Monday, July 20, 2009

Above The Clouds

Both of my parents were still in high school in 1969, so I really have no concept of what the world was like at that point. It was the year Mickey Mantle announced his retirement and Stan Musial was voted into the Hall of Fame. The league had just added four teams (the Royals, Padres, Expos and Seattle Pilots who eventually became the Milwaukee Brewers) so the Yankees were now playing in the AL East as opposed to the AL at large.

There was no DH and the Yanks had a four man rotation headed by Mel Stottlemyre. Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer were just breaking into the league as full time players at age 22 and 23 respectively. The team finished a forgettable 80-81 under Ralph Houk but one of those 80 victories (and 11th inning walk-off, no less) came 40 years ago today on Bat Day at Yankee Stadium.

I only mention that because a far more significant event took place during the course of the contest: the climax of the Apollo 11 mission. Our pal Lar at wezen-ball (who was also just a dot on the horizon when it happened) dug up several accounts from around the Majors to see how they handled such a transcendent moment and found an impossibly detailed account of the announcement made during the Yankees game that day from Leonard Koppett of the New York Times:
'Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,' came the voice of Bob Shepard, the public address announcer.

The umpires, according to prior arrangements, waved their arms and stopped play.


'You will be happy to know,' Shepard continued, 'that the Apollo 11 has landed safely...'

And a tremendous cheer drowned the words 'on the moon.'

The cheering continued for about 45 seconds. On the scoreboard, the message section read 'They're on the moon.' People stood. They waved the bats back and forth. Shepard kept talking, but his words could not be made out through the din.
Sounds like a pretty incredible moment, doesn't it? Click through to read the whole post. Lar is great at finding contemporary accounts of historical baseball moments and this is one of my favorite posts of his. He also has a graphic of the territory covered once the astronauts actually walked on the moon, superimposed over a baseball diamond. Wezen-ball is certainly a quality over quantity type of baseball blog and I would highly recommend adding that to your reading rotation.

The moon landing now seems to be distant history and something that I must admit I take for granted. The moment shows up in popular culture so much, like in Forrest Gump, the Ali G Show, the intro a Gang Starr song, and Dumb and Dumber, it's easy to become familiar with it, without actually appreciating the full magnitude of what it meant at the time.

It would be as if Columbus' chance encounter with North America was instantly relayed to Europe at the exact moment that it happened. Except NASA knew exactly what they were doing when they landed on the moon; they weren't trying to get to Mars. The level of science, technology and innovation necessary to put a man on a moving planetary body 238,855 miles away is still staggering 40 years later. It redefined what was possible.

In Koppett's account, he mentions that Sheppard, along with the other voices who made the announcement paused for a moment of silent prayer for the mission's safe return. Since we already knew how the story ends, I hadn't thought about the level of uncertainty involved with the second half of the journey until I read that.

Sure, it was sort of a pissing contest between the U.S. and the Soviets to see who could get there first and there weren't any tangible direct societal benefits from it. But sometimes it's good to do something just to do it. It's why people climb Everest and swim the English Channel. For the sake of saying you did. So now when people look at the Moon, it doesn't seem that far away.


  1. Dude, the moon landing never even happened. It was all acted out on a soundstage in California. You gotta stop believing eveything The Man tells you.

    There's no atmosphere on the moon. How's that flag blowing in the breeze?

  2. Thanks for the kind words on the post, Jay. Glad you liked it so much. (and I'm trying to work no that quantity vs quality thing, hopefully without hurting the quality)

    It certainly must have been a different time, experiencing that for the first time and all. If you think about it, they went from never having a man in space to stepping foot on the moon in less than 10 years. That's pretty remarkable, and it really helps explain everyone's apprehension about the rest of the mission. That's a lot of new stuff to take in in such a short time.

    Anyhow, thanks for the link and glad you liked it.