Wally Moon died last week. He was an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1950s and early 60s.
Moon was Rookie of the Year in 1954 when, replacing the extraordinarily popular Enos Slaughter in the Cards outfield, he batted .304 and scored 106 runs. In 1957, Moon batted .295 with 24 home runs for St. Louis.
Moon is best remembered for his 1959 season with the Dodgers. That year, as the New York Times recounts, “he lofted ‘moon shot’ home runs over the short left-field screen at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to help take an aging team to a 1959 World Series championship season.”
Moon hit 19 home runs in 1959, a fairly modest number for a corner outfielder with more than 600 plate appearances. However, he hit 14 of them at the Coliseum, most to left field where it was 251 feet down the line with a 40 foot screen. For that purpose, the left-handed hitting Moon employed an inside-out swing suggested to him by former teammate (and all around good guy) Stan Musial. Moon also had a league-leading 11 triples, a number of them on balls the screen knocked down.
Furthermore, Moon hit nine home runs in September, during the stretch drive of the Dodgers’ memorable pennant race with Milwaukee. He added another in Game Six of the World Series against the Chicago White Sox, which the Dodgers won in six games.
Moon’s offensive production fell off a little in 1960. However, he won a golden glove that year, his only one.
Moon came back strong in 1961, as a 31 year-old, leading the league in on-base percentage and driving in a career high 88 runs. After that, he became a part-time player and his productivity fell off considerably. However, he was able to play for pennant-winning Dodger clubs in 1963 and 1965, his last year in the majors. As Moon said at the time, it beat picking cotton, which he had done as a child.
Though Moon is best remembered for the “Moon shot,” I remember him best for the “Moon trot.”
I never got the chance to see Moon play in person, but I saw him manage in the Carolina League, first for Prince William (Virginia) and then for Frederick (Maryland). Like other managers at that level, Moon also coached third base.
Before his teams came to bat, he would jog to the coaching box. When his team was retired, he would jog back to the dugout.
Moon, by then nearly 60 years old and no longer slim, had perhaps the slowest trot I’ve ever seen. But it was also the smoothest and, in that sense, the most athletic. He was poetry in slow motion.
To paraphrase Ernest Hemmingway, great athletes, even elderly ones, are different from you and me.