This is the twenty-first 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 the opening of the 2010 baseball season, each legend installment this week (and next) will be a baseball one, spotlighting legends from one of the eight playoff teams last year. Today the featured team is the Los Angeles Dodgers.
BASEBALL LEGEND: Former Dodger star Wally Moon coined the term “flake” to describe an eccentric person.
Wally Moon cemented his place in Los Angeles Dodger lore by adapting his swing in his first season playing for the team, 1959, which was the second year that the Dodgers played in Los Angeles. You see, Moon typically drove the ball to right field, but when the Dodgers first played in Los Angeles, they held their games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a gigantic football stadium converted for baseball usage. Due to the strange dimensions of the stadium, right field and center field were far away while left field was only 250 feet from home plate. The Dodgers erected a 40-foot-high screen designed to keep balls in play, but even with this precaution, a stunning 182 homers were hit to left field in 1958, with just three hit to center and eight to right. So Moon adapted his swing to loft balls towards left field and the screen.
As a result, Moon led the league in triples and also his 19 home runs. His fly balls to left for soon referred to as “Moon shots.”
Moon was an All-Star and came in fourth in the MVP voting as the Dodgers went on to win the World Series for just the second time in franchise history (and first in Los Angeles). Moon was around to win two more World Series with the Dodgers before retiring.
However, Moon had a strong career before joining the Dodgers as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Moon actually won the Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals in 1954, beating out a strong crop of rookies that included a shortstop named Ernie Banks and an outfielder named Hank Aaron, who I think both went on to have decent careers in the majors.
As impressive as a ballplayer Moon was in St. Louis, it is actually an off the field “accomplishment” that I’d like to discuss here.
You see, it appears that Moon coined the term “flake.”
Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? Or it certainly sounds extremely random, but it also appears to be true.
While in St. Louis, in 1956, Moon played with a fellow named Jackie Brandt who was certainly an eccentric guy (self-admitted).
In 1973, legendary baseball writer Maury Allen (in his 1973 book on Bo Bellinsky) credited Moon as describing Brandt as being so wild that his brains were falling out of head, or flaking out of his head, hence the nickname “flake.”
The term definitely became attached to Brandt in his next stop, San Francisco, as a member of the Giants.
And by the early 1960s, the term “flake” became an “insider nickname” among baseball players to describe their more eccentric teammates, and by the end of the 1960s, the term had been expanded to the adjective “flaky.”
And it has stuck ever since.
It is accepted now that the term almost certainly DID come from professional baseball in the late 1950s, although some etymologists credit the fact that “flake” was a slang term for cocaine during the 1920s as also being an influence on the baseball term, which could be true, although I don’t know if I personally buy that as a reason.
So it comes down to who in baseball first coined the term?
It does seem to be Brandt who the term originated around, and Moon WAS his teammate in 1956, so I don’t really have any reason to doubt Allen, so I’m willing to credit Moon as inventing the term “flake.”
Which, on top of Rookie of Year and three World Series titles, is a pretty impressive legacy for a guy to have.
Moon has a website you can check out – Wallymoon.com, which, interestingly enough, doesn’t mention the “flake” story, but the majority of his Cardinals days doesn’t get a lot of play there, just his rookie campaign.
Thanks to Maury Allen’s Bo: Pitching and Wooing for the story about Moon, and thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary, as well!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org