"Truth is"—the lady's eyes darted to make sure we were alone—"the economy here is built on chicken...."
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
Moon had talked rather less of chickens and more of a high sky and gentle streams when we had shared dinner after an oldtimers' game the year before. Moon, outfielder and batsman, played 12 major league seasons during the 1950s and '60s. He wore his hair short and his thick black eyebrows met, and he had the look of a Confederate cavalry captain. But he was a decent, tolerant man, with a master's degree from Texas A&M, wholly dedicated to squeezing a base hit out of each turn at bat.
The Cardinals called him up in 1954, just as they were selling Enos Slaughter, a portly, combative legend, to the Yankees. Two days before Moon broke in, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a front-page picture of Slaughter weeping with grief into a large white handkerchief.
Moon came from Arkansas delta country, and the first time he saw a major league game, he was playing in it. The fans in St. Louis were, at best, belligerently neutral. They loved the legend Moon had been hired to replace. In his first time at bat in his first major league game, Moon pulled a home run over the right-field pavilion of old Busch Stadium and into Grand Boulevard. That year Slaughter batted .248 for New York. Moon hit .304 and became Rookie of the Year.
Five years later with the Dodgers, he perfected his opposite-field stroke. The Dodgers played in the Los Angeles Coliseum then, and the left-field screen, the players said, was only a medium spit away from home. Moon hit 19 home runs, most of them to left, tied for the league lead with 11 triples and hit 26 doubles, and a Dodger team of shreds and patches established itself in Los Angeles by winning the World Series from the White Sox.
When Moon's skills eroded, he and his wife Bettye debated city and country life. They had five children, and he could earn more money in a city. But Wally remembered the good days with his father Bert, hunting and hiking through the woods of Benton County. There was an offer to try Benton County again as head coach at John Brown, a small Christian Evangelical school.
The Moons live in a rambling ranch set on 200 acres three miles east of Siloam, a town with an artists' colony, no daily newspaper, a little light industry and springs that were once thought to possess medicinal properties. A giant red oak towers over Moon's house, and inside there is a cheerful babble of children. Wally Joe, husky and 23, writes free-form poetry and studies toward a master's degree in physical education. The four daughters, ages 12 to 20, are bright, mannerly, attractive. Their interests range from baton twirling to Clementi piano sonatas. Moon said grace, and we dined sumptuously on Arkansas grass-fed beef. Then, in the old-fashioned way, the ladies went about their chores, while Moon and I retired to a sun-room crowded with pictures and trophies. On one wall Moon glowers from an old SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cover that has a caption announcing: THE SPIRIT OF THE GASHOUSE GANG.
"Actually, the spunkiest guys of all were those 1959 Dodgers," Moon said. "Not the best. Some of the old Brooklyn Dodgers on the way down. Fellows like Koufax and Drysdale on the way up. But I never played on a club that wanted to win more." He had admired Walt Alston, Moon said, and he had roomed with Koufax and told Sandy that he was tipping his pitches. But those were old times, and Wally had a new story to tell.
"Do I look tired?" he said.