(Updated Oct. 8, 2014)
With his combination of aggressiveness and power potential, rookie Wally Moon reminded the 1954 Cardinals of Enos Slaughter, the dynamo who would earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Moon was the first Cardinals rookie to reach double figures in home runs (12) and stolen bases (18) in a season. Since then, three other Cardinals rookies _ Ken Boyer (18 home runs, 22 stolen bases in 1955), J.D. Drew (13 home runs, 19 stolen bases in 1999) and Wong (12 home runs, 20 stolen bases in 2014) _ achieved the feat.
Slaughter set standard
As a rookie for the 1938 Cardinals, Slaughter couldn’t achieve what Moon, Boyer and Drew did. Slaughter produced eight home runs and one stolen base in his rookie season. But he soon established himself as an aggressive force who hustled on the base paths and consistently produced runs.
In 13 seasons (1938-42 and 1946-53) with the Cardinals (he missed three prime years while serving in the military), Slaughter had a .305 batting average, with 2,064 hits in 1,820 games, and an on-base percentage of .384.
The Cardinals, confident in Moon’s talent, traded Slaughter to the Yankees two days before the start of the 1954 season.
In a YouTube video interview, Moon recalled that the trade of Slaughter “really shocked the whole team; it shocked the city of St. Louis.”
On the eve of the 1954 season, The Sporting News wrote of Moon, “The 24-year-old Texas A&M graduate can run, throw, field and _ presumably _ hit with the kind of balanced ability and hungry attitude the Cardinals used to have, the kind of combination of skills that gave rise to an old expression: a Cardinals-type ballplayer.”
Moon had an excellent rookie season. He hit .304 and had an on-base percentage of .371. His totals of 193 hits, 106 runs, 29 doubles and 18 steals would be his single-season highs in a 12-year major-league career. Moon ranked fifth in the National League that season in hits, two behind both Stan Musial and Willie Mays. He was named the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, receiving 17 of 24 votes and outdistancing Ernie Banks (4 votes), Gene Conley (2) and Hank Aaron (1).
Moon’s 1954 home run and stolen base totals were highlighted by a pair of noteworthy single-game performances.
In his first major-league at-bat, in the first inning of the Cardinals’ opener against the Cubs at St. Louis on April 13, 1954, Moon got a rude welcome.
“I’m coming to bat in the bottom half of the first,” Moon recalled in the You Tube video, “and they announce my name and the crowd starts chanting, ‘We want Eno. We want Eno.’ They were unhappy and I certainly could hear that.”
The first two pitches to Moon from Paul Minner were balls. The next pitch from the left-hander was a fastball “down the heart of the plate,” Moon said.
“I hit it and I hit it hard and I hit it high and I hit it long,” Moon said. “I hit it out of the ballpark, over the pavilion roof and onto Grand Avenue. I think somewhere I got a shot of adrenaline, a great surge of power. It’s probably one of the longest home runs I ever hit.
“About the time I got to second base with my home run trot _ it was more than a trot; I was running those bases _ those boos and chants had changed to a great roar of applause. It lifted a burden off my shoulders. I thank the Lord for giving me the strength on that particular day. It was exhilarating.” Boxscore
Moon became the second Cardinals player to hit a home run in his first time at-bat in the big leagues. The other was Eddie Morgan in 1936.
About a month later, on May 25, again against the Cubs at St. Louis, Moon had four steals, one short of the NL single-game record established by Dan McGann of the 1904 Giants.
All four stolen bases came against catcher Walker Cooper, 39, the former Cardinal.
Wrote The Sporting News: “Moon gave Walker Cooper one of the most miserable days of the veteran catcher’s 15 seasons in the majors.”
Moon swiped second base in the first inning with Johnny Klippstein pitching and he stole second again in the fourth with Jim Brosnan pitching.
In the fifth, after Moon singled off Brosnan, the Cubs brought in Jim Willis to pitch to Alex Grammas.
Moon stole second.
Then he stole third.
Rattled, Willis threw a wild pitch and Moon scored.
Angry, Willis plunked Grammas with his next delivery.
A Cardinals publicist sent word to manager Eddie Stanky that Moon needed one more steal to tie the record. Moon, though, flied out to left in his last at-bat.
“I would have given Moon every chance to get that fifth steal,” Stanky said. “He’s a nervy youngster.” Boxscore
Moon said he’d “take another crack one of these days” at the stolen base record. Said Stanky: “When he says he’ll have another go at it, I’m sure he will.”
But Moon never again challenged the record. He had two steals in a game in July 1954 and never had more than one in a game the remainder of his career.