As long as the sun is shining in Southern California, Dodger fans will be forever over the moon about Wally Moon.
The All-Star surprisingly traded to L.A. from St. Louis in 1959 created a Coliseum phenomenon that only Vin Scully could accurately describe at a point in history when the Soviets and United States were immersed in space race.
Moon’s “moon shot” was launched by an inside-out swing from the left-handed batter’s box, a technique suggested to him by former teammate Stan Musial, forcing the ball on a sky-high trajectory that cleared the 40-foot left-field screen just 250 feet from home plate.
The last one happened 50 years ago Monday (box score linked here), in the first inning off the Phillies’ John Buzhardt that surprisingly wasn’t enough to launch a victory for roommate Sandy Koufax, roughed up in a 19-10 defeat.
“Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life” (Mill City Publishing, 340 pages, $24.95) is the 81-year-old’s new autobiography, selling on his official website (www.wallymoon.com) and will be available during a book signing tour through L.A. next week that includes a stop at Dodger Stadium before Tuesday’s game.
“I have no complaints,” he said the other day from his home in Bryan, Tex., just outside College Station and his alma mater, Texas A&M, where he earned a master’s degree in administrative education. “The Lord’s been good to me. I’m a happy camper. My old heart’s pumping now, because I’m getting anxious to see all my friends in L.A. again.”
He explains more in a Q-and-A:
QUESTION: What brought you to write the book? Were fans on your website urging you to do it? Were there some things you wanted to say about today’s game?
MOON: I think initially I just wanted to kind of hand down the memories to my children and grandchildren, but in the last couple of years, since we’ve had this website, I’ve connected with a lot of fans, old ones and new ones, and gained a lot of encouragement there to put it all on paper. That’s been some undertaking, I must say. Maybe I bit off more than I could chew.
But it was a labor of love to talk about all those things in my life. I certainly love the game of baseball and wanted to try to chronicle it all.
I call it the Golden Era of the game. Those were such great times, such harmony among the players and owners and fans, and expansion was happening coast to coast. It was a real exciting time to be alive as a player, and a great time in our country’s history as well.
I saw so many things as a player rep for 12 years, in World Series, all this growth taking place, and how tremendously happy the fans were. It kind of floors me how close the fans and players were.
So now that I’m in my eighth decade, I thought, ‘You’re a pretty lucky fellow.’ I wanted to speak to the fans that still enjoy baseball. It just wasn’t easy to remember things so long ago sometimes. Your mind slips and you say some things you shouldn’t. But I tried very hard to be as accurate. And it was fun to spark some memories. I think I benefitted from it as well as anyone else.
Q: Anyone who saw you play at the Coliseum had to enjoy that experience.
A: There won’t be another Coliseum. That’s sort of a special place. Los Angeles was special to me. Where else could you play before 90,000 or 100,000? I don’t think that’ll ever happen again. And there was Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett, educating every one of them, because the depth perception in the Coliseum was so bad – the fans would cheer a pop up and not say a thing when someone was really hit well. I don’t have the words to describe what it was like winning that first world championship in 1959, my first year. I tried . . .
Q: Do you think many know about how Stan Musial gave you the best advice on how to hit those shots to left field?
A: He was a great mentor, in addition to probably the finest baseball player I ever laid eyes on. He took me under his wing as a youngster and taught me how to be a big-leaguer and enjoy the game. When I went to the Dodgers, he was upset as much as I was at the time. But he told me, ‘You gotta learn how to play in that ballpark. Here’s what I would do if I were you.’ It was good advice. I worked at it, and I think I was able to accomplish something that many left-handers couldn’t. So long story short, it was great advice from the greatest player. I know Stan’s not doing too well these days (he will be 92 in November), but I’m going to see him soon (later this month in St. Louis) when the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame honors all the previous Rookies of the Year (which Moon won in 1954). I’m the oldest rookie still around.
Q: You describe some great times living in Encino, taking your $11,000 World Series players share and buying a house on two acres, with an orange grove and grave vines, setting up your own Wiffleball field. Can you imagine what it would be worth to have that house today?
A: Oh, I don’t even try to think about that. Maybe we should have stayed there, over on White Oak. Maybe if we didn’t have five children we could have stayed. I fell in love with Los Angeles, and I think the fans did with me, too. That was a great little community we had there. We had the great singer, Billy Vaughn, living there, and we’d go to boxing matches. Tex and Dorothy Ritter were great people, and their son, John. Such a great kid. I miss them. My closest friends still live there down the hill, and we’ll go visit them this trip.
You know, people are the answer. The fans are the answer. They support this game and have so for years and years. I’m so appreciative of those who just want to say hello and remember me.
Q: You point out in the book that while you wore No. 9 and played left field for the Dodgers, there was another player who wore No. 99 and played left field much differently that how you did it. It seems as if you had a meeting someday with Manny Ramirez, it wouldn’t go so well.
A: Probably not. Manny’s problems have been well documented. I think in the book I just wanted to speak to the steroid era, and all that. I’m probably not accomplished enough to write it all out, but I spoke from the heart. I don’t like the fact that any athlete can cheat the game. I love this game too much. Maybe the atmosphere around baseball was different now than it was back then, but I certainly don’t think the game has changed. Great people still play it the right way. I don’t want to say much derogatory about all that. But when you see elements of juicing that lead to breaking home run records in particular, that’s too extraordinary. It’s a tough issue to deal with.
Q: What’s the one thing you enjoy most about watching today’s game?
A: I think the main thing is how all the stadiums have been improved, with the playing field and the quality of lighting. I’m closest here to Minute Maid Park in Houston – they have a retractable roof, a flashing scoreboard, air conditioned? It’s mindboggling. But it’s all real exciting. I’d sure love to play in today’s game with that kind of atmosphere. You think back to the lighting we had when it first started – I think a lot of us in the Golden Era would have been a little better hitters if we could have seen the ball better. It’s like daylight and dark.
I don’t begrudge any progress. I revel in it. But maybe the only negativity about all this is that fans can’t get close to players as much as they used to. You could go up, shake hands, say hello. Times do change.
Q: Yes, like how you can email fans, have a Facebook page, your own YouTube channel, and a fantastic website — you’re having fun with it?
A: I don’t know. I can’t keep up with it, but I’m trying. I have a great support team with my children and grandchildren. I have a 12-year-old grandchild who always tells me, “Get with it!” So I’m turning on the computer. And I even got my wife (Bettye) to be computer literate. You know, I’ve got a 103-year-old mother in law, and I’m trying to get her on the computer, too. I haven’t got very far with that yet.
Q: So what about Texas A&M going to the Southeastern Conference? What’s happening to the Big 12?
A: I’m not as excited about the move as much as many of my Aggie friends are. I think there’s good and bad to it. The SEC is a powerful conference, but I still love the old Southwest Conference. And the Big 12 is pretty good, too. When A&M decided to leave, it really upset the apple cart there a bit. The people I know in the administration think it’s the best move, so I’ll go along with it. It seems like the ultimate goal is to develop four strong conferences, so it’s all intertwined with growth and population. Texas A&M just passed the 50,000 (student) mark. When I came here in 1947, there were 6,000.
So time marches on. You gotta go with the flow.
THE WALLY MOON FILE:
Born: April 3, 1930 in Bay, Arkansas
Major League Service: 12 years: Five with St. Louis, seven with the Dodgers.
Career highlights: A .289 batting average in 1,457 games, with 142 home runs and 661 RBIs; The 1954 NL Rookie of the Year once led the NL in at-bats (716 in 1954), triples (11 in 1959) and on-base percentage (.434 in 1961). Fourth in the NL MVP voting in 1959. Won a Gold Glove in 1960. Retired in 1965 as a member of three Dodgers World Series championships (1959, ’63, ’65).
Moon’s L.A. book tour this week:
== Tuesday: Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dodger Stadium right-field merchandise tent, 5 to 7:10 p.m.
== Wednesday: Newport Sports Museum (linked here 100 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, 949.721.9333), 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; Chevalier’s Books (linked here 126 N. Larchmont Blvd. Los Angeles, 323.465.1334), 5 to 7 p.m.
== Thursday: Brent’s Deli (linked here, 19565 Parthenia St., Northridge, 818.886.5679), 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; El Cholo Cafe Pasadena (linked here, 260 East Colorado Blvd., Suite 203, Pasadena, 626.795.5800), 6 to 8 p.m.