Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Pitcher Gaylord Perry's manager once said, "They'll put a man on the moon before he hits a home run," and years later Perry hit his first home run minutes after
Examples: [Collected on the Internet, 2001]
Origins: Gaylord Jackson Perry was a lanky
Today's legend deals not with Gaylord Perry the pitcher, however, but Gaylord Perry the
Just from the two examples cited above, this claim exhibits the hallmark of an urban legend: different versions with contradictory details. Was the taunt about Perry's not hitting a home run uttered by his manager, Alvin Dark, or by Perry himself? Was it said in 1963 or 1964? Was Perry's
The home run itself is easy to verify: Gaylord Perry, while playing for the San Francisco Giants, did indeed swat the first
The difficult part to verify is whether anyone
From the examples cited above, our choices about where to investigate the "who said this?" aspect of the legend begin with Gaylord Perry and Alvin Dark, the latter the manager of the Giants team with whom Perry began his major league career in 1962. We quickly narrow our options by noting that Perry himself attributes the quip to Alvin Dark, as related in the 1984 book Strike Two by former umpire Ron Luciano:
Pitchers may not remember every home run they give up, but they certainly remember every one they hit. Usually this requires only a very short memory.This account sounds like everything we could need to mark this one true: an involved participant providing names, dates, and even small details (e.g., Perry did indeed hit his home run off the Dodgers' Claude Osteen). One problem, though:
Gaylord Perry's first major league home run was a historic one. He was with Alvin Dark's San Francisco Giants in 1968. "I was taking batting practice one afternoon and I was just hitting line drives, I mean line drives. Harry Jupiter, a sportswriter, was watching me and said to Alvin, 'You know, that guy has some power.'
"Alvin laughed. 'Let me tell you something,' he said. There'll be a man on the moon before he hits a home run.'
"So a year later I was pitching against the Dodgers when we got the news that Neil Armstrong had stepped on to the surface of the moon. I came to bat about twenty minutes after that, against Claude Osteen
Well, perhaps the basics are true but Perry was mistaken about the year or misremembered some other details. Unfortunately, no other source corroborates the story. If Alvin Dark made a disparaging remark about Perry's hitting to sportswriter Harry Jupiter, we haven't found any evidence that Jupiter noted it in his column, and while Dark himself doesn't deny the story, he didn't exactly provide a wealth of detail when asked about it in June 2002:
Long before the DH and interleague play created [a] midyear shift in rules, Perry joined the Giants as a rookie in 1962. He was peppering pitches in batting practice one day when Examiner reporter Harry Jupiter mentioned Perry's impressive swing to manager Alvin Dark. Dark scoffed, saying, "Man will land on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run."Much as we'd like to push this one across the finish line, this account doesn't quite get us there. It adds yet another year to the equation (1962, when Perry hadn't yet had a chance to demonstrate how well or poorly he could hit in the major leagues) and makes Alvin Dark sound curiously vague about his prediction (i.e., Dark doesn't say so much that he remembers making the remark as he does that he recalls reading about it in the newspaper after Perry finally hit a home run). Maybe this tale is true, and the memories of the participants, as often happens, have become fuzzy over time. Or maybe, as also often happens, this tale was made up after the fact, but it's such a good story that the participants now remember it as something that really happened.
Fast forward to
"Alvin was right," Perry said later, "but only by an hour."
Dark, who was managing the Cleveland Indians in '69, noticed the extraordinary timing of his former pitcher.
"It was just an expression," Dark recalled earlier this month of his man-on-the moon remark. "I saw in the newspaper that he hit the homer. Then I saw his quote a couple of days later about me being right."
Last updated: 20 July 2005
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