July 12, 2022

July 1969: Apollo 11 blasts off, the Twins pour it on and localizing ‘moon’ stories with Molly Ivins

Who could forget the summer of 1969? Few of my parents’ generation probably could, perhaps most notably because of a history-making event that captured the attention of millions around the world as three men blasted off from Florida on July 16 and returned to earth eight days later.

The Apollo 11 lunar capsule touched down on July 20 and then Astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface six hours later July 21 to utter the most famous phrase in space flight history.

Newspapers around the world gave the historic flight its full attention with national wire stories and photos of the singular event. But a daily paper isn’t built on wire copy alone, and for those of you who think it is, I can point you in the direction of a few former editors who are already shaking their heads. What this typically means for a local newspaper staff is a directive to localize the big stories of the day. And so it was at the Minneapolis Tribune, according to a check of papers for that week. Among those getting into the act was reporter Molly Ivins, the same Ivins who would go on to become a nationally syndicated columnist.

Ivins was handed or chose (I’m going to go with “handed”) an odd assignment. Under a headline that reads, “22-year-old moon predictions haunt 3 ‘U’ scientists,” Ivins revisits the long-ago predictions made by the University of Minnesota scientists that, given the impending moon landing, were wildly off the mark.

“Two of them gamely ate their words this week and bowed out of the crystal ball business,” Ivins writes.


As for the other scientist, he “was too busy working in a Michigan conference to learn that his chickens had come home to roost, as it were.”

Meanwhile, July was a sweet month for the Twins. The Twins were already having a winning season when they really stepped on the gas, finishing the month at 23-7. Even better, through July 17 they went 15-2 and that stretch of games included a nine-game winning streak. On blast off day the Twins swept a doubleheader from the Chicago White Sox and when Armstrong set foot on the moon, the Twins blanked the lowly Seattle Pilots, 4-0.

Despite all the winning, it didn’t take long for the occasional loss to get under manager Billy Martin’s skin. Late in July, the Twins dropped a doubleheader to the Pilots and Martin was furious, directing his ire at the Pilots’ home ground, Sicks’ Stadium.

“It’s not a major league park,” he told the Tribune. “The background is awful and the lights don’t help. We thought it was bad in Oakland last year when Catfish Hunter threw his perfect game at us in twilight. This was twice as bad. It took away our offense and brought our hitters down to their level.”

Ivins’ byline was few and far between that week. One possible reason is that she was busy on a series of stories about young conservatives that began to appear later that month. She also got stuck with a dog of story about a local congressman returning from a disarmament conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

I can’t think of a story more off the mark given the times and the news of the day. Still, we learn that U.S. Rep. Donald Fraser, a Democrat, is optimistic about arms control.

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com


Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.