Moon, Leo

Primary Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Alamance County

First, Middle Names:  Leo
Date of Birth:  June 22, 1899  Date and Place of Death: Aug. 25, 1970, New Orleans, LA
Burial: Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans, LA

High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend

Bats: R Throws: L         Height and Weight: 5-11, 165
Debut Year: 1932        Final Year: 1932    Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Cleveland Indians, 1932

Career Summary

G          W         L           Sv         ERA             IP          SO        WAR
1           0           0           0          11.12            5.2        1           -0.3

Leo Moon acquired a reputation as a “nightlifer” with a pretty mean fastball. During a minor-league career that spanned nearly two decades, he won almost 200 games in the daylight and danced the nights away in clubs from Minneapolis to New Orleans. His major-league career, however, lasted all of one game and consists of this ugly pitching line: 5.1 innings, eight runs, 11 hits, and seven walks. He wasn’t in the majors long enough to enjoy the big-city lights.

Born in the mill village of Bellemont in Alamance County in 1899, Moon was the youngest of William and Ellen’s six children. Their father farmed and worked in local cotton mills. Moon did the same while growing up and living all over the county from Graham to Swepsonville to Haw River. At 19, the kid they called Shine started pitching for semipro teams sponsored by the mills. Five years later, in 1923, a pitcher for the Patriots, a minor-league club in nearby Greensboro, North Carolina, was injured in a knife fight and the team hired Moon to fill the rotation spot.

He would go on to pitch almost 3,000 innings for 14 minor-league teams over the next 17 years, winning 183 games along the way. He said in an interview late in his life that he was making $1,000 a month in 1927, or the equivalent of about $17,000 in 2022. Though he was already a successful minor-league pitcher with three 20-win seasons and was playing for a top-tier club, the Class AA Millers of Minneapolis, Minnesota, it’s unlikely that he was paid that much. Most major leaguers didn’t make that kind of money. In any case, Moon had more cash in his pocket than he had ever had before, and he learned that he liked spending it. “I was a poor boy with a lot of money,” he said in that 1962 interview. “You might say the bright lights dazzled me.”[I] His manager, Mike Kelly, worried that his ace might leave his fastball in the nightclubs. Moon worried that his reputation as a night owl might scare away big-league clubs.

For whatever reason, he didn’t get his shot until 1932, at age 33, when the Cleveland Indians bought his contract from the New Orleans Pelicans. Manager Roger Peckinpaugh sent his elderly rookie into his first game a few days later on July 9. His team was already down 6-3 to the Senators at Washington’s Griffith Stadium when Moon took the ball with one out in the third inning. Peckinpaugh left him in to finish the laugher that the Senators won 14-4. Moon was soon on a train back to New Orleans.

He pitched for six more seasons, coached for a year, and returned to the mound again in 1940 when he was 41. Though he won 12 games for a Class B club in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Moon retired after the season. “After a man reaches 35 it’s harder and harder to get into shape,” he said years later. “I saw the handwriting on the wall. My arm was still good – it’s never once got sore in my career – but my fastball was going.”[II]

He returned to New Orleans where he had lived for several years. He worked at the airport and at a plumbing warehouse. A degenerative optic-nerve disease slowly robbed him of his sight. He was totally blind for the last decade of his life. He had married twice and had three children. Moon died of an undisclosed illness in 1970.

[I] Hunter, Bill. “’Shine’ Moon, ‘Belinski of His Era, Can Recall Colorful Career.” Daily Times-News (Burlington, NC), July 28, 1962.
[II] Ibid.