April 23, 2021

Gaylord Perry: Moon Man

January 25, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

This year is the 40th anniversary of the last time human beings set foot on the moon.  Why haven’t we been back since?  Maybe we should blame Gaylord Perry.

One of baseball’s great urban legends is that Perry, a Hall of Fame pitcher from 1962 to 1983, once said a man would walk on the moon before he hit a home run.  Or perhaps the legend is that Alvin Dark, Perry’s manager with the San Francisco Giants, is the one who made that disparaging but humorous remark about Perry’s lack of knack to hit the longball.

The confusion and dispute over who said it or if anyone actually said it at all are so well known that the Internet investigators at Snopes have even sniffed it out and can’t find the answer.  What makes the dispute relevant is the second big fact of the story, which is indisputable.  Perry hit his first career home run on July 20, 1969 the day that Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man” on the moon.

By 1969 Perry was already an All-Star pitcher who was well on his way to amassing his eventual 314 career wins and two Cy Young awards.  At the plate he fared far worse, including hitting an embarrassing .054 in 1964 and, from 1962 to 1968, drove in a total of only 13 runs with no dingers.  But on Sunday, July 20 of 1969 Perry stepped up to the plate against Claude Osteen of the Dodgers in the bottom of the third inning at Candlestick Park and slugged a solo shot to the moon.  Perry’s home run helped the Giants claw back from a 3-0 deficit and San Fran went on to win, 7-3, and Perry got the victory.  At the same time that Perry was circling the bases Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were hanging out on the moon.  Did one inspire the other?

Perry would go on to hit exactly one home run every season from ’69 to 1972 which was the last year anyone went to the moon.  By 1973 Perry was in the American League, which adopted the designated hitter that same year so Perry didn’t even swing the bat again until 1978 when he returned to the National League and then hit another home run in 1979.  Mr. Perry’s sixth and final career home run came when he was with the Atlanta Braves in 1981, the year of the first space shuttle mission.

There has never been an astronaut named Gaylord, nor has there ever been a star sailor named Perry.  Just last November a Japanese astronaut, Satoshi Furukawa, was very bored on the International Space Station and was videotaped playing baseball all by himself.  The first baseball game for Astronaut High School in Titusville, Florida is February 7.

Baseball is best when played outdoors on a summer night.  You find your seat when the sun is still shining and then, by the third inning or so, it’s almost dark and you look beyond the ballpark lights and the moon is a distant, peaceful glow.  You sip your Coke and soak up the sights and sounds of the American pastime and wonder what other games are being played on what other planets.  And that’s exactly when someone spills a beer on you and your starter gives up a three-run double.

Sigh deeply and look at the moon.  Don’t give up.

 

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