Baseball BeatJuly 20, 2009
Blue Moon
By Rich Lederer

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

- Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969

Where were you 40 years ago? I know some of you had not yet occupied your space here on Earth. And nobody other than Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin had stepped foot on the Moon.

I turned 14 earlier that month and spent that momentous Sunday at Anaheim Stadium where the California Angels were hosting the Oakland A's in a doubleheader. The Angels won the first game, 7-3, and lost the second, 9-6.

My Dad had joined the Angels as Director of Public Relations and Promotions in February 1969. I had only been a fan of the Angels for less than six months when I found myself sitting in what would now be called a suite on the first base side of the press box as the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the Moon at 20:17 UTC (or 1:17 p.m. for those of us in the Pacific Time Zone).

I don't recall the exact inning when the Eagle touched down on the Moon, but I remember that the public address announcer and scoreboard informed the 17,835 in attendance of this occasion. The event either stopped the game or was reported between one of the early innings during the first game of the twin bill. It was definitely a time for national pride.

While man was making its first visit on the Moon, Vida Blue, not to be confused with teammate Johnny "Blue Moon" Odom, was making his major-league debut that day. A week short of his 20th birthday, Blue had been recalled from Birmingham, Oakland's Double-A affiliate, after excelling in the Southern League with a 10-3 record, 3.20 ERA, and 112 strikeouts in 104 innings.

The teenage sensation allowed solo home runs to Aurelio Rodriguez and Jim Spencer in the first and third innings, respectively, and was saddled with the loss after giving up six hits and five runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 IP. Andy Messersmith, in just his second season in the bigs, was credited with his eighth win on the way to a 16-11, 2.52 ERA (fourth in the AL), 211 strikeouts (third) campaign.

Two years later, Blue (24-8, 1.82 ERA) was on the cover of Sports Illustrated en route to the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. Messersmith, for his part, went 20-13 with a 2.99 ERA in 1971.

Doug Miller of wrote an article today, recalling the historic day, on and above Earth.

About 400 miles south of San Francisco, a launch of a different kind was taking place on July 20, 1969.

There, in Anaheim Stadium, in the first game of a double-header, a hard-throwing 19-year-old Oakland Athletics left-hander from Mansfield, La., by the name of Vida Rochelle Blue toed the rubber in a Major League game for the first time in what would be a storied career.

Blue, eight days shy of his 20th birthday and straight out of Double-A ball, skipping an entire level of the Minor Leagues, says now that he had no doubts when he stepped on that mound.

"Well, I thought I was ready, and the folks that brought me up thought I was ready," says Blue. "So why wouldn't I have thought that way?"

Blue had been following the news stories chronicling the space program, something he still does to this day, having "TiVo'd just about every shuttle launch in the last 10 years," he says.

But as soon as he began warming up that day, throwing to catcher Phil Roof, the significance of the situation hit him with the force of the 100-mph fastballs he threw.

"I was fresh out of the Southern League," he says with a laugh. "The crowd itself was so different. It was the classic deer-in-the-headlights syndrome. As cool and as calm as you think you are, you're really not. You're thrust into a situation you've never experienced before.

"I mean, seriously, before that game, attendance at one of my games might have been 5,000, maybe 10,000. And now it's 35,000. And these were big league hitters. I'd never seen that type of talent before."

Blue would go on to win 209 career games, make six All-Star teams and take the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards in his watershed season of 1971, when he went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA, eight shutouts and 301 strikeouts in 312 innings.

But on that day he was a regular 19-year-old kid.

He lasted 5 1/3 innings, giving up five runs -- three earned -- on six hits, including two home runs, in the A's 7-3 loss to the Angels. His career began with an 0-1 record.

"I was a young, cocky kid, and when you're young and cocky, you think you have it all and know it all," Blue says. "I was no different. That was the attitude I had. That's what kids that age do, and I certainly did it."

At some point during the game, Blue remembers, he heard about the moon landing and, for at least a moment, was able to escape the whirlwind of nerves unfolding around him to focus on something bigger than baseball.

Forty years later, Blue says that he's touched to even be asked about that day.

"I just remember it was obviously a great chance for me, and, as it turns out, it was a unique thing to pitch on the day this country landed a man on the moon.

"It's pretty cool and kind of flattering that it happened on the same day."

I returned home from the doubleheader in time to watch Armstrong and Aldrin walk on the moon that evening on our black and white television. My parents had received a color TV as a Christmas present from Walter O'Malley after the Dodgers won the World Series in 1959, a gift that would be strictly prohibited today. They held onto the TV for a few years, then sold it for the latest technology, a Hi-Fi (high fidelity stereo). The TV and the Hi-Fi were both housed in huge pieces of walnut or mahogany furniture, which was the norm in those days.

Things were big back then. Or so they seemed.


Not nearly as good as being in Angel Stadium, I was in a bar/restaurant called Curley's in Auburn, NY watching with the rest of the patrons. It is one of those moments you never forget where you were and I remember thinking to myself that this what Columbus must have experienced when he stepped on land after his voyage. Great to watch history, and even better to have a sense and an appreciation for the magnitude of what you are observing.

Trivia time. Which light hitting pitcher in response to a reporter's question about his hitting remarked years earlier that that we'd have a man on the moon before he'd hit a home run? Then he hit his first career homer 40 years ago today.

I have vague memories of a Connie Mack baseball game at Blair Field in Long Beach, but vitrually nothing else, not the score of the game, the attendance or anything about the pitchers. However, memories of the moon landing always are coupled with memories of the Chappaquiddick incident which had hit the newspaper that day about Mary Jo Kopechne drowning in the car driven by Sen.Ted Kennedy.

The Eagle landed, as you mentioned, at 1:17 PM pacific time. I remember the day, and a brief conversation that occurred that day during the afternoon Connie Mack baseball game at Blair Field, in Long Beach. This was a game played after my Junior year at Lakewood High School. I played a few games that summer with the team named and sponsored by "Johnson Sawdust". The team was put together with Lakewood players , not yet elevated to the "status" of playing for the elite "Long Beach Cardinals" team. As I came in from the outfield between innings, I heard one of our baseball supporters, Tom Arnold (who coached youth baseball teams at the time), excitedly say from the stands to John Herbold, coaching in the dugout, "John - We've just landed on the moon!" Coach Herbold, in disgust, said something to the effect of "Tom, We've got a ballgame to win here", more concerned with the task at hand than with the worldly events of the day. Two great men, with extemely different viewpoints, but both exchanging a moment in time to remember.

The Gaylord Perry home run story :

Ah...sweet memories of utter perversion.

I was invited by a loco Polish family to go to their mountain cabin up near the NJ/NY natch, my equally deranged parents said "OK, take him!"

We did some crappy fishing, fried some skeeters, leafy turd wiping hijinx...all the fun things you can do trapped out in the freakin' woods!

At night we all huddled into the living room to watch the moon landing (I'm missing Cannonball Adderly and Bill Dana on Playboy After Dark for this?!)

Of course we were dragged outside by the wacko familia de Kraków to look up and see IF WE COULD SEE THEM WALKING ON THE MOON!

The night ended with one of elderly aunts (I'd guess she was in her late 30's at the time) rubbing my groin with her foot as we slept in adjoining beds.

And yes, the service module booster engine fired correctly.

I absolutely remember it like it was yesterday. I was staying at my cousin's house for a few days down the Jersey shore... Lavalette to be precise. Fond memories and a point of conversation every time I see my cousins.

The day was too big to wander far from the house. It was a hot Kansas afternoon, and the anticipation of the whole family, waiting first for the spacecraft to land safely and then later that evening for the astronauts to leave the LEM, was almost unbearable. We watched the walk in the dark in the family room, better to see the grainy pictures. My brother Pat, who was barely eight, talked to me yesterday about how vivid it was in his mind. An unforgettable day and night!

In an odd sort of way, I remember the T.V. we had as much as the broadcast of the first step. We had a color T.V. (maybe the one Rich's family sold)and I was sitting on our round floor rug watching the grainy picture listening to the static-filled voice of Armstrong. Oh, but that T.V. My first memory of that is watching a Braves game and seeing the bright greens of the field, and watching Henry Aaron circle the bases after hitting a home run. That memory is almost as vivid as the walk on the moon. Thanks Rich.

I was a long distance telephone operator in West LA and my memory of that day was seeing the normally very busy switchboard go totally blank for several minutes while the outside world was watching the landing. Our supervisors let us go one or two at a time to watch the scene on the tiny tv in the break room. After a few minutes of no calls at all, the switchboard lit up like crazy for the rest of the day, as everyone wanted to call someone to talk about it (direct dial was just beginning back then). I think I got home in time to watch the actual moon walk that evening.

I was in Dubuque, Iowa for summer vacation with the relatives. Had just gotten back from the gym (getting ready for the football season). There must have been 40 people at my Grandmothers house gathered around the TV (no AC 90/90heat/humity). When that foot hit the moon the cheer that went up, sounded like the Cubs had just won the World Series. took over 24 hours to get the news. At age 26, I was finishing my second cruise to Vietnam. We were on Yankee Station still flying missions in support of the ground troops in South Vietnam. Only news we got was the Stars and Stripes delivered by C.O.D. about 24-48 hours after the fact and sometimes longer. This is period is a "Black Hole" in my news knowledge, after awhile I just concentrated on staying alive and getting home in one piece. When we returned to NAS Alameda about a month later, you can imagine that Vida Blue was all over the Oakland Tribune, just as Rich mentioned. It was sooooo nice to be back to the real world. Within 60 days my military career was over.
Looking back, I was amazed then that we accomplished such a feat and am still amazed at the amount of technology that has been advanced by our space efforts. Why not try for Mars? So many jobs and so much technology will be produced.

I was 13 at the time and had been following the space program for as long as I could remember and was glued to the TV. I had color glossy pictures of all the different rockets and space capsules courtesy of NASA. Back then, a letter to NASA requesting information about the space program would yield free of charge a thick manilla envelope from NASA with 8 x 10 color glossy pictures of whichever program (Mercury, Gemini or Apollo) you requested). I watched the TV and listened intently with the rest of the family as the lunar module landed on the moon and then later as they took the first steps on the moon and then of course going outside that hot night to look up at the moon via my telescope to try to figure out where exactly they landed.