Volume 4 – Donnie Moore
Less than 18,000 men have played Major League Baseball, that’s it. Think about that, if every player that ever played in the Majors sat in the stands at Wrigley Field, the place would be half empty.
When put in those terms, it seems like we baseball fans would have a fairly solid handle on almost all the players that have played the game. Yet for the overwhelming majority of those players, their careers are nondescript. They pass like a blur, only to be remembered by friends and family or on the pages of the Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com.
So to be remembered for playing Major League Baseball is a special thing. Why they are remembered though is a different story.
Some are remembered for great careers; Ruth, Aaron, Jeter.
Others are remembered for the events of just one game; Don Larsen, Harvey Haddix
And still others are remembered for just a single play or pitch or at-bat; Fred Merkle, Al Downing, Brant Brown, Ralph Branca. It’s this category that our latest ‘He Was A Cub’ falls into.
The moment we remember came on Oct 12th 1986 in game 5 of the ALCS as Donnie Moore was pitching to Dave Henderson.
Moore and the California Angels were leading Boston 3 games to 1 in the best of 7 series as they headed to the 9th inning with a 5-2 lead over the Red Sox in Game 5. I think there is little doubt that if that game was being played today; Donnie Moore, the team closer, would have been brought in to start the inning. However the Angels stayed with starting pitcher Mike Witt. Witt allowed a leadoff single to Bill Buckner (who went on to play a significant role in Game 5 of the WS that year), then struck out Jim Rice before giving up a two-run home run to Don Baylor. Witt then got Dwight Evans to pop-out to third base. With left-handed hitting Rich Gedman due up, the Angels went to the bullpen and brought in lefty Gary Lucas. On his first pitch, Lucas hit Gedman. So with a 1-run lead and a runner on first, Donnie Moore comes in to face Dave Henderson. Henderson gets to a 2-2 count before fouling off two more pitches……….and then it happens…………….
Donnie Moore was drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the supplemental draft in January of 1973. He signed that summer and was sent to the Cubs rookie league team. In 1974 he played for the Cubs single and double A teams. He was a combined 11-16 with a 3.26 era as a starter. In 1975 he again pitched for AA Midland. As a starting pitcher, he was 14-8 with a 2.97 era. That season’s minor league performance earned Donnie a September call-up to the Cubs.
Donnie Moore made his Major League debut on September 14th 1975 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Coming into the game in relief of starter Steve Stone, the first batter Moore faced in his career was future HOF third baseman Mike Schmidt with two runners on base. Schmidt hit a single that ended up scoring both runs with the help of an error by catcher George Mitterwald. Moore pitched in 3 more games that fall.
Donnie spent all of the 1976 season and half of 1977 back in the Cubs minor league system. For the remainder of the ’77 season as well as 1978-79, Donnie would be shuttled back and forth between the Cubs major and minor league teams.
During his career with the Cubs, Moore pitched 233 innings over 141 games. His record was 14-13 with a 4.44 era.
Just after the 1979 season ended, Donnie was traded by the Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals for Mike Tyson. Moore started the year on the Opening Day roster, but was sent back to the minors in May for the remainder of the 1980 season.
Donnie spent all of the 1981 season in AAA until he was purchased in September in what was basically a rent-a-player deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Moore pitched in 3 games that month for the Brew Crew before being returned to the Cardinals after the season.
The next spring Donnie was traded to the Atlanta Braves. Like he had done with the Cubs and the Cardinals, Moore spent the next two seasons moving back and forth between the Major League team and AAA. It wasn’t until 1984 that Donnie spent the entire season in the majors. That year he had a 2.94 era and was the primary closer in a closer-by-committee bullpen.
That winter he was taken by the California Angels in the Free Agent Compensation draft. It was a great pick for the Angels and Moore. Donnie had what would be his best career season. He was 8-8 with 31 saves. He made his only All-Star team and finished 6th in the AL MVP balloting. It was perfect timing for Moore as he became a free agent after the season. The Angels re-signed Moore for $2M over two years, a huge contract at the time.
Although 1986 wasn’t as good for Moore as ’85 had been, he still was 5th in the AL in saves and the team made it to the playoffs.
After the heartbreaking loss in the ’86 ALCS, 1987 was not kind to Moore. Because games 6 and 7 of the previous years ALCS were in Boston, the fans were getting their first chance to “greet” their players after the Championship Series loss, and they vented their disappointment at Moore the most. Donnie was routinely boo’d by the home town fans early in the season; and although he didn’t pitch horribly, he started out by blowing 2 of his first 5 save chances and gave up runs in 5 of 6 outings. Eventually, Donnie ended up spending most of the 1987 season on the DL.
That winter Moore was re-signed as a free agent again by the Angels for $1M. Moore had a poor season in 1988 and was released by the Angels on August 26th.
Donnie was signed as a free agent by the KC Royals in 1989 and sent to AAA. Unfortunately he didn’t pitch well there, a 6.39 era in 7 games, and was released in June. He never pitched in a professional game again. His last big league appearance came on August 7th, 1988 against the Chicago White Sox.
Just a month after his release from the Royals, Donnie Moore got into an altercation with his wife during which he shot her. Tonya Moore survived the shooting, but Donnie turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
One can never know for sure what ultimately lead Moore to take his own life, but it’s clear that Donnie’s life changed both professionally and emotionally after giving up that home run to Henderson and it without doubt played a role in his eventual demise.
And so maybe Donnie Moore will always be remembered for one pitch that he delivered to Dave Henderson on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Anaheim in Game 5 of the ALCS………….
But just for one day………….let’s remember that………….