For the second time, I’ve had the occasion of reaching the momentous date of July 20, 1969 in a baseball replay. My first replay was sixteen years earlier. In real life, I was too young to recall the Moon Landing, but I do have vague recollections as a child of the troubles of Apollo 13 the following spring. The later Apollo missions captivated my young mind as they did with any red-blooded American boy growing up in the early 1970’s. Astronauts were real-life heroes, but looking back at Apollo from an adult perspective do I finally appreciate the dangers and risks that truly existed on those missions. In the opening words of the TV show “Star Trek” that debut three years earlier, Apollo 11 “went where no man had gone before.”
In a post-9/11 world, it doesn’t seem too strange to interrupt a sporting contest for national affairs. The only other time I had read about games being stopped in this fashion occurred in 1941 when games were stopped in order broadcast a FDR speech concerning America’s potential involvement in the war in Europe. But back in 1999, when I first researched how the Moon Landing was celebrated at major league ballparks, the events seemed strange but in a special way. There are already two fabulous articles on the baseball events during the Moon Landing. First, Larry Granillo’s post coinciding with the 40th anniversary and later passing of astronauts Neil Armstrong in 2012. Second, there’s J.G. Preston’s well-researched post about the major league baseball games that were played while Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Preston takes a tour of the ballparks via the newspaper stories from the day to reveal how the Apollo landing was reported at the various ballparks.
I had a cassette tape of the radio broadcast of the Dodgers-Giants game from July 20, 1969. It turned out to be a prophetic game as Gaylord Perry hit his first career home run exactly when he said he would years earlier: when man landed on the moon. I wish I still had it to give it another listen as I did when I reached this date during my first 1969 replay.
Perhaps the most enduring moment on that day at the ballpark was at Yankee Stadium where New York was hosting the Washington Senators. Stephen J. Walker reported in his book “A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators“, the Senators’ players remember the contest’s enduring image – more than 30,000 New Yorkers rising in silence then singing “God Bless America” upon hearing the news that the Apollo 11 lunar module, with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin safe inside, had landed on the moon.The New York Times reported the game was cut short in the top of the eighth with an announcement by PA announcer Bob Shepard: “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please.” The umpires waved their arms and stopped play. “You will be happy to know,” Shepard continued, “that the Apollo 11 has landed safely…” His final words “…on the moon” were drowned out by the din of the crowd.
In Seattle, Kenneth Hogan, in The 1969 Seattle Pilots: Major League Baseball’s One-Year Team,
stated the game was halted for 20 minutes in the 6th inning so everyone, fans and players alike, could listen to the Apollo astronaut’s moon landing. The Evening Independent newspaper of St. Petersburg, Fla. noted the Seattle fans cheered, stood up, and sang “America the Beautiful.” It appears “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful” were reported interchangeably from stadium to stadium.
But in Philadelphia, an older recording of “God Bless America” gained traction in the City of Brotherly Love. Doug Felman reported in his book, Miracle Collapse: The 1969 Chicago Cubs, that in the third inning of the nightcap with the Cubs batting, play was halted abruptly. It was seconds after 4:17 pm Eastern Daylight Time, and the two teams silently went and stood along their respective baselines and looked skyward. Word had been sent from Armstrong to mission control in Houston: “Houston…Tranquility base here…The Eagle has landed.” A prayer was said for the men over the loudspeaker at Connie Mack Stadium, asking for the continued safety for the first human-made craft that had landed on the moon. The game resumed after a recording of Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” followed the prayer over the intercom. In December, the Philadelphia Flyers began to use Kate Smith’s rendition in the place of The National Anthem. And another legend began…
Stanley Cohen gives an account in his book, A Magic Summer: The Amazin’ Story of the 1969 New York Mets: ‘The New York Mets found themselves unable to negotiate the routine flight from Montreal to New York. They watched the moonwalk on a small television screen in a deserted passenger terminal in Montreal’s airport. Their chartered 727 had been grounded because of a defect in its oil system. … The moonmen had set a tone for that summer of ’69. From that point on, even the most distant possibility would be measured against the wonder of their odyssey. “If men can walk on the moon…”‘
The video below not only provides an as-it-happened account from ABC News, but it also provides a recap of the news of the times (Vietnam War reports, Paris peace talks, Ted Kennedy possibly facing charges of leaving the scene of an auto accident at Chappaquiddick, Mass. on Friday) around the 40 minute mark from the soon-to-be-famous Peter Jennings and reporter Sam Donaldson. Neil Armstrong steps onto the Moon’s surface around the 1:14:00 mark.
If you are interested in the Apollo 11 mission, check out this interactive presentation from the JFK Presidential Library: http://www.wechoosethemoon.org/