The Dodgers organization and fan base are saddened by the recent death of former National League Rookie of the Year Wally Moon, who died at his home in Bryan, Texas on Friday Night. The left-handed outfielder played his 12-year career in the major leagues for both the St. Louis Cardinals (1954-58) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1959-65).
Moon grew up in a family of educators, earning his Master’s degree in administrative education from Texas A&M University in College Station, while he was in the minor leagues. He was one of the very few baseball athletes who was talented both on the field and academically. Had he not made it to the Cardinal’s Opening Day roster, he was going to return back to his native Arkansas and take a teaching job. He empowered young men and helped them grow as individuals.
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Moon was instructed to report to minor league training camp in the spring of 1954 but refused. He was insistent on going to St.Petersburg with the Cardinals. It allowed him to determine whether he was fit for baseball or not. He impressed the Cardinals. As a result, they let him stay, trading away outfielder Enos Slaughter to the New York Yankees. This opened up a roster spot and starting center fielder position for Moon. The Cardinals will never forget to this day.
In his major league debut, neglecting chants of “We want Enos”, Moon immediately silenced his critics. He belted a home run against the Chicago Cubs and his rookie campaign never spiraled from there. Though his power would take a slight dip, Moon possessed great hitting fundamentals that allowed him to finish his rookie season strong. He finished with a .304 batting average, 12 home runs, 76 runs batted in (RBI’s), and career-highs in hits, runs, and stolen bases. These numbers paved the way towards the National League Rookie of the Year Award. His success was steady for the next three seasons with the Redbirds, improving his plate approach against left-handed pitching and attaining a career-high 24 home runs.
Unfortunately, Moon’s 1958 season was one to forget. He collided with left-fielder Joe Cunningham in pursuit of a fly ball, sustaining an elbow injury that impacted Moon offensively. Missing some time, he wasn’t able to return as the same hitter and appeared to have a different batting stroke. His numbers plummeted significantly, producing a batting average of .238 and a bleak 38 RBI’s. The Cardinals placed the blame on Moon and traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Gino Cimoli.
The news devastated Moon. Moon’s family lived in the St.Louis area but he knew it was important to move on. The Dodgers made him the team’s starting center fielder and he had a cannon for an arm. He had the ability to throw out runners that appeared to have easy doubles and always took the right angle on line-drives and pop flys.
Moon was truly a great all-around player for the Dodgers. He made the adjustment in his batting approach, innovating ways to poke the ball over the 251 foot left field fence at the Coliseum, which featured a 42-foot high screen. His consistent practice and work with his inside-out swing earned him the name “Wrong Way Wally” because of the unique opposite field stroke. However, he was hitting home-runs game after game over this fence, later becoming known as “moon shots.”
Although it wasn’t Giancarlo Stanton power, he did what was necessary to get it over the fence. He batted .302, hit 19 home runs, and was fourth in the MVP race. He was instrumental in helping the Dodgers win their first World Series in Los Angeles. Also, he remained effective for the rest of his tenure.
Rest In Peace Wally!