Wally Moon

May 25, 1954: Wally Moon steals four bases, nearly ties 50-year-old NL record

Over the course of his 12-year career, Wally Moon was better known for his “Moon shot” home runs than his base-stealing ability. Nonetheless, on May 25, 1954, the rookie center fielder came one stolen base shy of breaking a 50-year-old National League record as he swiped four bags in a 9-4 Cardinals win over the Cubs.

Moon entered the game batting .331 with five home runs and two stolen bases. He had taken the outfield job previously held by future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, who, not coincidentally, was traded to the Yankees the same day Moon found out that he had made the Cardinals roster out of spring training.

Though Cardinals fans, angered by the Slaughter trade, booed him when he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, the rookie from Bay, Arkansas, didn’t waste any time winning them over, homering in his debut plate appearance. By late May, Moon had cemented his position at the top of the St. Louis lineup.

On May 25, the second day of a four-game series at Busch Stadium, Moon and his teammates faced Johnny Klippstein, a fifth-year right-hander who would go on to pitch 18 seasons in the majors. Klippstein walked Moon to open the game, and Moon took the opportunity to steal his first base of the day. Red Schoendienst brought Moon home with a run-scoring double and Stan Musial followed with an RBI triple to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

In the second inning, Moon wouldn’t get the chance to steal a base, but he did drive in a run with a single to center field. Two innings later, he reached on an error by Cubs second baseman Gene Baker and stole second base for the second time that day. After Solly Hemus drew a one-out walk, Schoendienst and Musial each grounded out to end the scoring threat.

Down 3-0, the Cubs struck back in the fifth. St. Louis left-hander Harvey Haddix retired the first 12 batters he faced before Hank Sauer doubled to left field. Randy Jackson followed with an RBI double and rookie shortstop Ernie Banks singled to score Jackson and cut the Cardinals’ lead to 3-2.

The Cubs required two pitchers to get through the bottom of the fifth. Jim Brosnan, in the game in relief of Klippstein, walked Ray Jablonski and Tom Alston before throwing a wild pitch. Both runners scored on a double by Rip Repulski, and Haddix helped his own cause with an RBI triple for his second hit of the day.

Moon singled to score Haddix, prompting the Cubs to replace Brosnan with Jim Willis. Moon greeted Willis by stealing second and third, then scoring on a wild pitch. Alex Grammas was then hit by a pitch. He scored on Musial’s two-out double off the right-field screen[1] to give the Cardinals a 9-2 lead.

In the seventh, Moon had a chance to tie the single-game stolen base record but grounded out in his final at-bat of the game. New York Giants infielder Dan McGann set the mark when he stole five bases in a game in 1904.

“I’ll take another crack at it one of these days,” Moon said.[2]

Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky had been informed by Cardinals public relations manager Jim Toomey about the record and was prepared to give Moon the steal sign had he reached base.

“I would have given Moon every chance to get that fifth steal,” Stanky said. “He’s a nervy youngster, and when he says he’ll have another go at it, I’m sure he will.”[3]

Chicago’s Bill Serena hit an RBI single in the seventh and Walker Cooper, the catcher whom Moon seemed intent on making miserable, added an RBI single in the ninth to make the final score 9-4.

Haddix improved to 6-3 on the season, allowing four earned runs on nine hits and a walk. He struck out nine.

“He pitched well but he worked too much,” said Stanky, noting Haddix’s 5-foot-9, 170-pound stature. “He used 140 pitches; that’s too much wasted effort for a fellow of his physique. He’s rugged but not gib enough to stand that kind of wear and tear.”[4]

Moon may have missed his chance at tying the stolen base record, but he continued to make history during his rookie campaign. Despite a bleeding ulcer that was diagnosed in September,[5] he finished the year with a .304 batting average, 12 homers, 76 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases to win the Rookie of the Year Award ahead of Banks and Milwaukee’s Henry Aaron.

Moon went on to play 12 seasons in St. Louis before he was traded to the Dodgers following the 1958 season. There, Vin Scully began referring to Moon’s home runs in the short left-field corner as “Moon Shots,” and he became a fan favorite. Over his 12-year career, he totaled 142 homers and 661 RBIs while participating in three all-star games.

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[1] Edward Prell, “Wild Hurling Helps Cards Triumph,” Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1954.

[2] Dent McSkimming, “Moon’s Four Stolen Bases Within One Of 50-Year-Old Record,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 26, 1954.

[3] Dent McSkimming, “Moon’s Four Stolen Bases Within One Of 50-Year-Old Record,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 26, 1954.

[4] Dent McSkimming, “Moon’s Four Stolen Bases Within One Of 50-Year-Old Record,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 26, 1954.

[5] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, San Antonio, Texas: Moon Publishing, Page 99.

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