The distance was short – but the fence was so high,
When Wally’s bat kissed them – batted balls said goodbye,
They just called ‘em “Moon Shots” – in the sweet bye and bye,
As homers flew fast – from their Coliseum lie.
It was an interesting era, to say the least. After the Brooklyn baseball team moved to the west coast in 1958 and reincarnated themselves as the Los Angeles Dodgers, they played five seasons (1958-1962) in the Los Angeles Coliseum on a playing field that had been configured for track in the 1932 Olympics and then for football, but not for baseball. As a result, the Dodgers ended up with left field distance that ridiculously short and only helped some by the inclusion of a super high net fence that kept most long drives in play and away from the cheap homers they soon would otherwise become.
Everything about that little arrangement began to chance once the Dodgers acquired a young outfielder named Wally Moon from the Cardinals after the 1958 season. The left-handed hitting Moon remembered how he used to wat crumpled tin Pet Milk cans with a stick to any direction he wanted as a kid back in Bay, Arkansas and he was able to convert that neuromuscular memory into the art of hitting a pitched baseball on a high opposite field arch to left field that often enough cleared the high protective protective net. These homers came to be named for Wally Moon as his “moon shots.” Like a golfer chipping out of the sand and up an embankment, Wally Moon had landed in LA in 1959 in time to become the “Master of the Moon Shot” just as the NASA space race with the USSR was really heating up.
It didn’t hurt that much of the music from that time enhanced public consciousness of the “moon shot” reference. One of the most popular songs from that 1950s era was “How High The Moon” by Les Paul and Mary Ford. I can still hear that song playing on the PA system at the Coliseum as Wally Moon rounds the bases on sauntering heels after another moon shot. “Somewhere there’s music, etc., etc. … How high the moon?”
The Moon got pretty high on success in LA. He played for three World Series championship clubs as a Dodger in 1959, 1963, and 1965, a final year which also turned out to be his last season as an active player in professional baseball. Now, at age 81, a still healthy and vibrantly alive Wally Moon has written and published his own autobiographical memoir with Tim Gregg entitled “Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life.”
Wally Moon attended our early October meeting of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, to discuss his new book and just talk about his priceless lifetime of observations on the game of baseball. He came, and he performed, as a gentleman from the old school – one who valued family, fortitude, commitment, dedication, discipline, honesty, humility, faith, hope, love, and loyalty – and all those other good bonding values and personal traits that shape performance in any field – and he took those things and allowed them to speak out in baseball and his personal life through his actions as the answer to the question – “Who is this guy Wally Moon?”
I’m so grateful that I got to hear Wally speak at that early October meeting because it shaped how I heard his words from the book in my own mind as I read it. I bought the book from Wally that night and he signed it to me with these words:
“To: Bill – a good baseball fan. Enjoy this book and my best wishes to you. – Wally Moon 10-11-11.”
The book I read spoke to me in the same down-to-earth, grounded, but intelligent voice I heard that recent October night in his talk for and with the members of SABR.
Wally Moon was one of my teenage idols as a ballplayer. How could he miss with guys like me? He came up in 1954 with the Cardinals as an outfielder and hit .304 for the St. Louis Cardinals, playing well enough to be named the National League Rookie of the Year. He had played for Texas A&M and gotten his college degree before reaching the big leagues, and that was a big deal to me and my parents, even back then. The game of baseball was not a sport to rob us young guys of our education, if one had both the ability and motivation to get through school – and, I must add, a few of those values and traits that Wally had acquired from his family and DNA. The guy was a role model for the ages back then – and he still is today.
After five seasons with the Cardinals (1954-1958), Wally Moon went to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade for Dodger outfielder Gino Cimoli. He didn’t like it much, but he adapted and did well overall over the course of seven seasons (1959-1965) on the coast. Wally Moon also played some first base with the Dodgers, ending his career with a batting average of .289 and 142 total home runs.
Moon Shots is well-written and it covers a lot of detail from Wally’s personal and baseball life. It doesn’t contain the morality crisis that many players face and have to either deal with or avoid in their own stories because Wally Moon’s value system and personal trait profile exists as the polar opposite of that old left field wall in the LA Coliseum. Wally’s character runs long, wide, and deep. He never really had to choose between right and wrong because his sense of the “right thing” is simply so much stronger than anything else out there that tries to oppose it. And I don’t mean that Wally comes across as a “Mr. Goody Two Shoes” either, I mean he is just one of those truly rare, but authentic for-real “good guys.” He doesn’t try to tell other people how to live, but he values the idea that all people need to take correct responsibility for their own actions.Whether they do, or not, is another matter. Wally Moon understands that we all live in an imperfect world that is sometimes unfair.
If we only had a world of more Wally Moons, what a wonderful world it would be. – Add those lyrics to your famous song, Satchmo. Wally Moon deserves the well-deserved mention.
If you haven’t read the book, get your own copy of Moon Shots and decide for ourself. For more information, check it out at Wally’s website.