Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon
by Jamie Todd Rubin
Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom walks to the podium. It has been more than three decades since he stood
on the lunar surface. His hair, black then, is now an iron gray. He wears a black suit of a fine
weave and his astronaut pin catches the light filtering in through the cathedral windows.
"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen," he says. "Tonight we gather to honor the memory of a
friend, a colleague, and a pioneer whose legacy will be difficult to match for decades to come.
Tonight, we bid farewell to Alan B. Shepard." At this he pauses and looks across at the sea of
faces that stare back at him in silence. He has rehearsed this speech in front of his wife, Betty,
but now it seems all wrong. He considers this for a moment, then continues.
"Al was the first American in space. He was the first commander of a Gemini mission. He was
my backup commander on Apollo 1. And in October 1968, Al was slated to be the fifth man to
walk on the moon. Neil Armstrong and I beat him by a few months, but Al still acquired more
firsts than anyone else in the astronaut corps.
"Many of you knew Al. He was NASA's brightest star. Many of you know of Big Al Shepard's
major league baseball career just before the United States entered the Second World War." Gus
pauses again, looking for the words. "But today I want to tell you a story that most of you don't
know. I want to tell you about how a wild pitch Al took during his playing year endangered his
moon landing, and the effect it had on his Apollo 13 mission a quarter century later.
"I was CAPCOM during the launch of Apollo 13, and as we all remember, that mission seemed
cursed from the start . . ."
Fourteen Minutes in October
As his world rumbled and shuddered around him, Big Al Shepard glanced at the instruments and
said, "The clock is running."
Beside him, his command module pilot, Stu Roosa, said, "P-eleven, Al."
"Yaw program," Al said. His gloved left hand cradled the abort handle as a chef might cradle an
A voice in his helmet said, "Clear the tower."
"Clear the tower," Stu Roosa said. That was when the ringing in Al's left ear started, so loud and
piercing it stole all his other senses. He twisted his head to the right, as if trying to escape the
sound, but it didn't help. He would have to wait it out. The old injury could not have picked a
worse time to remind Al of its existence.
"Yaw program complete," Al said a few seconds later. He could feel the speed building up. The
cabin shook violently, and with the shrill sound in one ear, he had to focus his attention to hear
anything at all. He felt like he had all those years ago, tuning out the crowd when he came to the
plate at Fenway.
"Houston, roger. Roll."
Four minutes passed with all systems running smoothly. The ringing in Al's ear subsided. He
glanced across the cabin toward his crew: Stu Roosa, his command module pilot, and Ed
Mitchell, his lunar module pilot. Two rookies, Al thought, but you had to get your start
somewhere. Al had flown Mercury and Gemini. Thirteen was his third trip into space.
"Thirteen, Houston. Coming up on five minutes. You're looking perfect." Al cringed. It was like
the color commentators that always seemed to jinx the ballgame with their pronouncements of
Thirty seconds later all hell broke loose.
Al scanned the instruments. As far as he could tell, their rocket had just lost an engine.
"Inboard," Al said, keeping his voice calm. His heart skipped second and third and was racing
"Roger. We confirm inboard out," Houston said.
Stu and Ed looked toward him. "Steady boys," Al said, "Keep your eyes on the ball." They could
still make it to orbit.
A long fifteen seconds later Al heard his CAPCOM say, "Al, you've got it."
"Roger, we've got S-IBV to COI," Al said. He started breathing again. They would make it to
The clocked rolled past six minutes.
"What's the word on number five?" Al asked.
He heard Gus Grissom's voice. "Al, Houston. We don't have the story on that yet, but the other
engines are go, and you are go."
"Roger," Al said. He hadn't been worried about a disaster. A disaster would have killed them
instantly. He'd faced more danger doing nighttime aircraft-carrier landings. What bothered Big
Al Shepard was the possibility that his mission would be aborted, and he'd lose his one and only
chance to play baseball on the moon.
A few minutes later Al heard Gus say, "Apollo 13, Houston. Your preliminary orbit is 102.5
times 100.3. Everything is looking good."
"Roger, Houston. It's good to be up here again." The ringing in Al's ear was gone. Through the
window Al could see the Earth looming overhead. How far he had come from those boyhood
days when his daydreams were filled with playing baseball for the Boston Red Sox, and walking
on the moon.
A day earlier, his Boston Red Sox opened the World Series with a 4-3 loss against the New York
Fourteen minutes after ignition, the engines cut off and Al turned to his crew. "Looks like we've
had our excitement for this mission, fellas," he said.
Feeding the Green Monster
Al dug his cleats into the faded square of the batters box and flexed his fingers around the handle
of the bat that rested on his right shoulder. He fixed his sharp eyes on Marv Breuer. A crisp New
England chill lingered in the air. The Red Sox were down 7-2 against their long-time rivals, the
New York Yankees, and in the ninth inning, Joe Cronin called on the new guy to make some
Behind the plate the umpire shouted, "Play ball!"
A calmness settled over Al Shepard, the same calmness that would, in three decades, allow him
to sit atop a bomb hurtling toward space, with a hand poised on the abort handle, but without
ever aborting the launch. Breuer went into his windup.
Al Shepard did not exactly see the first pitch, but he sensed it and pulled a mental abort handle
that collapsed his knees. He plummeted into the dust with the sound of the baseball wickering
"Ball!" the umpire said.
The crowd shouted at Breuer and jeered the umpire. Al stood, a small cloud of dust circling him,
and stepped back into the box. From the stands, the howling fans could not see the slight upturn
of lip on Breuer's face. But Al could. His eyes flicked up to the sky, where an almost-full moon
hung like a pale baseball. Then his gaze returned to Breuer.
The pitcher delivered and Al could see at once the ball would be on the outside corner, a little
high. He began his swing as Breuer released the ball. Contact was so smooth Al barely felt it.
But he heard the crack of leather on ash, like a shotgun in deer season, and watched the ball rise.
By the time Al was halfway to first base, the little white rocket had sailed over the Green
Boston lost 7-3 that day.
Three days later, Al played in his second major league game. This time the skipper had him
starting, batting eighth. He came to the plate in the top of the third inning and sent the first pitch
he saw over the Green Monster. Al came up again in the sixth inning, looked at a ball, a strike,
and sent the third pitch smashing into the foul pole down the left field line. It was his third major
league at-bat and his third home run.
Al Shepard did everything big. In size he was average, but in stature, he was Big Al Shepard.
In the top of the eighth inning the pitcher threw at him on the first pitch, but Al had the good
sense to be elsewhere. The catcher couldn't stop the wild throw and it sailed to the backstop,
moving runners from first and second to second and third. With first base open, Al walked on
three more pitches.
Heading into the clubhouse after the game, Ted Williams clapped Al on the back.
"That was some fine hitting, kid," Williams said. "You keep that up and you'll be going places."
Stirring the Pot
Two days into the mission, Al found himself trying, unsuccessfully, to get some rest. Kitty Hawk
coasted toward the moon. Al had been daydreaming about his Gemini flight, crammed into that
tiny spacecraft. The Apollo command and service module was a palace by comparison. Al had
wanted to fly Gemini 3 with Gus Grissom, but Deke Slayton had it in his mind to pair the
Mercury veterans with rookies on Gemini. So Al flew Gemini 3 with Tom Stafford while Gus
flew with Ed White. Sleep hadn't come easy then, and the extra room didn't seem to make much
He saw Stu Roosa glance in his direction, and although Al tried not to sneer at him, he knew his
crewmates could tell just by looking at him that he was in a foul mood. They could probably
He touched the TALK button clipped to a loop at his waist. "Houston, Apollo," he said, all
After a brief, but noticeable delay, Al heard Gus Grissom say, "Apollo, Houston. Go ahead."
"Gus, do you have the number yet?"
Another pause. This time Al caught both crewmates looking his ways. He pretended not to see
"Al," Gus said, "I've got the numbers, but you're not going to like them."
Stu Roosa and Ed Mitchell looked at one another.
"Let's have it," Al said. Someone listening in might have imagined they were discussing a
regrettable course correction.
"New York five, Boston --" What came next was garbled.
"Oh for Pete's sake!" Al said. Stu and Ed could no longer contain their amusement. Al glared at
them and touched TALK. "Say again, Houston."
"New York, five. Boston, three."
Al frowned. The Boston Red Sox were down two games to none against the Mets.
"Thanks, Houston," Al said.
A few seconds later, Al heard Gus again. "You need some better luck, my friend."
"With a mission designation of thirteen?" Al said. "What I need is your luck, Gus. Will you loan
it to me?"
"It's on its way, Apollo," Gus Grissom said.
Al turned to his crew, who appeared to be fiddling with a camera in preparation for some
picture-taking. "Boys, the Sox have lost again and since there isn't a still onboard, I'm going to
drown my sorrow in sleep. Don't wake me unless the CM is on fire."
"Sure thing, Al," Ed said.
Al closed his eyes. They hadn't been closed two seconds when he heard Gus's voice again.
"Houston, Apollo. Go ahead."
"Al, we'd like you to stir your cryos."
"Roger," Al said. "Ed?"
"I'm on it, boss," Ed Mitchell said. Ed sat on the left side of the couch and Al could see him
reach for the H2 FANS and O2 FANS switches. He toggled them with a click, waited a few
seconds, and then toggled them again.
"Consider the cryos stirred," Ed said.
"Houston, Apollo. We've stirred the pot."
"Copy that, Apollo. Now get some shuteye, Al. Go too long without your beauty sleep and
you're liable to frighten the crew."
Al closed his eyes, thinking about his friend back home on CAPCOM. Gus Grissom was one
lucky S-O-B. There was a problem with the hatch on his Mercury flight that almost cost them the
Liberty Bell, and later, he and his crew were saved by the hatch on his Apollo plugs-out test that
ended up destroying the command module. And finally, of course, was the fact that Gus Grissom
commanded Apollo 11, making him the first man to walk on the moon.
As Al drifted into a light sleep, the ringing in his ear started again. Though not as bad as two
days ago, its mosquito-like keening seemed to follow him down into sleep, singing through his
One of the Team
In his third, fourth and fifth games for the Boston Red Sox, Al Shepard sent baseballs over the
Green Monster. He also managed two doubles and four walks. In his first five big league games
Al made only a single out. With the bases empty in the fifth inning of his fourth game, Al
smashed a towering fly ball that would have left the park if not for a driving wind that kept the
ball in play.
Boston fans loved him from the start. So did the press.
"How do you do it, Al?" a reporter asked him as he headed to the clubhouse after the game.
"I keep my eye on the ball and try not to become distracted," Al said. He knew the reporter
wanted something more, but what Al said had the virtue of being true. If Al could see the ball
leave the pitcher's hand and that ball arrived in the proximity of the strike zone, Al could hit it,
and it showed. In his first five games with Boston, the Red Sox lost only once, a close 2-1 game
against the Yankees in which Al scored Boston's only run.
During his sixth game, this one in Philadelphia, the Red Sox exploded, unloading 19 runs on 21
hits. Through six innings, Al plated six runs. In the bottom of the sixth, Al watched from right
field as a pitch got away from Red Sox starter Charlie Wagner, hitting the Phillies catcher,
Frankie Hayes. The taunts of the Philadelphia crowd made their displeasure clear.
Al led off the top of the seventh. He barely had time to square up in the batter's box when Les
McCrab let loose an inside fastball. All Al could to was turn his head away.
The ball connected with Al's helmet, just above his left ear, and Al felt as if he'd been brained.
The world went white and it seemed to Al that the bones in his skull screeched along their
seams. When the fuzziness backed away, Al was left with a loud ringing in his left ear. It
sounded like a gate creaking slowly open on rusty hinges, but it went on and on and on.
When his vision cleared he found himself in the dirt, surrounded by chaos. Both teams had
cleared their benches and minor skirmishes were taking place across the infield. Joe Cronin and
the Red Sox trainer knelt beside Al while the umpires tried to get control of the situation.
Joe's lips moved, but Al couldn't make out the words. The trainer held up three fingers.
"Three," Al said. His voice sounded thick and distant.
The home plate umpire bent down between Joe and the trainer. "He alright?"
"I'm fine," Al said. He felt like he was going to lose his lunch. The umpire gave Joe Cronin a
"We're killing them, Al. I'm going to have Pete run for you. Head back to the clubhouse and let
the doc take a look at you, alright?"
It was not alright, but Al didn't argue. He knew Joe was just trying to protect his new star. Al
would just have to take one for the team.
Joe and the trainer led Al off the field. As they cut across the infield grass, Al turned to Les
McCrab who stood motionless on the mound. Al muttered a curse and McCrab took one step
forward and then stopped when he saw Al's eyes.
"Next time you throw a pitch that close to me," Al said, "I'll put it on the moon."
A Conspiracy of 38 Ounces
Al floated through the tunnel that linked Kitty Hawk and Antares. The windows no longer looked
into the blackness of space. Instead they looked down upon the desolate grayness of the lunar
surface as it rolled by a mere fifty miles below.
"Coming up on Fra Mauro," Stu Roosa said. He floated by the window with the 70-mm
Hasselblad clicking away like some mad clock. "I think I see home plate, Al," Stu said, one eye
pressed against the camera's eyepiece.
"Oh yeah?" Al said.
"Yeah. And it looks like someone beat you to it. Wait, let me zoom in. Yup, there he is.
Pinstripes. Number 7. Al, I hate to break it to you but I think I see Mickey Mantle down there,
taking warmup swings."
Ed Mitchell laughed so hard that he spit out the water he'd been sipping. A million tiny spheres
of liquid spread about the cabin, splattering as they hit a solid surface. Al rolled his eyes.
"Ed, did you make sure the bat and ball are in the cart?" Al said.
"All set, boss," Ed said. "You sure Deke is okay with this?" Al had worked this out with Deke
Slayton before the mission. Deke only agreed to it, Al thought, because he felt bad about almost
pushing Al and his crew to Apollo 14.
"You can't sneak 37¼ ounces of ash and leather onboard without Deke clearing it," Al said. He
didn't add that Deke wasn't happy about the idea. Al had pointed out the good publicity that
would come from playing baseball on the moon.
"You think Ivan could come to the moon and play baseball?" Al had asked Deke. "Baseball is
Deke had frowned, but allowed it. "But you only swing the bat when all of the other items on the
checklist are complete," he added.
Al agreed. Now, fifty miles above their landing site he was growing anxious.
"Think you can hit the ball over the rim of the crater from where you guys will be standing?" Stu
"The hard part will be tossing the ball into the air while packed tight inside a bulky spacesuit,"
"Maybe you should have brought a golf club instead," Ed said.
Al glared at him.
"Besides," Ed said, "you'll have an unfair advantage."
"No outfielders," Ed said, smiling.
"No atmosphere either," Stu added.
"First Ed and I have to get down there," Al said.
All three men sobered up at the thought.
Big Al and the Yankee Clipper
Al's baseball career took off like a rocket. All through the spring and summer, whether at home
in Boston or on the road in Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D.C., St.
Louis, Cleveland, Al turned in a rookie performance unlike any on record. While he didn't hit a
homerun in every at bat, Al always came to the plate with the intention of getting on base. And
once he was on base, Al fixed his attention on home plate, and scoring a run.
Joe Cronin moved Al steadily up in the lineup, and in mid-June, when Johnny Pesky mentioned
to Al that his batting average was just shy of .500, Cronin moved him into the fifth spot, and
occasionally, into the fourth spot, batting cleanup. Al played well in the field, too, a good utility
outfielder with speed and accuracy that more than made up for his mediocre throwing arm. He
flip-flopped between center and right, but stayed out of left field. That piece of turf belonged to
Al was so focused on getting hits and knocking in runs that he hardly noticed when sportswriters
began using his name in the same sentence as DiMaggio. A year earlier, the Yankee Clipper,
Joltin' Joe did the impossible, hitting safely in 56 consecutive games. It was a record that players
and fans alike thought would never be broken.
One day late in June, following a tough loss to Cleveland, three reporters crowded around Al's
locker as he stripped out of his clay-stained uniform. Al could never keep their names straight,
but they were all local Boston reporters. He simply thought of them as Larry, Moe, and Curly.
"Off day today, Al?" Curly said.
Al frowned. He'd gone one-for-four, but that one hit was a two-run shot that supplied Boston's
only runs. "Looks like it," he said.
"At least you got the hit," Larry said, a cigarette clenched between his yellow teeth.
"Not that it did much good," Al said.
"It preserved the streak," Curly said.
"Don't kid a kidder, Al," Moe said.
But Al could not fake the puzzled expression that wrinkled his face.
Larry removed the cigarette from his mouth. "You really don't know?"
The three reporters looked at one another. Moe said, "That hit you got tonight, Al, made this
your fiftieth consecutive game with a hit."
Fifty games? "Really, fellas?"
They nodded. "Six more games and you tie DiMaggio's record."
Al considered this. Had he even played fifty games? It didn't seem possible, but when the
reporters cleared out, Al checked the scorecard. Tonight's game was Boston's 66th game of the
season. that would mean his streak started back around game sixteen. Thinking back, Al
remembered a day in early May when he'd gone down swinging all three times he came to the
plate. That was his last game without a hit. Now he had fifty more under his belt, in all of which
he had hit safely.
The next six games were the most stressful of Al Shepard's young career, and he cursed Larry,
Moe, and Curly for the knowledge they had planted in him.
Even so, Al showed the same calm and poise as he had in each of his previous at-bats. He hit
safely in the next five games, quickly returning to form, spraying homeruns, doubles and an
occasional triple to all parts of the field. Each hit brought louder cheers -- and those cheers
began to follow him on the road. The story of Big Al Shepard chasing DiMaggio's record moved
from the front of the sports page to the front page of the newspaper. Everyone knew what was
coming on July 3, 1942, when the New York Yankees came to Fenway Park.
Al woke that morning with a ringing in his left ear. This was not an unusual occurrence since
being hit in the head by Les McCrab's pitch. What made it unusual that morning was the volume
and intensity of the ringing. When he climbed out of bed, Al felt a wave of nausea and the room
seemed to sway around him.
On the field before the game, Al tried to ignore the ringing. It seemed to ebb when he kept his
head still. He threw his warm up tosses with Ted Williams knowing Ted had an accurate throw
which would allow Al to minimize his movements.
As Al was about to toss the ball back to Ted, the Fenway crowd broke into an enormous cheer.
Al looked for the source of the cheering and saw Joe DiMaggio walking in his direction.
"Keeping your cool, kid?" DiMaggio said, holding out a large hand. Al shook his hand, feeling
dizzy and grabbing it perhaps just a little too firmly in order to keep his balance. Around the two
men, the crowd roared.
"As much as I can manage," Al said.
Joe's face became serious, almost stern. "Play hard, but play true," he said. Then his face
softened a bit. "Do that, and just think of this as any other game. Good luck to you." He shook
Al's hand again and headed back to the visitor's dugout.
Fifteen minutes later, Al stepped into the batter's box for his first at-bat of the game. He repeated
Joe's words to himself under his breath: "Play hard, play true." He told himself he was just
trying to advance the runner on first, but that wasn't true. A safe hit here would tie DiMaggio's
His sharp eyes fixed on the pitcher as he went into his windup and that is when the ringing in his
ear grew suddenly, painfully loud.
Four hours before they began their powered descent to the lunar surface, Al Shepard learned
from Houston that the Boston Red Sox were down three games to none in the World Series
against the New York Mets. And yet even the news of the Red Sox impending collapse could not
put a damper on his day.
The ringing in Al's ear had not stopped. It sang its warbling song through the night, making
sleep difficult. An occasional wave of dizziness made Al feel as if the entire spacecraft was
tumbling end over end, and he had to glance at the attitude controls to reassure him that the ship
was stable. If this lasted much longer, Al would have to tell Houston about it. He'd have no
choice. He had a crew for whose safety he was responsible.
At least now, although the ringing remained, the dizziness had vanished.
"That's everything," Ed Mitchell said, flipping closed his checklist.
Al touched the TALK switch. "Kitty Hawk, Antares. We are go for undocking."
Stu Roosa gave the men a countdown. That was followed by a bang, and then Antares floated
free from Kitty Hawk. Al concentrated on positioning the spacecraft for its eventual descent to
the lunar surface. When he glanced out the window he could see Kitty Hawk above him and
upside down and that let loose another wave of dizziness, which he suppressed only with
difficulty. Once his adrenaline kicked in, he'd be fine. Besides, the moon was right there. He was
not going to allow a little queasiness to prevent him from walking on its surface.
He cursed Les McCrab under his breath.
A few hours later, just after 3 a.m. Houston time, Antares fired their rocket and began the
powered descent. The rumble of the rocket vibrated through the spacecraft. Now came the tense
moments when they waited for the landing radar to get a lock.
"Thirty thousand feet," Ed Mitchell said.
Al glanced at the radar. No lock.
Ed announced twenty thousand feet, and then fifteen thousand. Still no radar lock. If the landing
radar did not get a lock on the lunar surface to verify their altitude --
The ringing in Al's ear began to scream and another wave of dizziness passed through him. It
wasn't the worst he'd experienced, but to have it happen now was far from ideal. He tried to cast
it aside as the lunar surface loomed ever closer.
And still there was no radar lock.
Playing Hard, Playing True
In a typical game, Al would get four at-bats. In that potentially record-tying game, Al came to
the plate four times before the eighth inning. He struck out in his first at-bat, and struck out again
in the fourth inning. In the sixth inning, the Red Sox broke open the game with seven runs and
that gave Al two chances in one inning. He walked the first time and hit a towering fly ball in his
second attempt -- only to watch it fall into the glove of Joe DiMaggio.
Still, because of their big sixth inning, the Red Sox gave their star rookie a fifth and final chance
to tie Joltin' Joe's record when he came to bat in the bottom of the eighth. By then, the ringing
and dizziness that had been plaguing Al for the entire game had finally trickled to a whisper. He
dug his cleats into the clay and stared down toward the pitcher's mound.
As soon as the ball flew, Al could see it was outside.
"Ball!" the umpire said.
The next pitch came in so fast Al could hear it splitting the air before it. It looked low and Al
He stepped out of the box, glancing toward the dugout where his entire team seemed to be
leaning forward on the bench. He took a practice swing and stepped back in.
Spud Chandler delivered and this time the ball was high in the zone. Al swung and felt the
contact. He was off with the sound, but when he glanced up, he watched the ball go hooking foul
out of play.
He trotted back to the plate, down in the count, but he'd regained his confidence. The ringing in
his ear was a phantom memory. Chandler went into his windup.
Al hit the ball squarely, a hard line-drive that knocked Chandler into the dirt. Al dashed toward
first base, a cloud of dust trailing his feet like a column of smoke and fire from a rocket. Yankee
shortstop Phil Rizzuto cut across the field to nab the ball but it went under his glove. Al was
thirty feet from the base.
From the corner of his eye he saw Joe Gordon, the Yankee's second baseman, grab the ball while
running toward second. Gordon jumped and threw to first from the air.
As he slid across the base he rolled to his right in time to see the umpire pump his fist.
He was out.
Joe Cronin flew from the dugout like a cannon shot. He argued with the umpire until his cheeks
glowed red. Al could almost imagine steam emerging from Joe's ears. Ninety seconds later, his
manager was tossed from the game.
Al shook his head. He didn't hear the roar of the crowd, didn't notice his teammates patting him
on the back. He glanced into the outfield and saw Joe DiMaggio tip his cap toward him as if to
say, "Nice try kid. Better luck next time."
All Al could think was: So close. So close I could reach out and touch it. At the end of the day
Boston won, but Al lost. Joe DiMaggio retained sole possession of his record. Al came in a close
second, but who remembers number two?
So close, Al thought. So close.
Antares still had no landing radar. Ed Mitchell said, "Al, we're getting close."
"Cycle the breakers," Al said.
Ed gave that a try. "Still no radar, passing through twelve thousand."
The mission rules said that if the landing radar did not engage by ten thousand feet, they had to
abort. Ten thousand feet -- less than two miles from the lunar surface.
Eleven thousand," Ed said. Al could hear the tension in his voice. Could they do something to
buy more time? Slow their descent rate perhaps? Al considered this quickly. It would burn more
fuel, meaning they'd have a higher likelihood of aborting closer to the surface if they didn't
make a precision landing. Besides, it would only buy them a few seconds.
But what if those few seconds were all the landing radar needed to get a lock? Al decided in an
instant. He increased the thrust to slow the descent rate. His left thumb hovered over the abort
"Anything?" he said to Ed.
"Nothing. Still no lock. Ten thousand five hundred. We've got maybe five seconds, Al."
Another wave of dizziness fluttered through Al. He thought of the words Joe DiMaggio had said
to him before the game that ended his hitting streak. "Play hard." Al fought back the dizziness as
best he could. But if the radar didn't kick on soon --
"Ten thousand feet, Al," Ed said.
Al's thumb closed the gap to the abort switch. He tried to buy a little more time.
"Houston, Antares. We do not have L-R. Repeat, no L-R."
The delay in transmission brought them dangerously close to pitch-over, the point at which that
they could see their landing site.
Before that happened, Al heard Houston say, "Antares, Houston. Understood. Recommend abort
Still, Al hesitated. He could see individual boulders on the surface, their shadows a stark
blackness in the cement-colored sediment. He could ignore the rules and get them down to the
surface, fighting off the dizziness until they were safely on the ground. Al was an excellent pilot.
He didn't need the landing radar, and once they were on the surface, Ed Mitchell could take it
from there if Al was still feeling dizzy.
But again, he heard Joe DiMaggio's words. "Play hard, but play true." Play true. The mission
rules were there for a reason. If Al had been alone, maybe he could have ignored them, but had
he been alone, the dizziness he was experiencing might have put him in even greater peril.
Ed Mitchell was looking at him. The CAPCOM's voice still echoed in his ringing ear.
Al imagined himself diving for the moon as he had dove into first base. Then his finger closed on
the abort switch, and he knew that they had lost the moon.
"Roger, Houston. Abort," Al said.
Things happened quickly after that, but as Al caught a glimpse of the moon rolling away from
them he heard Ed Mitchell curse under his breath. He knew exactly how Ed felt.
"So close," Al said. "So close."
"Could Big Al Shepard have landed Antares on the moon?" Gus Grissom asks the crowd of
mourners. "I have no doubt that he could have, but he did what is expected of the commander of
a spacecraft. He put the safety of his crew above the success of the mission.
"By the time the crew of Apollo 13 returned to Earth four days later, there was some good news
waiting for Al. His Boston Red Sox, after being down three games to none against the New York
Mets, won four games in a row, taking home their first World Championship in fifty years." The
audience laughs lightly at this.
"NASA determined the cause of the landing radar problem was software-related. And although
Al's ear injury was not listed as a contributing factor in the abort, he was taken off flight status
upon the return of Apollo 13.
"Apollo 11 turned out to be my last mission," Gus says to the room, "But Al was determined to
have another chance. I asked him once what kept him going? He repeated something that Joe
DiMaggio said to him. "Play hard, play true." Al played hard. Or in the case of his flight status,
"He had surgery to correct the damage inflicted by a fastball to the head, and a year later,
returned to flight status. Deke Slayton kept Al in the rotation. Deke was a good guy. Al was
assigned commander of Apollo 17. In the spring of 1970, when the baseball season was just
getting underway, Big Al Shepard set foot in the Taurus-Littrow valley . . ."
Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon
All three EVAs on the lunar surface had virtually every minute scheduled out, despite each of
them exceeding seven hours. To Al Shepard, the time flittered by in the blink of an eye, and
before he knew it, his last romp on the lunar surface was coming to an end.
He felt incredible bounding across the dusty valley, admiring its stark beauty. The sharp sloping
hills reminded him of the Green Monster back home.
Most incredible of all was the sight of home. Earth hung in the sky. Al could glance up over his
shoulder no matter where he was and see it there.
"Challenger, Houston. It's about time to wrap things up and head back indoors."
Al sighed. "Roger, Houston. Give us a minute to collect these last samples and get ourselves
"Clock's ticking, Al."
Wasn't it always, he thought.
Al turned to Harrison Schmidt, who everyone called Jack. He was standing by the Lunar Rover.
"Can you bring the cart over here?"
Schmidt grabbed the handle of the pull-cart and half-bounced, half-waddled in Al's direction.
The cart was loaded with rocks, but standing in one corner was the same 32¼ ounce bat he'd
brought with him on Apollo 13. Just below the bat was a once-white baseball, now covered in
lunar dust. The ball had been signed by every one of the surviving members of his 1942 Red Sox
"You want me to grab the camera, Al?" Schmidt said.
"No time." Al pulled the bat out of the cart with his right hand and reached for the ball with his
left. He turned to face the hills on a horizon that seemed closer than it should be.
"Here goes," he said. He tossed the ball into the airless space, but despite the gentle toss, the ball
went higher than Al expected. His timing was off and when Al swung the bat, he missed the ball
and nearly spun into the dirt.
"Strike one," Jack Schmidt said.
"Very funny," Al replied, using the bat to lever back into a standing position. "One more time."
Al repeated the process, timing the gentle rise and fall of the baseball more carefully. He made
full contact with the ball as it fell back toward the lunar surface.
"Holy cow!" Schmidt said in his best Harry Carey voice.
Al watched the ball go up, up, up, a white dot in the black sky.
"Look at it go," Al said.
Gene Cernan, Apollo 17's command module pilot, spoke up over the radio. "Sent it over the
green monster, did you, Al?"
Schmidt said, "I wouldn't be surprised if they found that ball somewhere in the Charles River
Big Al Shepard was still smiling an hour later after he and Schmidt were safely back inside