Speaking of appearance, the nickname "Moose" needs some clarification. We'd easily assume the "big guy" first baseman got the name based on physique. What? There's another explanation? There most certainly is. The story goes back to his youth in Chicago IL. Bill was playing with the "Cragin Juniors" team. His dad played with the semi-pro "Cragin Merchants." Dad's teammates made note of Bill's crew cut. They observed that the crew cut made young Bill look like Benito Mussolini. The ballplayers, a not-too-subtle crowd, called the young man "Mussolini." It got shortened to "Moose." Benito Mussolini was the notorious prime minister of Italy for World War II.
We all got familiar with "Moose" Skowron when he wore the pinstripes of the New York Yankees. He seemed such an established part of that regime as it ruled in the late '50s and early '60s. We see Skowron portrayed in Billy Crystal's movie about the 1961 baseball season. At one point in the movie, Roger Maris implores the media to pay more attention to Skowron after the big guy played a key role in a win.
Surely Skowron was upstaged by Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961. But he was a very important cog in the wheel. He was never quite a superstar but he had a notable career. It didn't seem right that he got traded before the Yankees' 1960s heyday ended. He was traded because the team had a pitching need. By 1966 the Yankees would need help everywhere. Following 1962, the Bronx crew was still feeling their oats and they sought pitcher Stan Williams. Skowron went out West for Williams on November 26, 1962. The Yankees felt they could replace Skowron at first base with Joe Pepitone. You'll recall Pepitone as a player who never quite lived up to his potential, and did not seem like a good role model.
Skowron out in L.A. did not have a good regular season in 1963. He batted .202. But he had a chance to redeem himself in the World Series against the Yankees. He had already been in seven Fall Classics with the Yankees. He was known as a "money" player for the post-season.
Coming on strong in Fall Classic
Dodgers manager Walt Alston sensed that Skowron was primed for another good World Series. Skowron pulled on his first base glove while Ron Fairly was sidelined some. Alston's hunch panned out. The big guy hit .385 with a home run. The '63 Series was notable in that it revealed Sandy Koufax as the true superstar pitcher. Koufax led the Dodgers' four-game sweep of the pinstripe crew. He went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA. He set down 23 Yankee batters on strikes. Two years later, we here in Minnesota got our own dose of appreciation of the other-worldly lefty.
David Halberstam's book about the 1964 season gave some background on Koufax's development. It was not a matter of maturity or mastering mechanics, Halberstam pointed out. Rather, it was a matter of "umpires calling the high fastball a strike." Whatever umpires did, it became a real problem by 1968 when pitchers took over the game too much. 1968 was "the year of the pitcher" and it was great if you enjoyed shutouts. But something had to be done. The powers that be lowered the pitching mound.
Skowron had quite the knack for playing with winners. He played for eight pennant-winning teams and nearly made it nine in 1964, when his Chicago White Sox came within a whisker of the flag. The Yankees had their last dynastic year in '64, barely winning the pennant. They lost to St. Louis and a young Lou Brock in the Series. Of the eight pennant-winning teams that had "Moose" on the roster, five won the World Series.
Maris had a talent like Moose, of being on board with high-achieving teams. We might forget that Roger was a big contributor with the '67 and '68 St. Louis Cardinals who were on top of the National League.
He relished baseball and life
Pitcher Bob Turley remembered Skowron as a fun and gregarious person. Forget that "scowling" visage that I alluded to. "He is this big kid who always enjoys things," Turley said of his teammate.
Skowron hit over .300 five times in his career. He along with those "M&M Boys," Mantle and Maris, combined to hit 143 home runs in 1961. That Yankee team beat Cincinnati in five games in the World Series. Skowron had a home run and five RBIs. In 1960 the big guy batted .375 in the Fall Classic against Pittsburgh. He homered twice and drove in six runs, but you'll recall this was the Series where Bill Mazeroski hit his dramatic home run in Game 7 to win for Pittsburgh. Such memories.
Skowron is established in our memories as a Yankee, regardless of his '63 World Series exploits with Los Angeles. Hey, he wears the pinstripes in our memory. And it's not a scowl - just call it resolve or determination.
"Moose" Skowron went to that baseball diamond in the sky on April 27, 2012, in Arlington Heights IL.
- Brian Williams, morris mn minnesota - email@example.com