NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 73 WALLY MOON
Henry Moon never missed his daily sports page, but he was more concerned about his middle son’s education than he was about his athletic career. Young Wally, he determined, was going to be the first Moon to attend college.
So when the Pittsburgh Pirates visited the American Legion baseball field in Bay, Arkansas, with a $1,000 signing bonus, the old man refused, recognizing the greater value in the scholarship the boy had earned to Texas A&M University.
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Even two years later, when the Detroit Tigers showed up waving a check for $18,000 — after Wally had earned two letters each in basketball and baseball and been named an All-Southeastern Conference outfielder — it still wasn’t enough to buy out his dreams for his son.
The $6,000 bonus the Cardinals extended, though, was just right. Yeah, it was less money, but the deal allowed Wally to abbreviate his minor league schedule to accommodate the beginning and end of the college term.
That was OK with the younger Moon. The Cardinals, by 1949, were still the southern- and western-most team in the major leagues. KMOX-AM radio and its 50,000 watts delivered Gabby Street’s play-by-play to rural Arkansas with all the clarity of Wally’s batting eye. He was a fan.
St. Louis fans, unfortunately, didn’t initially take the same shine to Moon.
His big-league debut in 1954 — after having earned his master’s degree in educational administration — came at the expense of 16-year veteran Enos Slaughter, who was dealt to the New York Yankees to make room in the outfield. With some of the 17,000 fans at Busch Stadium I booing and chanting “We want Slaughter,” Moon touched off one of the best seasons ever by a rookie with a home run in his first at-bat.
In 151 games, he went on to slash .304/.371/.435. He hit 12 home runs, had 76 RBIs and scored 106 times. Moon beat out Ernie Banks, Gene Conley and Hank Aaron for National League Rookie of the Year.
He was an All-Star for the first time in 1957 when he added a career-best 24 home runs to a rock-steady .295 average. That also was the lone season of his five in St. Louis that the Cardinals finished with a winning record.
A collision with left fielder Joe Cunningham and the resulting arm injury limited Moon to 108 games and 290 at-bats the following year. His average fell to .238 and the Cardinals traded him to the Dodgers, just a year after their move to Los Angeles.
Moon earned two more World Series rings before retiring from the Dodgers after the 1965 season and moving onto a career as a manager and coach in the college, minor league and major league ranks.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1954-1958
.291/.366/.454 with Cardinals | 12.3 WAR | 2x All-Star | ROY ‘54
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.46