Trivial Sports Histories: "They'll Land on the Moon Before Gaylord Perry Hits a Home Run"

Trivial Sports Histories: "They'll Land on the Moon Before Gaylord Perry Hits a Home Run"
"Hey, Gaylord is that the moon behind you?"

Tomorrow, Saturday, July 20, marks not only the anniversary of a baseball Hall of Fame pitcher's first home run, but also the anniversary of fantastic serendipity.

Gaylord Perry, as most avid baseball fans know, is a retired Major League Baseball pitcher who was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame well over two decades ago. Perry was known primarily for his early years with the San Francisco Giants and a 22-year long career, in which this great racked up 314 total wins and 3,534 strikeouts, along with being a 5-time All-Star and an all around respected nice guy. Besides playing with the Giants, Perry had stints with the Indians, Padres, Rangers and Mariners, along with a one-year gig with the Yankees in 1980. His #36 jersey is retired with the Giants, the club for whom he also pitched a no-hitter in September 1968.

As is more customary today in baseball, Perry was one of those pitchers who focused just on pitching and wasn't a very good hitter. And that's where the best story about Perry begins.

There are several anecdotes about Perry's poor hitting and his first home run, but the story goes that in Perry's second season with the Giants in 1963,  his coach  at the time, named Alvin Dark, is said to have joked, "They'll put a man on the moon before he hits a home run."

Funny he mentioned that... Because, it was at at 20:18 Greenwich Mean Time on Sunday, July 20, 1969 that American astronauts landed on the moon as a part of Apollo 11. With the smooth navigation of Michael Collins and his landing, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon that day.

Later that day, Perry played  against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in a game that was said to start at 1:00 pm  Pacific Time. Within about an hour of the game's start time, Gaylord Perry hit the first home run of his career, validating his coach's claim.

Since then, there has been some debate about the timeline of events and whether, as a part of the semantic discussion, Perry hit his first home run within minutes or hours after the Apollo 11 moon landing or whether it occurred beforehand.

An entry on Snopes, the  website known for both busting and confirming myths about everything, talks about the Perry homer. While Snopes mentions that the time of Perry's home run was "not recorded" it states that it either occurred within minutes before or after the moon landing, which it said "occurred at "1:40 that afternoon."

It is important to note that time and place matter, and whoever wrote the Snopes post which deems this feat "Undetermined" apparently failed to detail what he or she meant by "1:40 that afternoon."

20:18 Greenwich Mean Time or 8:18 pm in London, UK is the equivalent in the summer to 2:18 pm on the east coast, or 10:18 on the American west coast.  So if Apollo 11 landed at just after 10am in San Francisco, then the moon landing occurred before the Giants' game on Sunday had even started.

And so it stands that they put a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry would ever hit a homer. Literally.


Andy Frye writes about sports and life here, along with other publications. Follow on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.

Leave a comment