What I’m Reading: “Moon Shots” by Wally Moon with Tim Gregg

In Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, former Cardinals outfielder and 1954 Rookie of the Year Wally Moon tells the story of his baseball career, from his home run in his first major league at-bat to his seven seasons with the Dodgers upon their arrival in Los Angeles.

Moon’s stories about his early days are fascinating, as he turned down an opportunity to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school and instead planned to attend college. The Pirates scout pursuing Moon convinced him to at least attend a college with a baseball team, and arranged for Moon to play at Texas A&M. Moon, from a tiny high school in Arkansas, went to Texas A&M sight unseen, and the Aggies gave Moon a roster spot without ever having seen him play.

Of course, the arrangement obviously worked out for both parties, and Moon had several professional offers after his junior season. He turned down an $18,000 offer from the Detroit Tigers that would have made him a bonus baby and immediately placed him on the major-league roster, instead narrowing his choices down to the Cardinals and the Yankees. After his father reviewed the minor- and major-league depth charts for both teams, they determined that his best path to success was with the Cardinals, who had relatively few power-hitting left-handed-hitting outfielders in their organization.

Moon’s father turned out to be a pretty smart guy. Moon spent four seasons in the minor before going uninvited to Cardinals spring training. He and his wife Bettye had decided that they couldn’t wait any longer – if Moon didn’t make the Cardinals’ opening-day roster, he planned to use his degree from Texas A&M to get a higher-paying job elsewhere.

Incredibly, Moon did make the roster – but only after the Cardinals traded away fan favorite Enos Slaughter. As a result, Moon was greeted by boos when he stepped to the plate for his big-league debut, though he quickly changed the fans’ minds when he launched a home run in his first at-bat. He went on to hit 12 homers and drive in 76 runs on his way to the Rookie of the Year Award.

Moon made an all-star game appearance in 1957 before general manager Bing Devine traded him and Phil Paine to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli. In Los Angeles, broadcaster Vin Scully termed Moon’s perfectly placed home runs down the short left-field line “Moon shots,” helping to make Moon as popular in Los Angeles as he had become in St. Louis. Moon retired after the 1965 season, ending his 12-year career with 142 homers and 661 RBIs.

In addition to the autobiographical details, the most interesting aspect of the book was Moon’s impression of Stan Musial. Moon, Musial, and Red Schoendienst actually spent quite a bit of time together when Moon first came up with the Cardinals, and having now read about all three, it isn’t surprising that they got along. Moon’s small-town values read very similarly to Schoendienst’s own autobiography, and Musial too came from humble beginnings prior to becoming a star with St. Louis.

Where others have pointed to how difficult it was for Musial to explain hitting to those with lesser talent, Moon says that he actually learned a lot about hitting from The Man, and would quiz him with scenarios, giving him the pitcher and the count and asking him what pitch he should expect.

“While I couldn’t always muster up the right answer, Stan knew, and his seven National League batting titles were testimony to his hitting genius,” Moon wrote.

It makes me think that it’s possible that while Musial struggled to offer mechanical tips that other hitters often sought, his mental approach to the game could have been very valuable to teammates such as Moon.

Despite being 340 pages, Moon Shots made for a quick read. Moon generally has a conversational, easy-to-read writing style, and he inserts letters and emails from fans between the chapters. While much of the book relates to Moon’s days in Los Angeles, it’s still a fun read for Cardinals fans and it’s interesting to hear about the early days of the Los Angeles Dodgers with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale taking the hill. I do wish there were more behind-the-scenes stories of Moon’s teammates, but admittedly, I have this criticism of almost every baseball autobiography I read.

At the end of the day, Moon provides readers with an open look into his baseball career and an interesting glimpse of the 1950s Cardinals and the Dodgers of the early ‘60s.

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