Wally Moon - Longing for Old League Heroes
Every blue moon I get a note from a Cloudbuster reader that should be shared. Wallace "Wally" Wade Moon (named after Wallace Wade, the famed Alabama and Duke football coach) was an outfielder who played his 12-year MLB career for the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Los Angeles Dodgers. Wally was super handsome guy, with a prominent unibrow featured on Topps bubblegum cards; he batted left-handed, threw right-handed and was the 1954 National League Rookie of the Year.
His son, Wally Jr., a coach, official, Minor League Baseball team owner, and high school English teacher from Texas wrote this touching note about his father and my Dad when they crossed paths in spring training in the 50s, articulating what so many fans miss about the old days of baseball.
"I think your story is also a great reminder to this generation that there are things greater than your 'brand' and that in times of challenge, all of us from the most famous to the least-known have a significant role to play. Baseball was a very small, self-contained world when our fathers were in it. Money had not yet turned professional athletes into the mega-rich. My father made $6,000 as a rookie with the Cardinals in 1954; had he stayed in Lake City, Arkansas, to coach basketball and teach math (which is what he was going to do if he hadn't stuck with the big club coming out of Spring Training), he'd have made $1,200 a year. Throughout his career, he always had something going in the off-season. While he was with St. Louis, he traveled with a member of the Anheuser-Busch corporation from location to location as they set up distributors, sold brewing yeast, or whatever else was happening. In LA he worked with car dealerships, boat dealerships, land developers, etc. In his last season with LA, the Dodgers roomed Don Sutton with Dad when the club was in Vero Beach. Sutton was then a fast-rising prospect and club wanted my Dad to teach him "how to be a big-leaguer on and off the field" (the same thing that Stan Musial had done for my father and Lil Musial had done for my mother as the wife of a big-league player). A few years later, Dad went to Vero to see the Dodgers and visit with Sut who was then an established starter. Dad came back with a sad report that the big money coming into baseball had changed everything -- 'Guys don't hang out together; they don't go fishing after workouts or games; they all seem to be off doing their own thing. Even Sutton cut short our visit because he was flying himself to Miami for a business meeting . . . I don't think they have the same fun being together we did.'
In my father's later years, I would travel with him to card shows, old-timer appearances, or visits to Spring Training, St. Louis, or LA. I always wanted to make those appearances where there were old-timers. My favorite trips were to New York for the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) banquets where they would raise funds to assist "baseball people" (players, umpires, front office, etc.) who either hadn't qualified for the pension plan, pre-dated the pension plan, or who had fallen on particularly hard times. There would be a player-only cocktail hour followed by a private signing period for the donors, followed by the banquet. My highlight was always the cocktail hour. I would hang around Dad as he'd work the room visiting with his compadres. Following handshakes and hugs, you could see the years fall away as they'd revert to the 20-somethings they'd been in their prime. Their eyes would light up with the stories and memories, the old jokes and jabs would come out, and for a few minutes the aches and pains, the regrets and losses disappeared and the joy of their youth filled them. Even now, as I write, it still brings such joy to me remembering how Dad would look and sound in those moments. That was the power of the game in those days, and I think you capture that feeling the Cloudbusters carried both as ball players and members of the pilot training.
I have spent my entire life in athletics as a player, coach, official, minor league team owner. I know and believe in the value of lessons learned through participating in athletics. I know and have personally experienced the heartbreak of ''not making it'' because of an injury. I have had to tell innumerable young people that their athletic careers were at an end for any number of reasons. There is nothing sadder than looking into the eyes of an 18-year-old when they realize they have just played their last game and that the dream is over. I will get that look tonight as our Senior soccer players will play their last high school game. I think having been around my father when his career came to an end, the discussions we had about my baseball future after getting hurt in college, the hours we spent together hunting quail and ducks, the rides back from my high school basketball games, the rounds on the golf course, and our sitting side-by-side watching sports prepared me to help those young people understand that their ''real'' life is still ahead of them. My father always reminded young people that he was a "professional baseball player" for only 15 years but he was a husband and father for many, many more. In reading your book, I wonder if your father had anyone who could help him see that. It was difficult being raised in an era when you were expected to ''tough it out,'' to be ''a man'' and not show your emotions, and to not "be weak" by asking for help. Your father's experiences and my own father's experiences are reasons why I coach and teach as I do -- I'm not the in-your-face, scream and yell kind of coach; I'm the put my arm around you and whisper in your ear kind. Kids know I'm "safe" to talk to, to open up to, to confide in. Whether we win or lose tonight, what each of those Seniors will know is that they were loved by Coach Moon . . . maybe your Dad's story would have played out differently in today's environment. I truly hope he was more at peace before his passing.
Your book is a wonderful read and is truly a love story -- a love story of baseball, a love story of camaraderie, a love story of a daughter for her father. Thank you, thank you for writing it . . . and sharing it with us all."
Though Wally Moon Jr. understands the need for high-tech game boards and lasers, and he's on board with anything that preserves the game our fathers loved, he says he yearns for the games at ballparks where you can carry on a conversation with your neighbor. He writes, "I miss the pure joy I had sitting in section 103 of Dodger Stadium watching the sun go down on the Elysian Hills behind centerfield, I miss my foot-long hotdog and peanuts and Carnation chocolate ice cream ball park meals, and I miss the electricity and sound of an excited crowd that's not drowned out by electronic lights and music."
Before Wally Moon Sr. died in 2018, he teamed up with Tim Gregg to pen his story in "Moon Shots," a saying Vin Scully made famous in the Dodgers' booth when he called his "moon shot" home runs over the short left-field screen at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as America battled Russia in the space race. Wally Sr. retired from baseball in 1965 after winning his third world series. He worked as college instructor, batting coach for San Diego Padres and athletic director, and received a master's in admin. education at Texas A&M University while he played minor league ball. He also played the role of Sheriff Bender in the TV Western "Wagon Train" in 1960. You can read about Wally Sr. and order the book here: http://www.tkvw.com/wallymoon/about.htm