How Wally Moon sent Tommy Lasorda to the hospital

Tommy Lasorda may have been a Hall of Fame manager, but as a pitcher, the native of Norristown, Pennsylvania, appeared in just 26 big-league games. With a career 6.48 ERA, Lasorda never earned a win, and may have Cardinals outfielder Wally Moon to thank for it after Moon sent him to the hospital on May 5, 1955.

Lasorda had made his big-league debut with the Dodgers the previous season and had only appeared in four games, posting a 5.00 ERA in nine innings of relief work. With the Dodgers off to a 17-2 start to the season and in the midst of a six-game win streak, the unproven Lasorda was an unlikely candidate to take the mound for the league leaders. However, Don Newcombe, who was unhappy about his most recent start being skipped, had been suspended by manager Walter Alston for refusing to throw batting practice before the game.

Lasorda certainly seemed nervous as he made his first big-league start. He opened the game by walking Moon, the defending National League Rookie of the Year. With rookie Bill Virdon at the plate, Lasorda uncorked a wild pitch that advanced Moon to second, then walked Virdon. Lasorda’s second wild pitch of the inning advanced Virdon and Moon to second and third, respectively, before Lasorda struck out Stan Musial for the first out of the inning.

With cleanup hitter Rip Repulski at the plate, however, Lasorda unleashed his third wild pitch of the inning. As Moon described the play in his autobiography:

“On a 1-1 pitch, the Brooklyn southpaw skipped one into the dirt. The ball bounced away from Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella. Always eager to tear home from third base, I made a mad dash toward the plate. Unfortunately for all parties concerned, Campanella pounced on the ball in cat-like fashion. In one fluid motion, Campy flipped the ball to Lasorda, who was alertly covering the plate. The ball, the Brooklyn pitcher, and I arrived in the same place at the same time. … I slid hard, and by the time the dust settled I was out and Lasorda was on the ground agonizing in pain. He had unintentionally blocked the plate and I had accidentally spiked him just above the knee.”[1]

Despite the wound, Lasorda struck out Repulski, then got Red Schoendienst to hit an infield fly for the final out of the inning. It was only after Lasorda returned to the dugout that he realized just how deep Moon’s spikes had bitten into his leg. The three-inch wound had gone “down to the bone,” the New York Daily News reported, and required five stitches at Long Island College Hospital.[2]

Clem Labine took over in relief of Lasorda, and in the third inning Repulski drove an RBI single into left field to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers answered back in the third, however, as Labine hit a solo home run and Campanella and Sandy Amoros each added RBI singles.

Virdon, who was on his way to Rookie of the Year honors that season, hit a solo home run in the fifth inning that tied the game 3-3, but Duke Snider scored the winning run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Rube Walker. With the win, the Dodgers improved to 18-2 on the season, and though the season was only a few weeks old, they already held a 7 ½-game lead over the second-place Cubs.

Lasorda didn’t pitch for the Dodgers again for 19 days. On May 24, he allowed five earned runs in a two-inning relief appearance against the Pirates. On June 5, he retired both batters he faced in the 10th inning of a 9-4 Cardinals win, and one day later he made his final appearance as a Dodgers pitcher, walking two and allowing one hit in 1/3 of an inning. When Lasorda was optioned to Triple-A Montreal, his spot on the roster was given to a promising 19-year-old rookie named Sandy Koufax.

The Dodgers sold Lasorda’s rights to the Kansas City Athletics for the 1956 season. Lasorda pitched in 18 games for the A’s that season, including five starts, posting a 6.15 ERA over 45 1/3 innings. That July, the A’s traded him to the Yankees for Wally Burnette, and Lasorda spent the remainder of his playing days in the minors, ending his big-league career with an 0-4 record.

After he was released in July 1960, Lasorda caught on as a scout for the Dodgers, ultimately becoming a manager in the Dodgers’ minor-league system before joining Alston’s major-league staff. When Alston retired in 1976, Lasorda was named his replacement, a post he held until 1996. As manager, Lasorda won 1,599 games and two World Series championships. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.

The Dodgers’ longtime skipper never held any ill will against Moon, who became a member of the Dodgers himself when the Cardinals traded him to L.A. in December 1958.

“Years later, whenever our paths crossed as members of the Los Angeles Dodgers family, Tommy Lasorda always made sure to let people know I was responsible for curtailing his promising career as a pitcher,” Moon recalled. “He’d grab me by the shoulders and, to whoever happened to be nearby, spell out my role in his misfortune. By the time he got to the end of the story he would have me in a headlock. Then he would break out in uproarious laughter.”[3]

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[1] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Pages 117-118.

[2] “7 ½-Up Flock Flips Cards, 4-3,” New York Daily News, May 6, 1955.

[3] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Page 118.