No Moore regrets for first Montreal pick
Expos/Nationals' initial selection never reached potential
WASHINGTON -- Every year, the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft comes around, and every year, the phone of former Montreal Expos pitcher -- and the organization's first draft pick -- Balor Moore begins ringing off of the hook with interview requests and questions from coast to coast.
Calls that ask Moore about his potential, about whether or not Montreal rushed the left-hander to the big leagues at the age of 19, if he would do anything differently. Calls that Moore doesn't mind anymore.
"Every year the draft comes out with the Top 20 busts or failures of all-time, and I'm always on there," Moore said. "I don't mind talking about it, because if you look at the potential I had when I came up and what happened, I don't think I was a failure, but I didn't play up to what my potential was."
The left-hander was drafted by the Expos in their first year of existence, 1969, and more than that, was the first selection made by Montreal.
Billed by scouts and other players as a future Jerry Koosman, Moore himself will say that he struggled right off the bat with Montreal in 1970, the year he made his Major League debut at 19, in relief of Steve Renko on May 21. Moore was 0-2 that year, getting two starts in six appearances with the Expos.
"I wasn't pitching very well when I was 19," Moore said. "I really believe that I had been throwing better at 18 than I did at 19, when I got into the big leagues."
Then Moore joined the Army in 1971, something that he says set up his career year in 1972.
"That was really a blessing in disguise, because I got a break away from baseball and when I came back, some of my natural talent took over and I started throwing better," Moore said.
Mel Didier, who was an administrative assistant to the general manager for Montreal in 1969, had a firsthand look at Moore as a future Major Leaguer. But Didier likes to use the word "dominating" instead of "potential" when discussing Moore's meteoric rise to the Majors a year after he graduated high school.
"Now, when he got into the big leagues, a lot of people don't know this, [in 1972] he dominated as far as strikeouts and that kind of thing," Didier said. "It was just a shame that he hurt his arm when he did, because he could have been one of the real fine left-handers in the game. And I always will believe that."
Moore showed what Didier saw during Moore's high school days in Texas in his 22 starts with the club in 1972. The left-hander struck out 161 hitters in 147 2/3 innings en route to a 9-9 record after being called up to the big leagues in June.
But in spite of the season he had, Moore believes he could have had a better one if not for the 1972 strike.
"[The strike] affected me in that it cost me a couple of months in the big leagues, and I think, may have cost me the Rookie of the Year award," Moore said.
The next season, 1973, Moore improved on his strikeout numbers, setting down an average of 7.71 batters per nine innings, a mark that placed him second in the National League, ahead of Hall of Famers Don Sutton (7.02), Steve Carlton (6.84) and Bob Gibson (6.55). The then 21-year-old hurler bested Carlton in another category, hits allowed per nine innings, falling just behind Gibson (7.34) at 7.71, good for 10th in the National League.
Didier believes that those stats are something that people have forgotten as they continue to place Moore in the "failure" bin.
"I tell people [about Moore's stats] all the time," Didier said. "I tell them, 'You don't know what Balor Moore was.' He was pitching in the day of all these great pitchers and his stats in the first year in the game were unbelievable. He matched all of these other guys or was better than them."
Unfortunately for Didier, Moore and the Expos, the left-hander had injury trouble early in 1974, hurting an ankle in Spring Training, his arm, and eventually having surgery on his elbow in 1975. Didier thinks that the arm trouble might have been the result of a new pitch that was stressed to Moore by the Major League staff.
"Now, one of the things our Major League staff did, they didn't take the curveball away, but they did start making him throw sliders," Didier said. "And I think that's what probably got him in trouble with his arm and everything else."
Moore says he was never the same after the injuries, his potential gone by the wayside.
"The talent wasn't really there, after that, to be the guy that Mel describes," Moore said. "But early in my career, I thought I had the potential to be like Bert Blyleven. I don't know that I would have been as good as Bert, but that's who I thought I had the potential to be like."
After leaving the Expos, Moore bounced around the Majors, to California in 1977 and back to Toronto to finish out his career from 1978-80.
"I played enough in Canada to be able to draw Social Security from there," Moore jokes. "It ends up being almost half of what I made up there when I was playing."
A ballplayer-turned-businessman, Moore left the game and began working at a steel company, which he bought in 1984, and owns today, Brittex Pipe Company. Moore feels that the business world offers things that baseball never could.
"Now I have the security that I never had with baseball," Moore said. "People ask me if I would go back to the game if I was offered a position, and I don't think that I would, because I wouldn't want the insecurity. ... But I love baseball and I have zero bad memories. I can go to old timer's games and just enjoy myself. I'm not bitter like some other old players. I'm just very, very happy now."
Michael Walsh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.