This is the nineteenth in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous baseball legends.
In honor of Opening Week 2010, each legend installment this week will be a baseball one, spotlighting legends from one of the eight playoff teams last year. Today the featured team is the St. Louis Cardinals.
BASEBALL LEGEND: Wally Moon effectively promoted himself to the big leagues.
STATUS: True (Effectively is the key word, of course)
Wallace “Wally” Moon was signed to a minor league contract by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1950, when he was 20 years old.
While still in the minors, Moon finished work on a master’s degree in administrative education from Texas A&M University in College Station.
He began coaching baseball while still in the minors, and he was getting really tired of still being in the minors.
He had a degree and he had a promising future as a baseball coach if he wanted to pursue it, but he did not want to give up his dreams of playing professional baseball, especially for his boyhood heroes, the St. Louis Cardinals.
So even though he had other opportunities, he signed another minor league contract in 1953.
You have to understand, while minor league contracts might not be anything to write home about nowadays, salary-wise, back in the 1950s they were dreadfully small.
And Moon had a wife and was beginning a family – pretty soon it would be downright foolish of him to turn down a career in coaching if his dreams of playing professional ball were not going to happen.
After winning the Caribbean World Series in the winter of 1953/54, Moon figured that 1954 HAD to be “the” year, so when he was told to report to the Cardinals’ minor league camp – he was not pleased.
He decided to take a leap of faith. Rather than reporting to minor league camp, he went to St. Petersburg, where the Cardinals held their Major League training camp.
He essentially offered up an ultimatum – he would not return to the minors, the Cardinals could either let him compete for the big league club or he would simply retire and take up coaching.
Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky backed him up, so he was allowed to compete for a job in training camp, and surprisingly enough (to the Cardinals, of course, as Moon was sure of his talents), he played terrific in camp. He played so well that they gave him a spot on the roster as the starting left fielder.
To make room for Moon, the Cardinals traded veteran (and future Hall of Famer) Enos Slaughter to the New York Yankees.
Slaughter, forever famous in Cardinals (heck, baseball) history for his “Mad Dash” in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series (where the slow-moving Slaughter scored from first base on a double in the 8th inning of Game 7, basically winning the World Series for the Cards), was a fan favorite…
So when Moon had his first at-bat in the Majors in 1954, the fans chanted “We want Slaughter!”
Moon then promptly hit a home run in that first at-bat.
He went on to hit for a .304 batting average, with 12 home runs, 76 runs batted in and 18 stolen bases, easily winning the 1954 Rookie of the Year (beating out a couple of no-names like Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks).
Moon went on to make the All Star team (and win a Gold Glove) for the Cardinals in 1957…
He was traded to the Dodgers in 1959, and he made another All Star team with the Dodgers in 1959, and he was part of two Dodger World Series teams (and was on the regular season roster in 1963, when the Dodgers also won the World Series).
You can read more about Moon’s life and career at his website, wallymoon.com, where he has some good quotes about why he made his bold gamble in the spring of 1954!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com