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September 20, 2011
Aggie Flashback: Reflections from A&M legend Wally Moon
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TexAgs Radio welcomed a very special guest into the studio on Tuesday, as legendary former Texas A&M baseball player and Major Leaguer Wally Moon shared unique stories with Gabe Bock and Rusty Burson.


Review of Wally Moon's new book, "Moon Shots: Reflections of a Baseball Life"

By 12th Man Magazine's Rusty Burson

Sitting in the clubhouse at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis on April 11, 1954, Wally Moon clung tightly to his St. Louis Cardinals’ jersey and seriously pondered whether this would be the last time he’d wear his baseball uniform.

Earlier in the day, Moon had been a late-inning substitute for the Cardinals’ legendary outfielder Enos Slaughter in the final, meaningless exhibition game of spring training. Moon, the country boy from Arkansas who’d sharpened his athletic skills in the late 1940s at Texas A&M, had enjoyed a solid spring in his effort to finally make the big-league roster. But he’d steadily received less playing time as the season-opener drew closer. None of the signs—from the body language of team officials to the stories in the local media—looked good for Moon.

WallyMoon.com Moon donned the cover of Sports Illustrated as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in April '57. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"Moon donned the cover of Sports Illustrated as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in April \u002757.","MediaItemID":10747}
“With the regular-season opener just two days away, all I’d gotten from team management was a half-hearted, ‘We’ll see,’” Moon wrote in his recently-released autobiography, Moon Shots: Reflections of a Baseball Life. “After the final out of our exhibition outing against the Minor League Kansas City Blues, I purposefully took my time leaving the field, fearing it might be my last afternoon on the big-league stage. Inside the clubhouse, I slowly pulled off my No. 20 jersey and held it tightly in my hands before tossing it into a pile of soiled uniforms.

“I had come so close. One of the locker room attendants came up to me. ‘Stanky wants to see you,’ he said. A few teammates looked toward me as I got up to make my way to the manager’s office, a dead man walking toward his baseball doom.”

“Stanky” was former Cardinals’ manager Eddie Stanky, and Moon was certain the skipper was about to inform the player that he had not made the Major League roster. After four seasons in the Minors, Moon also had come to grips with the fact that this would be his last shot at “The Show.”

His wife, Bettye, had recently given birth to the couple’s first child. Financial considerations weighed on Moon’s mind. Bills needed to be paid. Roots needed to be established. And Moon’s $300 per month Minor League salary wasn’t sufficient.

Moon was already making mental plans to return to Arkansas to begin a career in teaching and coaching as he closed the manager’s door and braced himself for the worst possible news.

“Wally,” Stanky said, pausing to find the words that Moon assumed would bring to an end a memorable chapter in his life, “you’ve made the team.”

That was the surprising beginning of an absolutely remarkable ride in Major League Baseball for Moon, which he documents in fascinating detail in the wonderfully written book, Moon Shots. The book, co-written by Tim Gregg and self-published by Moon through Minneapolis-based Mill City Press, is a magnificent collection of stories regarding some of the greatest times, greatest names and greatest memories in baseball history.

Those who remember Moon as a player at A&M and later with the Cardinals and Dodgers will love strolling down Memory Lane with one of the most recognized and respected professional athletes A&M had ever produced...in any sport. Those who are too young to remember Moon’s heroics will likely be mesmerized by his numerous brushes with greatness and his consistent flair for the dramatics.

Moon, who has long resided in Bryan with his wife, didn’t really consider himself as a power hitter. Yet, he blasted legendary, transfixing homers that captured fans’ imaginations and have never been forgotten.

Playing against TCU in 1950, for example, Moon strolled to the plate in the rickety old baseball stadium that once backed up to Kyle Field and launched the most monstrous hit in Aggie memoirs. The ball cleared the outfield fence and kept rising. It cleared the top of the first deck—the only deck of the football stadium at that time—and continued traveling over the seats, crossing the older cinder track.

When it finally came to a rest, former A&M track coach Andy Anderson picked the ball up near midfield of the football playing surface. Not even Moon is sure about the total distance it traveled, and witnesses of the colossal crunch seem leery about estimating, fearing a guess would fail to do it justice. Anderson’s conservative estimate was that it landed at least 470 feet from home plate. Others claim it traveled was at least 500 before “touchdown.”

Moon, a two-year letterman at A&M in 1949 and ’50, was much more than a one-hit wonder. He won All-Southwest Conference honors in 1950, signed with the Cardinals later that year and enjoyed the most distinguished playing career of any Aggie to make it to Major Leagues.

After meeting with Stanky on April 11, 1954, Moon learned that he wasn’t just on the Cardinals’ roster; he’d been inserted into the starting lineup to replace the tremendously popular Slaughter, who’d been dealt that day to the Yankees. The day after the trade, Moon made his first public appearance as a Cardinal in a pre-season parade along the streets of St. Louis.

“As the motorcade revved to a start, it was now official before God and thousands of Cardinal fans: I was the player designated to fill the spiked shoes of Slaughter,” Moon writes in the book. “To be honest, as I sat atop the backseat of my ride trying to shield my eyes from the late-morning sun, I felt, at least a little, like I was being led to slaughter…The response (from the St. Louis fans along the parade route) was overwhelmingly negative, sometimes mean and occasionally ugly.”

It wasn’t any better the next day when the Cards opened the season against the Cubs at Sportsman’s Park. Hitting No. 2 in the lineup, behind Rip Repulski and just ahead of Stan “The Man” Musial, Moon stepped to the plate and took the first two pitches of his first big-league at-bat from Chicago pitcher Paul Minner.

Although both pitches were out of the strike zone and called balls by home plate umpire Jocko Conlan, the fans in St. Louis shouted for Moon to, “take the bat off your shoulder.” Then chants echoed through the ballpark: “We want Slaughter, we want Slaughter.”

The rookie could’ve crumbled then. Instead, he instantly won favor with the hometown fans by lifting a home run on his first big-league swing.

One of the beauties of this book is that it does much more than recount the story of the memorable games and hits. Moon and Gregg paint an eloquent and vivid picture with prose that is as impressive as Moon’s baseball accomplishments. The first homer in his big-league history is described this way:

“With the piece of tooled Pennsylvania white ash lumber I held tightly in my hands, I sent the speeding sphere of corked material, tightly wound by some 400 yards of yarn and encapsulated by two pieces of bleached cowhide sewn together with exactly 216 red stitches, soaring deep along a parabolic arc in the sunny afternoon sky.”

Great start to a career. Great memories. Great writing, as well.

Moon’s greatness continued throughout that rookie season. By May 12, the centerfielder had two 5-for-5 performances at the plate, and he continued to shred MLB pitching the rest of the season, hitting .304 and scoring 106 runs. Those numbers were enough to earn him the National League Rookie of the Year award. The second and third-place finishers in the balloting were a couple of guys baseball fans may recall: Future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks.

That’s good company. Really good.

WallyMoon.com Moon teamed with names like Koufax and Drysdale to help the L.A. win three World Series titles from 1959-65. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"Moon teamed with names like Koufax and Drysdale to help the L.A. win three World Series titles from 1959-65.","MediaItemID":10753}
The book takes readers behind the scenes and covers everything, from Moon’s childhood in Bay, Arkansas, to his unlikely path to Texas A&M, where he was also a standout basketball player. He documents the first five years of his MLB career in St. Louis and outlines his trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the 1959 season.

The Dodgers had moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles the previous season, and Moon was initially disappointed by the trade. But it turned out to be a tremendous move for his career. He hit .302 his first season with the Dodgers, clubbing 19 homers over the short porch in left field at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was a mere 251 feet down the line in left field, but a 42-foot net prevented many balls from going out.

The lefthanded-hitting Moon mastered the confines early in 1959, golfing homers over the net with his inside-out swing. Many of his homers came early in the season, capturing the imagination of the West Coast fans.

He also had a flair for the dramatics. On Aug. 31, 1959, for example, Moon’s three-run, ninth-inning homer before 82,974 fans at the Coliseum gave the Dodgers a 5-2 win over the Giants. It also made a winner out of Sam Koufax, who broke Dizzy Dean’s NL record with 18 strikeouts in that game.

“We drove out to California to watch him, and he was really something with the Dodgers,” said Al Ogletree, one of Moon’s teammates at A&M. “People out there were really excited about those homers over that short left-field fence. They became known as ‘Moon shots.’”
Moon shots helped propel the ragtag Dodgers from a seventh-place finish in ’58 to a World Championship in ’59. Playing in a lineup that featured future legends such as Duke Snider, Maury Wills and Gil Hodges, and a pitching rotation that included stars like Don Drysdale and Koufax, Moon helped the Dodgers land the first West Coast World Series in baseball history. He also homered in the sixth and deciding game of the 1959 World Series at Comiskey Park, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 series win over the Chicago White Sox.

If you are even remotely a baseball fan, you will love Moon Shots. And for Aggie baseball fans, this is a must-read. Moon is an Aggie legend, and this book, which also incorporates his personal life and perspectives, is captivating.

“I worked on it for roughly three years,” Moon said on Sept. 14 in between autograph sessions in Los Angeles. “I would start, stumble and start again. I worked on it pretty hard, as you get older, you don’t remember things quite as well, but the project was a fun and interesting one for me. It started out something that I would make in the form of memoirs to my kids and grandkids, but the more I thought about the wonderful years I had in professional baseball, I began to think that other people outside my family would enjoy those stories, as well.

“I thought those years were the Golden Era of baseball. A lot of good things were happening in our country at that time, and I was fortunate enough to be part of three World Series championship teams and experience expansion from coast to coast. It was a marvelous time to be playing baseball, and it made for some really good stories to tell.”
And Moon tells them exceptionally well.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To purchase copies of Moon Shots: Reflections of a Baseball Life visit www.WallyMoon.com.
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