Wally Moses

Wally MosesWhat happened to Wally Moses in 1937? That season he hit 25 home runs, a shocking number for a player who had never hit more than nine in any other professional season and would never get into double-digits again in that category.

It wasn’t steroids and it wasn’t a corked bat, the two advantages that pop to mind when trying to explain an unusual, short-lived power spike. For Moses it came down to a new batting technique. That spring he reported late to camp and Connie Mack ordered him to take extra batting practice. He faced a few hard-throwing young pitchers who threw a lot of pitches inside. Moses was typically a low ball hitter, like most lefthanded batters, but these young pitchers threw him up and in. Moses forced himself to pull those pitches and he carried that strategy with him into the regular season. Hurlers in the AmericanLeague had a standard “book” on Moses by that time and it was to throw him inside and up. But “The Georgia Express,” as he was called, was ready for them in ’37 and he popped 25 homers. Playing in spacious Shibe Park he did most of his damage on the road (15 of the 25 homers came away from home). Still, Moses had just three homers through the end of May. Then during a two-and-a-half week road trip he smacked six homers, including two in a game twice.

For whatever reason, Moses was never able to hit as many asten homers in a season again, finishing with 89 for his 17-year career, which he spent entirely in the American League. But it was adjustments like he made in 1937 that helped him later become a long-tenured hitting coach. In that capacity he was employed by the Philadelphia A’s, Philadelphia Phillies (twice), Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, and Detroit Tigers, pretty much continuously from 1952 to 1975. He tutored dozens of hitters, from Ferris Fain (who won two batting crowns in the early 1950s) to Willie Montanez, a perennial .300 hitter in the 1970s.

As a batting coach, Moses was able to do what he couldn’t as a player – win a World Series ring. In 1961 and 1962 with the Yankees and in 1968 with the Detroit Tigers, Moses helped his team to a championship. He was a favorite of Mayo Smith, who employed Wally as his batting coach when Smith managed the Phillies and Reds in the 1950s and the Tigers from 1967 to 1970. Many members of the 1968 World Champion Tigers insisted that Moses was in charge of the game-calling at various times that season when Smith was “asleep at the wheel.”

Moses was considered one of the most likable players of his era, and he was respected by his teammates. Mack traded him after the 1939 season when Moses held out for more money one too many times, but he liked Wally so much that he bought him after the 1948 campaign and used him as a spare outfielder and player/coach for three seasons. When Moses signed withthe Red Sox in the middle of their pennant run in ’46, he was lauded by his new teammates for his play and quiet leadership. Moses had a way of fitting in among any group of people and for making his teammates feel at ease.

Wally Moses and the 1946 World Series

After being waived by the White Sox in the midst of the ’46 season, Moses was snatched up by the Boston Red Sox, who were leading the AL standings but desperate for a regular right fielder. Manager Joe Cronin inserted Moses into the sun field and batted him leadoff down the stretch, providing some speed and stability to his lineup. The Red Sox outpaced the rest of the league by 12 games to win their first pennant since 1918. In the World Series against St. Louis, Cronin employed a platoonsystem in right, using Moses and Tom McBride. In Game Four at Fenway Park, Moses had four hits but the Sox lost 12-3. He didn’t play again until Game Seven when he led off with a single, giving him five straight hits, a Fall Classic record that still stands. When McBride (as a pinch-hitter) bounced into a force out that ended the seventh game, Moses was on deck itching for a chance to deliver the Series winning hit.

Wally Moses almost became a Tiger

In the winter of 1939 when Moses and Philadelphia owner Connie Mack were playing a game of chicken over his new contract, the genteel old man of tha A’s worked out a deal that would send his center fielder to the Detroit Tigers for infielder Benny McCoy, a much younger (and inexpensive) player. But MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided that trade when he made almost 100 players in the Detroit system free agents, including McCoy. Instead, Mack signed the free agent McCoy a month later and came to terms with Moses too. Eventually he traded Moses to the White Sox two years later.