I first saw him walking on the back fields at Disney, on a March morning in Florida back in 2006. I knew every name in the farm system, but “Moylan” didn’t ring a bell.
A trainer was standing about five feet from me, so I asked: “Who is Moylan?”
“Someone they signed from the WBC,” he replied. “I think he’s from Australia.”
The World Baseball Classic was going on right there at the Braves’ spring training complex, so that wasn’t a shock. But I was intrigued and needed to find out more. The Braves’ scout in Australia, Phil Dale, was there, so I knew he could provide the answers for me.
Dale, a big man who has tremendous enthusiasm for every player he discovers, is always fun to talk with in his annual spring visit to the States. He’s well-known in Australia as one of the best baseball players to ever play from that country, and he’s also done great work finding talent for the Braves.
The guy's name was Peter Moylan, and Dale had the scoop.
“The guy can pitch, Bill,” he said with his Australian accent, causing me to listen a bit more carefully.
And then he quickly told me the story. Moylan had pitched for the Twins back in the 1990s, but after two years he went back home. Then he just had a regular life for about seven or eight years. He had a family. He had a regular job. But then, before the WBC, Moylan picked up a baseball again.
“He used to throw overhanded, but once he dropped down and went sidearm, he became a pitcher,” Dale explained.
Then I asked a question I always love to pose to scouts about prospects, “So what is he, two years away?”
“No, this year,” Dale said.
That got me pumped. I had a story here. Not many reporters camp out on the minor league fields, but my time in March is usually split between the major league side and the minor league area. We know the stories of the major leaguers, but you can learn more about the kids whose stories have simply not been told by talking to the prospects.
This was a Roy Hobbs-type story: a guy practically walking off the streets and signing a contract. A name only known by a handful of people, Moylan was someone that everyone needed to know more about.
So I went after him. He politely agreed to do his first interview as a ‘new’ professional baseball player. We sat up in the bleachers overlooking one of the fields, and he told me his story.
Moylan’s Australian accent was thick. As someone from Georgia, who supposedly has a bit of an accent myself, I know how it is for people to look closely when you’re talking to figure out what you’re saying. I tried not to do that, but I admit I had to make him repeat a few things to get the full story.
And what a story it was. Here was a guy that had been a pharmaceutical salesman in Australia, living what seemed like a normal life, and then he picked up a baseball again. Then months later, he’s halfway across the globe steps away from the big leagues.
Moylan’s story is probably the best I’ve been able to tell in the decade I’ve focused on minor league stories. Most of the players are drafted, well-known because of the Baseball America-age we know live in. But here was a guy that just appeared and was supposedly not far away from the big leagues.
Here was the thing about Peter: it was obvious from the outset this was a great guy. He knew he was in some dream that was becoming a reality. He knew he was going to have to work hard to make sure this wasn’t some fluke. And he knew that if he didn’t make it, he could probably go back home a resume what seemed like a fairly good life.
Moylan had a sense of humor. In our conversation, you could tell he liked to joke and have fun. He knew the story he was telling me was outrageous. I kidded him when he told me he was selling pharmaceuticals that he ‘sold drugs for a living,’ and he pretty much laughed and went with it.
A good friend of mine, CBS Radio’s Peter King, was at Disney that day to do some generic stuff about spring training. After I finished talking with Moylan, I had to find King. I knew he’d love this story, and when I told him, he got that same gleam in his eye I did when I first heard about it. That’s what we reporters do when we hear about something that we know our audience will find intriguing.
We found Moylan, and King did the interview. Later that day the story went out to CBS Radio stations all over the country. The secret was out of the bag for real now.
Even though Dale had told me that Moylan would pitch in the big leagues in 2006, I was skeptical. I watched Moylan pitch, and there was no doubt he had some nasty stuff that looked like it would work at that level. But it’s easier said than done to project a pitcher to make that sort of jump to the show.
Well, exactly one month after that first interview, Moylan got the call to Atlanta. The Braves had sent Joey Devine, a first round draft pick the previous June, down to Triple-A. And sure enough, he was being replaced by this no-name from Australia who walked in, got a contract, and a month later was a major leaguer.
We all know the rest of the story. Six seasons later, 287 games later, and over $4 million dollars made, Moylan has established himself as an outstanding big league pitcher. That’s right, outstanding. Any pitcher with a 2.60 career ERA and solid number across the board is what I’d call outstanding.
But Moylan’s contributions to this organization have gone beyond that. He’s been perhaps the best teammate in that clubhouse. His ‘mates’ in there seem to love the guy. He keeps things lose by having fun each and every day. Moylan is the type of player every clubhouse needs, especially a place that has at times over the years been stuffier than a meeting of the President’s cabinet.
The fans love the guy, too. He’s all tattooed up, which intrigues people. Fans can tell he’s the type of player you want on a team. He talks with them on twitter, and they know he’s just a regular guy who happens to be a pretty good ballplayer.
Moylan is a free agent right now. He’s got a shoulder injury, and he’ll need a little time to come back. The Braves non-tendered him, which is a kind way of saying they released him. It’s sort of like when you’re told you’re being laid off, only to know that’s a technical way of saying you’ve been fired.
You can’t blame the Braves for letting him go, and I would think Peter understands as well. It probably didn’t feel good, because that can’t be fun. But the Braves have to be careful about paying seven-figures to a reliever that now has another injury to overcome. That’s just baseball.
But here’s hoping the Braves bring Moylan back. They need him in that clubhouse. They need him in that bullpen. He can definitely keep the young guys, like Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, grounded a bit with his shenanigans. And, if healthy, Moylan can help the Braves get back to where they want to be.
With Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill, two other veteran relievers, now gone as well, the Braves need someone with experience to be part of the pen. And as long as he’s healthy, the Braves need Peter Moylan.
Moylan will undoubtedly be offered contracts by other teams, and no one is going to begrudge him if he signs elsewhere. He’s got to do the best thing for him and his family. I’m sure Moylan wants to come back, and let’s hope that is reciprocal.
He’s the best story we’ve had around these parts in a long time. I’m glad I was able to tell his story first. And I hope Moylan can provide more good stories in an Atlanta uniform.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.