“Mark my words a man will land on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run.”
Giants manager Alvin Dark’s response when Harry Jupiter of the San Francisco Examiner told him Gaylord Perry was looking good during batting practice in 1964. Perry, like most pitchers, was not a threat with the bat, just his arm. Pitchers are paid to get outs not hit baseballs. Few were ever better at pitching while having minimal ability to hit a baseball than Gaylord Perry.
The Space Race was in high gear in 1964. Both the Soviet Union and the United States had achieved space flight and cosmonauts and astronauts were following Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepard, and John Glenn into Space. President John F. Kennedy committed America to “achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson sought to fulfill the mission. Project Mercury was winding down as Project Gemini ramped up. Glenn’s three orbits of the earth two years earlier was light years behind Gordon Cooper’s day long Space flight.
Gaylord Perry was outstanding on the mound, winning 314 games. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Back on earth, 25 year old Gaylord Perry was establishing himself as a Major League pitcher. Entering his third season, Perry was 4-7 with a 4.46 ERA in 119 innings. Alvin Dark and the Giants were just two seasons removed from winning the National League Pennant. San Francisco was once again among the front runners for the Pennant and Dark needed every player to contribute in the field and at bat. Space was on everyone’s mind and Perry could not hit.
Gaylord Perry finished the 1964 season 12-11 with a 2.75 ERA in 206.1 innings, the best of his young career. However, Dark’s words about Perry’s hitting abilities appeared true. Perry went 3 for 56 at the plate, a .054 Batting Average, .071 OBP, .071 SLG, and .156 OPS. His -56 OPS+ was otherworldly, considering a 100 OPS+ means a player is league average. Gaylord Perry was 156% worse than an average Major League hitter.
Gaylord Perry pitched for 22 seasons for eight different teams, most notably the Giants. Perry won 314 games with a 3.11 ERA and 1.181 WHIP in 5,350 innings. He struck out 3,534 batters while throwing 303 Complete Games, including 53 Shutouts. Perry was elected to five All Star Games, and won a Cy Young Award in each league (1972 for Cleveland and 1978 for the Padres). He won 20 or more games five times. Throwing 10 or more Complete Games in 12 consecutive seasons. Perry’s durability on the mound allowed him to pitch 205+ innings in 15 consecutive seasons. Always taking his turn in the rotation, Perry pitched 300 innings six times, including four straight from 1972 to 1975. Perry was elected to Cooperstown in 1991 in his third year of eligibility.
Gaylord Perry would do anything to gain an advantage on a batter, including doctoring up a baseball. Umpire John Flaherty checks Perry for foreign substances in 1973. (Associated Press)
Success on the mound meant nothing for Gaylord Perry’s legendary anemic abilities with the bat. In 1,076 career At Bats, he collected only 141 Hits, 23 for extra bases, a .131 Batting Average. He scored 48 Runs, drove in 47 RBI, drew 22 walks, and struck out 369 times. Gaylord Perry posted a career .153 OBP, .164 SLG, .316 OPS, and -10 OPS+. He was a liability at the plate.
1964 was Alvin Dark’s final season as Giants manager. He managed the Kansas City Athletics for two seasons before managing the Cleveland Indians. In 1969, five years after Dark’s proclamation to Harry Jupiter little had changed for Perry at the plate. Gaylord Perry, at this point in his career, was a .141 hitter now with no Home Runs. His four extra base hits were all doubles.
Entering the game against the Dodgers on July 20, Perry’s season Batting Average was just .100. While the world waited for news of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the Giants and Dodgers began their game at Candlestick Park. Not long after first pitch, at 1:18 PM Pacific Standard Time, Armstrong told the world “The Eagle has landed.” As Armstrong and Aldrin prepared to take the first steps on the moon, Perry surrendered three runs to Los Angeles in the top of the first. The scored remained 3-0 entering the bottom of the third, with Dodger starter Claude Osteen facing the minimum. Hal Lanier flew out to second baseman Ted Sizemore. Bob Barton followed by grounding out to Bill Sudakis at third. The San Francisco faithful had little hope as Gaylord Perry stepped to the plate. Shocking everyone, Perry drove Claude Osteen’s pitch over the outfield wall. Alvin Dark had no idea his proclamation five years earlier prove correct, but by just 30 minutes. Perry sparked a Giants comeback, as San Francisco defeated the rival Dodgers 7 to 3. Gaylord Perry pitched a Complete Game, allowing three Runs, six strikeouts, and no Home Runs.
Alvin Dark was mostly right about Gaylord Perry and the Moon landing. A man was on the Moon, when Perry hit his Home Run but had not walked on it. (NASA)
Gaylord Perry hit six career longballs. He hit one each season from 1969 to 1972. San Francisco traded Perry to Cleveland and after three and a half seasons, Cleveland sent him to the Rangers. Perry did not bat in the American League because of the Designated Hitter. Returning to the National League with the Padres in 1978, Perry needed a season to warm up before going deep again in 1979. He spent 1980 split between the Rangers and Yankees, before hitting his sixth and final Home Run for the Braves in 1981 at the age of 42.
Known for his pitching and lackluster abilities at the plate, Gaylord Perry was destined for baseball greatness. It took a frustrated manager, an optimistic sportswriter, and the Space Race to create the perfect cosmic storm. Alvin Dark never dreamed he was foreshadowing Perry’s first career Home Run. Yet the stars and the moon aligned to create one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.
On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy addressed a Joint Session of Congress with a Special Message To The Congress On Urgent National Needs. As every President does, Kennedy spoke of the pressing needs facing the nation and his plan to solve them. When the speech reached the ninth section, President Kennedy told Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The Space Race began before Kennedy took office, but he pushed the race with the Soviets to the next level. The Soviets reached space first, but the moon was America’s opportunity to win.
On July 20, 1969, 2,979 days after President Kennedy spoke to Congress, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle in Tranquility Base as Michael Collins circled in lunar orbit in the Columbia Command Module. America achieved Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.
Wally Moon adjusted his swing to take advantage of the strange configuration at the Coliseum. (Los Angeles Times)
Back on earth, the Dodgers and the Giants have one of the most intense rivalries in baseball, regardless of the standings. In 1958, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Construction on Dodger Stadium would not begin until September 1959 forcing the Dodgers to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum is home, most prominently, to the University of Southern California football team. Turning the Coliseum into a baseball field meant the fence in Leftfield was only 251 feet from home plate. A 41 foot tall screen was constructed, making Home Runs more difficult. Batters needed to loft the ball high above the screen for a Home Run, and no player is more remembered for this than Wally Moon and his Moonshots.
Wally Moon broke into the Majors in 1954 with the St. Louis Cardinals, winning the Rookie of the Year Award over Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron. He was an All Star in 1957 before a disappointing 1958 season made him expendable. Moon and Phil Paine were traded to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli. Moon played 12 seasons in the Majors, five in St. Louis and seven in Los Angeles. In 1,457 career Games, Moon hit .289, with a .371 OBP, .445 SLG, and .817 OPS. He scored 737 Runs, collected 1,399 Hits, 212 Doubles, 60 Triples, slugged 142 Home Runs, drove in 661 RBI, stole 89 bases, drew 644 walks, and struck out 591 times. He was a three time All Star, 1957 and twice in 1959, and won a Gold Glove in Leftfield in 1960. Moon won two World Series with the Dodgers, 1959 and 1965. His pinch hit ground out in Game 6 of the 1965 Fall Classic was his final game. Moon sat on the bench in Game 7, watching Sandy Koufax pitch a Complete Game shutout to secure the World Series victory. Wally Moon enjoyed a successful career, however he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot just once, in 1971, receiving just two votes (0.6%) and falling off the ballot.
Arriving in Los Angeles, Wally Moon was greeted by two things. The short, yet high porch in Leftfield and the rivalry with the Giants. Moon, hitting from the left side, understood he did not possess the power to launch baseballs out of the Coliseum to Rightfield, as the wall was 440 feet away. His career high in Home Runs was just 24. Moon adjusted his swing with Stan Musial’s help to hit balls to the opposite field.
The Coliseum created one of the strangest field configurations in baseball. (www.cbssports.com)
The Dodgers and Giants were locked in a pennant race as summer began to wane in 1959. San Francisco held a slim two game lead entering play at the Coliseum on August 31. Jack Sanford and Sandy Koufax were locked in a pitchers duel, allowing two runs each in the first eight innings. Koufax struck out the side on just 10 pitches in the top of the ninth. Sanford began the ninth by inducing a Maury Wills ground out. Koufax and Jim Gilliam hit back to back singles to Left. Giants manager Bill Rigney called in Al Worthington from the bullpen to end the threat. Worthington threw a first pitch strike to Wally Moon. His next pitch missed. On the third pitch, Moon lofted a deep fly ball to Left, clearing the screen. The Moonshot gave the Dodgers a 5 to 2 walk off victory. Los Angeles trailed the Giants by one game.
The Dodgers won the 1959 National League Pennant, two games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves and four ahead of the third place Giants. Los Angeles defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games, winning the only World Series ever played at the Coliseum. Wally Moon’s Moonshot against the Giants came 634 days before President Kennedy presented his vision of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth.
The Moonshot took men to the moon and safely returned them back to earth. (NASA)
A walk off Home Run between bitter rivals foreshadowed the next stage of the Space Race. Wally Moon used the short porch in Leftfield at the Coliseum to his advantage. President Kennedy and NASA did the unimaginable, sending a man to the moon and back defeating the non-baseball playing Soviet Union. The United States won the Space Race with a few steps by Neil Armstrong, while Wally Moon helped to win the Pennant with one swing of his bat. Both were incredible Moonshots.
Happy 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.
Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, SC in September of 1927, the same year that the infamous Murderers’ Row proved to be its most effective, posting a .714 winning percentage for the regular season, and defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games to win the World Series. That same year Joseph Jefferson Jackson was living in south Georgia operating a dry cleaners, the Savannah Valet Service, after having managed the Waycross Coastliners to a state championship two years prior. The same season he played center field for the Coastliners batting .577, even occasionally switching sides to bat for both teams.
Years earlier, in 1919, the man who owned the Savannah Valet Service, had been know as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. He had been one of the most dramatic offensive weapons in Major League Baseball. He batted .351 for the season, fourth best in the Majors, behind Ty Cobb, Bobby Veach, and George Sisler, had 181 hits, behind only Cobb and Veach (both had 191), and led the majors in at bats per strikeout, striking out on average only once per 51.6 AB. By comparison, the 2013 leader, Nori Aoki, had one strikeout for every 14.9 AB. Putting that into math terms, Aoki struck out 3.46 times more often last season than Jackson did in 1919.
Four years after the 1919 Black Sox scandal had rocked Major League Baseball, Jackson was still playing baseball, albeit in the minor leagues in Georgia and South Carolina. During this time he was still pleading with Kennesaw Mountain Landis, named baseball’s first commissioner in 1920 in attempts to repair baseballs image, to reinstate him into the game. In 1921 a jury in Chicago found the eight men accused not guilty of any wrongdoing in relation to the series. Despite this, Landis continued his refusal to reinstate of any of the players associated with the scandal.
In 1933 Jackson moved back to his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina and played for a few minor league teams. At the same time he opened up a short lived BBQ restaurant, and later a liquor store on Pendleton Street in Greenville. Jackson operated the liquor store until his death on December 5, 1951.
In 1944, and the aforementioned Rudolf Anderson, Jr. had moved with his family to Greenville, South Carolina and he enrolled at Clemson University studying textile manufacturing. During his time at school he was involved across campus, from intramural football, basketball, swimming, and softball. Most importantly to his life and his place in history though, he was involved with the Air Force ROTC program.
Anderson did not possess the ability to catch things as well as Jackson. In his senior year Anderson was on the third floor of the campus barracks when a pigeon flew into the hall. Anderson chased the bird down the hall and failed to stop before he fell out of the window, hitting the eaves over the door on the way down. He suffered a completely dislocated wrist, fractured pelvis, and lacerations to the head.
After graduation, Anderson joined the Air Force. He served time in Korea earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses for reconnaissance missions flown over Korea in his RF-86 Sabre. Four years after the ceasefire in Korea, he qualified on the U-2 and joined the 4088th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. There he logged over 1,000 hours making him the top U-2 pilot the wing had to offer.
In 1962 a large influx of people and supplies from the USSR to Cuba, then President John F. Kennedy directed Strategic Air Command to fly reconnaissance over Cuba to investigate the nature of the shipments. The 4088th was tasked with the assignment, and after flyovers by Major Richard Heyser and Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr, photographic proof of ballistic missile sites on Cuba became available. On October 22 the President addressed the United States for nearly 18 minutes detailing the gravity of the situation.
October 14-28, better known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, saw the two superpowers, the US and USSR play a game of brinksmanship that has never been matched. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was discussed as a realistic option, whereby both parties would destroy the other with their entire nuclear arsenal, effectively ending all life. Not unlikely, was the start of World War III.
It was during this time that Major Anderson met his fate. On October 27th, Anderson was flying yet another reconnaissance mission over Cuba in a U-2 when he was shot down. It was expected that shrapnel from the explosion punctured his suit and caused it to decompress at an operating altitude of 70,000 (13.25 miles). Major Anderson would become the only combat death of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The surface to air missile that shot him down was fired without permission from the Kremlin. Both Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev quickly realized that nuclear war was rapidly becoming a reality and would likely be caused not by the leaders, but a panicky soldier or commander on the ground. The two sides quickly realized their inevitable loss of control and reeled back the hostilities, and on October 28th, the Crisis was averted. The Soviets publicly agreeing to dismantle all missile bases in Cuba, and the US publicly agreeing to not invade Cuba. Privately, the US also agreed to remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy.
Major Rudolf Anderson may have been the most important death of the 20th century. His death highlighted the uncontrollable state of affairs that was unfolding and started the serious communication between the White House and the Kremlin that led to the end of the standoff. Without this dialogue, the reality of a worldwide nuclear holocaust was very real.
President Kennedy posthumously awarded Anderson the Air Force Cross. In 1963, the City of Greenville erected a memorial in honor of the downed pilot. Renovated, the monument, made from an F86-Sabre similar to the one he had flown in Korea, was unveiled again in October 2012 in Cleveland Park in Greenville, South Carolina.
Shoeless Joe has been more recently memorialized in the City of Greenville as well with a statue It can be located near Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive, Boston’s single A affiliate. Across the street from the stadium is Jackson’s house. It was moved from its original location to 356 Field Street in Greenville. The home has been transformed into the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum which is free to tour. The house was give street number 356 in recognition of his lifetime batting average, which remains the third highest all time behind Cobb(.366) and Hornsby (.359) .
Ultimately these men have only have a few things in common. Both men were able to achieve their dream, Maj. Anderson in the Air Force, and Shoeless Joe in Major League Baseball. Both men’s dreams ended abruptly, in ways that neither likely expected. The other thing that they share is Greenville. They both grew up there, and it is now where they are each buried. In fact, they are both buried in the same cemetery, Woodlawn Memorial Park. The cemetery is located across from Bob Jones University in Greenville and is open to the public.
Shoeless Joe’s place in baseball history will always be one of contention, whether he was a hero, a villain, or someone stuck in a no win situation. Maj. Anderson’s place in history, sadly, is a largely forgotten one despite his overall importance. In the words of Art LaFluer in The Sandlot “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” In their hometown of Greenville, each man is regarded as both.