By Tom Hoffarth, Staff Writer
L.A. Daily News
As long as the sun is shining, Dodger fans will be forever over the moon about Wally Moon.
The All-Star surprisingly traded to L.A. from St. Louis in 1959 created a Coliseum phenomenon that only Vin Scully could best describe at a point in history when the Soviets and United States were immersed in space race.
Moon's "moon shot" was launched by an inside-out swing from the left-handed batter's box, forcing the ball on a sky-high trajectory that often cleared the 40-foot left-field screen that started just 250 feet from home plate down the foul line.
The last one happened 50 years ago Monday, in the first inning off the Phillies' John Buzhardt.
The 81-year-old's new autobiography, "Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life" (Mill City Publishing, 340 pages, $24.95) sells on his official website (www.wallymoon.com) and will be available during a book signing tour through L.A. next week that includes a stop at Dodger Stadium before Tuesday's game.
"I'm a happy camper," he said the other day from his home in Bryan, Tex., just outside College Station and his alma mater, Texas A&M. "My old heart's pumping now, because I'm getting anxious to see all my friends in L.A. again."
He explains more in a Q-and-A:
QUESTION: What spurred you on to write the book? Were there some things you wanted to say about today's game?
MOON: I think initially I just wanted to kind of hand down the memories to my children and grandchildren, but in the last couple of years, since we've had this website, I've connected with a lot of fans, and gained a lot of encouragement there to put it all on paper. That's been some undertaking, I must say. Maybe I bit off more than I could chew. But it was a labor of love. I played in the Golden Era of the game. So now that I'm in my eighth decade, I thought, 'You're a pretty lucky fellow.' And it was fun to spark some memories. I think I benefitted from it as well as anyone else.
Q: Anyone who saw you play at the Coliseum had to enjoy that experience.
A: There won't be another Coliseum. That's sort of a special place to me. Where else could you play before 90,000 or 100,000? I don't think that'll ever happen again. And there was Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett, educating every one of them, because the depth perception in the Coliseum was so bad - the fans would cheer a pop up and not say a thing when someone was really hit well. I don't have the words to describe what it was like winning that first world championship in 1959, my first year. I tried . . .
Q: Do you think many know about how Stan Musial gave you the best advice on how to hit those shots to left field at the Coliseum?
A: He was a great mentor. He told me, 'You gotta learn how to play in that ballpark. Here's what I would do if I were you.' It was good advice. I worked at it, and I think I was able to accomplish something that many left-handers couldn't.
Q: You describe some great times living in Encino, taking your $11,000 World Series players share and buying a house on two acres, with an orange grove and grave vines, setting up your own Wiffleball field. Can you imagine what it would be worth to have that house today?
A: Oh, I don't even try to think about that. Maybe we should have stayed there, over on White Oak. Maybe if we didn't have five children we could have stayed. I fell in love with Los Angeles, and I think the fans did with me, too. That was a great little community we had there. We had the great singer, Billy Vaughn, living there, and we'd go to boxing matches. Tex and Dorothy Ritter were great people, and their son, John. Such a great kid. I miss them. My closest friends still live there down the hill, and we'll go visit them this trip. You know, people are the answer. The fans are the answer. They support this game and have so for years and years. I'm so appreciative of those who just want to say hello and remember me.
HIGHLIGHTS OF WALLY MOON:
-Born: April 3, 1930 in Bay, Arkansas
-Major League Service: 12 years: Five with St. Louis, seven with the Dodgers.
-Career highlights: A .289 batting average in 1,457 games, with 142 home runs and 661 RBIs; The 1954 NL Rookie of the Year once led the NL in at-bats (716 in 1954), triples (11 in 1959) and on-base percentage (.434 in 1961). Fourth in the NL MVP voting in 1959. Won a Gold Glove in 1960. Retired in 1965 as a member of three Dodgers World Series championships (1959, '63, '65).