, general manager and Dodgers announcer Don Drysdale. They were waving me over,” recalled Moore. “That’s when they offered me a contract. They said, ‘Your stuff is better than anything we have right now.’”
Moore seriously considered the Astros’ offer, but given his commitment to the pipe company and his family, he ultimately declined.
“The funny ending is when batting practice was over [Astros batting coach] Denis Menke came up to me and said they no longer needed me, that I was done. I asked why? And he said my stuff was way too good for batting practice, no one wanted to hit off me. So I was released from batting practice. I mean, how low can you get?” said Moore.
Moore has journeyed back to both Montreal and Toronto for old-timers games. He was most recently in Toronto for a Flashback Friday on June 12, 2009.
“I just absolutely love the Blue Jays franchise. People say, ‘Who did you play for?’ And I say, ‘The Toronto Blue Jays.’ That’s the first thing out of my mouth,” shared Moore.
Moore also absolutely loves his work and his family. His wife, Paula, his son Balor and former Blue Jays teammate Mike Willis all work with him at Brittex, and his daughter, Diana, lives close by.
“Now I get to come to the pipe yard every day instead of the ball yard,” said Moore. “Remember what I said earlier that I hung on too tight because I was so worried that someone was going to take baseball away from me. Well, had I known that this was what I was going to do [own a pipe company], I probably would’ve loosened up and enjoyed baseball more and I probably would’ve performed better because you perform better when you relax. But I wouldn’t change a single thing, because if I changed something, I may not be sitting here right now.”
And Moore is thankful for the way his life has turned out.
“My life is great. It’s much better than what I deserve,” he said. “I come in every day. I own my own company and I get to call my own shots. And I’ve got my wife and my son that I get to see every single day that I work with and get along with and my daughter is doing wonderful. I’m probably the most fortunate guy out there.”