Fifty years ago today, at 3:17 Kansas City time, the first humans landed on the moon. At that moment, there were eight major league games in progress. It was the Sunday before the All-Star break.
The title of this post is borrowed from the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie I saw in 1951 at the age of ten. I was reminded of the film this past week by a headline in the Washington Post: When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, major league baseball stood still. The Post article featured what happened at Yankee Stadium fifty years ago, and I took to Google to find out what happened at some other stadiums.
Washington Senators at New York Yankees: The score was tied 2-2 after seven innings. Jack Aker came on in relief for the Yankees. He gave up a walk and a single to place runners at first and third. The next batter came to the plate and worked the count to one ball, two strikes. The umpires then waved their arms to stop play. Over the PA system, legendary Yankee announcer Bob Sheppard informed the crowd that Apollo 11 was 100 feet from the surface of the moon. Everyone stood still as the lunar module landed.
At the bottom of the scoreboard clock tower in center field, a message was posted to confirm the landing.
When the game resumed, Aker got out of the inning with no runs being scored. He pitched three more shutout innings to take a 3-2 victory in 11 innings. The next day, the Kansas City Star quoted Aker about the interruption of the eighth inning: “I’m glad it happened then. I needed a little breather. I wasn’t real set yet. It had been eight days since I pitched, and I had a little touch of the flu Saturday night.”
To celebrate the 50th anniversary today at Yankee Stadium, former astronaut Mike Massimino will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The catcher will be Jack Aker.
[Kansas City Trivia: KC baseball fans of a certain age will remember Jack Aker. He pitched for the Kansas City A’s for four seasons (1964-1967). In 1967, he was part of a players revolt that led to the firing of Manager Alvin Dark and the release of Ken Harrelson who had said that Finley was a “menace to baseball.” Aker moved with the team to Oakland for 1968, but his relationship with Finley was strained. So it was no surprise when Aker was left unprotected in the expansion draft of 1969. He was selected by the Seattle Pilots who traded him to the Yankees in May. Aker: “I was real happy about being picked in the expansion draft…even knowing the A’s would be a contender. I just wanted to get away from Charley O.”]
Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox: The Royals, playing in their inaugural season, were in Chicago for a doubleheader. In the seventh inning of the first game, Walter Williams of the Sox singled. The Comiskey Park exploding scoreboard went off with sparks and noise. It was not to celebrate Williams hit. The scoreboard had been synchronized to do this as Apollo 11 landed. The game was halted, and the crowd and players stood in tribute.
The Royals won both games. Hawk Taylor knocked in five runs in the 8-3 first game, and Bill Butler pitched a 3-2 win in the nightcap.
Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants: Gaylord Perry started for the Giants and had allowed three runs in the first inning when the game was interrupted for the moon landing. Possibly inspired, Perry completed the game, allowing no more runs, and winning 7-3. But that was not the biggest news of the day for Perry. After eight years in the majors, he hit his first home run, leading to headlines and comments like this:
“Perry and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin [Buzz] Aldrin made it together Sunday. The San Francisco right-hander tagged his first career homer and pitched the Giants to a 7-3 victory over Los Angeles, tightening up the National League’s West Division race while the astronauts took a moon stroll that tightened up the universe.”
Perry boosted his homer total to six by the time he ended his 22-year MLB career. He retired at age 44 in 1983, playing his last season with the Kansas City Royals.
Minnesota Twins at Seattle Pilots: Gaylord Perry’s brother Jim also had a big day. He pitched the final two innings of a game suspended by curfew the prior day plus the entire regularly scheduled game. He won both, but neither was interrupted by the astronauts because the starting time for the games was forty-five minutes after the landing.
One of the relief pitchers for Seattle that day was Jim Bouton, the player/author who died ten days ago at age 80. This 1969 Seattle season was the very one being chronicled by Bouton to provide the material for his bestseller Ball Four. As one would expect, Bouton’s take in Ball Four on the moon landing was irreverent:
“If you want to know what aspect of the moon landing was discussed in the bullpen it was the sex lives of the astronauts. We thought it was a terrible arrangement that they should go three weeks or more without any sex life. Gelnar said if the scientists were really on the ball they would have provided three germ-free broads for the astronauts.”
Chicago Cubs at Philadelphia Phillies: The Cubs won a doubleheader. Moon landing details below the photo.
Oakland Athletics at California Angels: Seventeen minutes into the first game of a doubleheader, with the A’s Rick Monday at the plate, the scoreboard flashed “We have landed on the moon.” After a round of applause, the game resumed.
There was also a Kansas City pitcher connection to this story. When the A’s were in Kanas City, the local fans were teased with the potential of 17-year-old Vida Blue. But the A’s had moved to Oakland by the time Vida made his major league debut – on the day of the moon landing. He was the only major leaguer making his debut that day. He lost his game.
Vida did finally play for a Kansas City team. He pitched for the Royals in 1982 and 1983.
Houston Astros at Cincinnati Reds: The Houston Astros, the team with the perfect name for the day, did not play. They were rained out in Cincinnati.
New York Mets at Montreal Expos: The miracle of the moon landing found its counterpart in the Mets that year. The perennial loser surprised everyone by winning the 1969 World Series, making them the “Miracle Mets.”
The Mets and Expos split their doubleheader. Neither game was interrupted by the moon landing because the start of the second game was delayed to accommodate the timing.
The Other Games: The other three games in progress were in Boston, Cleveland and Atlanta. I’m sure they have their own good stories, but I’ll stop now. Well, except for this photo from Atlanta.
[Primary sources for this post: Washington Post article by Scott Allen, Sports Illustrated article by S. L. Price, a very informative blog post by J. G. Preston, online Baseball Reference and Google.]
Lonnie’s Jukebox: “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra (as specially requested by Rita).
Enjoy your weekend and remember to toast the astronauts for their heroism and these memories.