April 13, 1954: Tom Alston, Wally Moon make history in their big-league debuts

April 13, 1954, marked a new beginning in Cardinals baseball as Tom Alston became the first black player to make the major-league club and Wally Moon became the second Cardinal to homer in his first career at-bat.

Just two and a half months earlier, the Cardinals traded Eddie Erautt and Dick Sisler, agreed to option two more players to the Padres, and paid $100,000 to the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League for the 6-foot-5, 27-year-old Alston. In 1953, just his second season of professional baseball, the 27-year-old from Greensboro, North Carolina, hit .297 with 23 home runs and 101 RBIs for San Diego.

The $100,000 price represented one of the highest sums ever paid for the rights to a black player,[1] and the Cardinals spared no expense in announcing the deal. Cardinals president August A. Busch, executive vice president John L. Wilson, and members of the board of directors Albert von Gontard and Anthony A. Buford all were on hand for the announcement in Los Angeles.[2]

“I’m really delighted – I still can’t believe it’s true,” Alston said. “I have been hoping that it would happen, hoping and waiting, and now it’s a wonderful feeling to know the dream has come true.”[3]

“We took the viewpoint from the very beginning that we wanted the finest players we could get, that there would be no barriers in terms of race, religion, or anything of that sort,” Busch said. “Alston now has as good a chance as anyone else to make the team as a regular. He’s up against some pretty stiff competition, but we hope he’ll make it.”[4]

Alston made the Cardinals’ opening-day lineup, batting sixth and playing first base. It proved to be a rough day from the outset, however. Cubs leadoff hitter Bob Talbot led off the game with a foul ball that Alston misplayed. An inning later, in his first career at-bat, Alton flied out to Cubs first baseman Dee Fondy on his way to an 0-for-4 day.

Four days later, in the second game of his career, Alston hit a solo home run off Jim Brosnan. He followed that blast the next day with a pinch-hit, three-run homer off Jim Davis in the seventh inning of a 6-4 win.

By May 12, Alston was batting .329, but as National League pitchers began to recognize his weakness against high and inside fastballs, Alston’s average and power numbers evaporated. In late June, he was optioned to Triple-A Rochester for the remainder of the season.

Though Alston appeared in three more major-league seasons, he totaled just 25 games the remainder of his career.

“He just didn’t have the experience he needed to play at the major-league level,” Red Schoendienst said. “He was a good guy and he worked hard and tried to learn everything possible, but the ability just wasn’t there.”[5]

Pitcher Brooks Lawrence roomed with Alston and said that the first baseman struggled with the pressure of living up to the $100,000 purchase price.

“I would wake up some nights and hear him praying,” Lawrence said. “He’d be saying, ‘I can hit. I know I can hit.’ And he’d go out the next day and wouldn’t hit anything.”[6]

Alston later reported that he began hearing voices during his first season in St. Louis, and he would battle mental health issues the rest of his life.[7] In 1957, his final season with the major-league team, Alston suffered from weakness and lost 15 pounds. The team sent him to a doctor, who had Alston placed in a hospital with what was termed a “nervous condition.”[8]

Alston did not return to baseball after the 1957 season, and in September 1958 he used kerosene to burn down the New Goshen Methodist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was arrested and found mentally incompetent to stand trial; the psychiatrist who examined him testified that Alston was schizophrenic.[9]

Alston spent the next eight years in a state mental institution. When he was released in 1967, he set fire to his apartment and was recommitted. He was released again in 1969 and continued to receive mental health care until his passing in 1993.

Moon, another rookie making his major-league debut for the Cardinals in April 1954, enjoyed a far happier career. From small-town Bay, Arkansas, Moon played college baseball at Texas A&M before signing with the Cardinals. Despite an $18,000 offer from the Tigers and another offer from the Yankees, Moon chose to sign with St. Louis as a 20-year-old after his father reviewed the Cardinals’ minor-league rosters and saw a dearth of left-handed-hitting outfielders.[10]

In 1953, Moon hit .308 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs for Triple-A Rochester. As he prepared for training camp the following spring, he and his wife agreed that if he didn’t make the major-league roster, he would use his degree from Texas A&M to become a teacher and coach. It looked as though that might be Moon’s destiny until Eddie Stanky called him into his office on April 11 and told him that the Cardinals had just traded Enos Slaughter.

“You’re taking his place on the team,” Stanky said.[11]

Two days later, Moon was playing center field and batting second in the Cardinals’ lineup, batting directly ahead of Schoendienst and Stan Musial. In the bottom of the first, Moon stepped to the plate against left-hander Paul Minner. The 17,000 Busch Stadium fans, still angry about the Slaughter trade, took out their anger on the 24-year-old Moon.

“What should have been one of the best days of my life, April 13, 1954, was turning out to be one of the worst,” Moon wrote in 2010. “As I stepped to the plate for my first major-league at-bat in the home half of the first inning of the first game of the new season, I was greeted with a torrent of verbal castigation and denunciation from seemingly every corner of the park.”[12]

Before the game, Musial told Moon to pay no attention to the sudden scrutiny.

“There’s only one person with whom your performance has to measure up,” Musial said, “and that person is you.”[13]

That was easier said than done. After Minner greeted Moon with two consecutive balls, a fan shouted, “Take the bat off your shoulder!”[14]

Moon planned to, especially given his hunch that Minner, behind in the count, would throw him a fastball. Minner did, and Moon launched a solo home run over the right-field wall. With the blast, Moon became the second Cardinal to hit a home run in his first career at-bat, joining Eddie Morgan, who accomplished the feat against Lon Warneke in 1936.[15]

Though the Cardinals lost the game 13-4, Moon added a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to finish with two RBIs in the game. It was just the beginning of a season in which Moon hit .304 with 12 homers, 76 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases. At season’s end, he was named the National League Rookie of the Year.

“From that afternoon forward, St. Louis fans held me in much higher esteem, a condition, I’m pleased to report, which remains to this day,” Moon wrote.[16]

Moon played five seasons in St. Louis, compiling a .291 batting average, 78 home runs, and 331 RBIs. In 1957, he hit a career-high 24 homers and was named to his first career all-star game. In December 1958, he and Phil Paine were traded to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli.

Moon played the final seven seasons of his career with the Dodgers, where his home runs over the short left-field wall were known as “Moon shots.” In his first season in Los Angeles, he hit .302 with 19 homers, 74 RBIs, and a league-high 11 triples. He placed fourth in the National League MVP voting behind Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, and Hank Aaron.

After the 1965 season, he retired with a .289 batting average, 142 home runs, and 661 RBIs over his 12-year career.


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[1] Martin J. Haley, “Cards Pay Over $100,000 for Negro Coast Star,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 27, 1954.

[2] Martin J. Haley, “Cards Pay Over $100,000 for Negro Coast Star,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 27, 1954.

[3] Edward A. Harris, “Cards Give $100,000 and 4 Players for Negro First Sacker,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 1954.

[4] Edward A. Harris, “Cards Give $100,000 and 4 Players for Negro First Sacker,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 1954.

[5] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, New York: HarperCollins E-books, Page 407.

[6] Peter Golenbock (2011), The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, New York: HarperCollins E-books, Page 413.

[7] Warren Corbett, “Tom Alston,” Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/tom-alston/.

[8] “Tom Alston Drops 15 Pounds, Sent to Hospital for Checkup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 21, 1957.

[9] Warren Corbett, “Tom Alston,” Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/tom-alston/.

[10] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Pages 49-50.

[11] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Page 4.

[12] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Page 1.

[13] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Page 7.

[14] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Page 8.

[15] Bob Broeg, “Unruly Chicago Guests Break Up Cards’ Housewarming Party,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 14, 1954.

[16] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Page 11.

2 thoughts on “April 13, 1954: Tom Alston, Wally Moon make history in their big-league debuts”

  1. Pingback: May 2, 1954: Stan Musial hits record five home runs in doubleheader vs. Giants - STLRedbirds.com

  2. Pingback: June 30, 1954: Joe Cunningham drive in five in his debut

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