Remember His Game, Remember His Name: Wally Moon
The man with the greatest unibrow in MLB history is also behind one of the game's best phrases
As part of this weekly (hopefully) segment, I'd like to put a spotlight on an athlete who led an interesting life or career, yet is largely unknown by the average sports fan today.
Before there was Anthony Davis, there was Wally Moon. These two men owned their unibrows, letting that unique patch of hair above their noses grow freely and lusciously (Moon might have "The Brow" beat in this department, however).
Aside from his singularly-great eyebrow, Moon is mostly known for being a solid player for a number of years, and for being the originator of one of baseball's classic phrases: the "Moon shot."
Moon had a unique career in more ways than one.
Smart and Confident
Wally Moon was a smart guy. Both of his parents were teachers, so you better believe he was going to college, regardless of how stellar he was on the diamond. Moon received his Master's Degree in Administrative Education from Texas A&M while he was still a St. Louis Cardinals farmhand, infinitely impressive for a man that would soon be a regular on a Major League baseball field.
I'm speaking in hindsight, obviously, since I already know that Moon would become a big leaguer contributor. Back in 1954, though, no one seemed to know that except Wally himself.
The Cardinals were not entirely sold on the 23-year-old outfielder heading in the 1954 season, so many felt he should report to minor league camp for Spring Training. Moon decided he wasn't gonna do that. He headed to St. Petersburg instead, after GM Dick Meyer extended that option, unbeknownst to manager Eddie Stanky. This was where the big league club was, and Moon decided that he would either break camp with the Cardinals or retire, as he had a Master's Degree to fall back on and little reason to waste his time plucking away in the minors.
Wally Moon raked that spring and forced the Cardinals' hand; they added him to the Major League roster and traded away Enos Slaughter, a Cardinals legend and future HOF-er, to make room for him in the lineup.
St. Louis fans were not happy. They roared "WE WANT SLAUGHTER" during Moon's first at bat. He promptly hit a home run to start his MLB career, and would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award that season, hitting .304 with an .806 OPS. It was the beginning of an excellent 12-year career.
After five seasons and 12.3 bWAR, Moon was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959, who had just played their first season in LA in '58. Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi (what a name) saw a buy-low opportunity in Moon, who was coming off an unproductive, injury-riddled season with the Cardinals, but had also been an All-Star the season prior and was entering his age-29 season. The Dodgers didn't give up much to get him; it was a savvy move for a GM looking to dig his team out of the National League cellar.
The only problem was the Dodgers' home stadium. The Los Angeles Coliseum had some of the most bizarre dimensions in baseball history. Good luck hitting one out to right field, which extended 440 feet away in its deepest part. It was a bit more forgiving if you hit it directly down the right field line, as the foul pole was 300 feet away. Then you had the left field bleachers, situated just 250 feet from home plate and protected by a 42-foot screen. It was a strange fit for a baseball field, to put it mildly, and a place where left-handed hitters struggled mightily to produce any runs.
Wally Moon was a lefty, but his intuitive mind and superb hand-eye coordination allowed him to adjust to his difficult surroundings. He sought out the advice of his old teammate and friend, Stan Musial, who told him he should tweak his swing to drive the ball to left field more often, which he had shown the ability to do while in St. Louis.
Moon closed off his stance a bit, then mastered an inside-out swing to combat pitchers constantly throwing inside to lefties at the LA Coliseum. He called it an "educated slice."
He put up an .890 OPS and slugged 19 home runs that season, nine of which went over the left field screen at the Coliseum. These home runs became known as "Moon shots" to players and fans alike, due to Wally's last name and the majestic, high-arching trail of his opposite field bombs.
Thus, the phrase "Moon shot" was born.
Wally Moon also made Buzzie Bavasi a prophet, as the Dodgers went from finishing next-to-last in the National League in '58 to winning their first World Series in Los Angeles in '59, due in large part to their star left fielder's stellar season. Moon led all Dodger position players in bWAR, with 5.5, and helped cement the status of a franchise that would become an institution in Southern California.
So the next time a play-by-play commentator utters the phrase "Moon shot" after a hitter lofts a gravity-defying home run into the bleachers, remember who the source of that phrase was.
Wally Moon, who passed away in 2018, was a solid ballplayer, had a strong unibrow, and graced us with a damn good baseball phrase. Thank you, Mr. Moon.