Saturday, April 28, 2012
We received quite a few emails, stories and texts from friends and fans about Moose Skowron and thought everyone might enjoy reading the stories from fans who connected with Moose, even if for a moment.
I just heard about Moose’s passing. We had the opportunity to meet him at our outings and learned very quickly what a great person he was. The news made me sad, it just brought everything back, just more memories tied to Tommy I think. It also makes me think about my Dad and I remember him sitting with Moose at one of the outings for an hour just talking about the neighborhood and “the good old days”, like they were old friends.
All of this makes me realize once again, what a great organization the Chicago White Sox is and what truly wonderful people are part of it. There are hundreds of thousands of White Sox fans out there and the WS take time to reach out to so many of us. I always think about our connection and how you reached out to us in a very difficult time and worked with us to remember our Son, someone you didnt even know. You dont know how that makes us feel! I apologize if Im getting to “soft” but I think about how each and every person that we have come in contact with has a heart. Moose, Ron Kittle, You, Courtney, even the Scout that took the time to send us a letter when Tommy died. You are part of an amazing group, and we are lucky to be part of it.
The White Sox lost a very good part of it today and we were lucky to have met him.
Moose was a very special friend to me and I will miss seeing him at not only the White Sox camp but also the Yankee ones as well. Perhaps a little history is in order.
When he got upset at the way the Nightcrawlers were acting at the White Sox camp, he left as a coach. I ran into him at the Park later and he asked me if I wanted to go to a real camp where they played baseball the way it should be played. I said sure and asked what camp he was talking about.
He said that he and Hank Bauer had taken over the Mickey Mantle camp and it was being held in November in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I said send me an application and gave him my address and forgot about it. Three weeks later the application arrived and I didn’t know what to do. My wife Sharon was alive at the time and suggested that we should go. We had a home in Ft. Lauderdale then. She said I could play baseball and she would shop and we could stay at our home. So I signed up for the 1999 camp.
I couldn’t tell anyone in my family or any of my friends or coworkers that I was going to a Yankee camp because they were only second to the Cubs as a hated enemy. I told everyone that we were going down to the Florida house for a week vacation. It turned out that the Yankees had a procedure where they informed your local paper about your participation in their camp. I really begged that they not do that for me and they didn’t- thank God.
We went and when we arrived at the hotel, Moose greeted us at the door and told us to follow him, he wanted to introduce us to his friends. His friends turned out to be Yogi Berra, Don Larsen, Tony Kubeck, Hank Bauer, Mickey Rivers, Bobby Richardson, Jake Gibbs, Tom Tresh, Enos Slaughter, Bucky Dent, Ron Guidry and a few others I used to have no use for. We got autographed baseballs from nearly everyone and what we remembered the most is Yogi personalizing a baseball for my wife Sharon- normally Yogi doesn’t personalize autographed baseballs. Also I couldn’t believe how nice all of these star players were to me and Sharon. Of course, not many of the knew I was a White Sox fan; I was a friend of Moose’s and that what I feel made the difference.
I wore Moose’s number 14 on my Yankee uniform and played on his team. The Yankee camp imported catchers and the campers didn’t catch at that time. One of them failed to show up and Moose asked me if I brought my equipment. I said yes but it was back at the Florida house. He said call up Sharon and tell her to bring it and I could catch. She did and I did. The Yankee coaches did the pitching so it was an unexpected treat to catch Guidry and the others. That was the start of what later became catching every inning of 9 inning games at each camp.
I was amazed at the difference between the White Sox camp and the Yankee camp. The Yankee campers, mostly from the New York area, were very competitive which fit in quite nicely with my style. I got bowled over regularly and returned the favor when the opportunity presented itself. It was a “baseball” camp with All Stars and World Series heroes.
Moose was very good to Sharon and me and we enjoyed a lot of people’s company at dinners that we only read about or saw on the field. All of them have become super friends I look forward to meeting every year.
After that camp, I happily signed up and participated in 11 more Yankee camps wearing his number at each one including the one last November against the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Florida. Moose asked me to sit with him at the closing banquet and it was obvious then that he wasn’t going to make it to another camp. He signed some special photos for me that I believe have more sentimental value than any other autographed stuff I have. The conversation we had when I drove him back to hotel is one I’ll never forget.
During the time from that first camp and the last one, I visited with Moose art his restaurant, enjoyed his visits to the Gatorade box at U S Cellular field and shared a lot of other great times. I remember that he apologized to me that he wasn’t able to attend my wife’s wake and funeral. I thought to myself at the time, why would he ever consider coming to them and why would he apologize? But as I thought more about it, I suddenly realized that was the way Moose was.
It’s very probable that I will never attend another Yankee camp because although I enjoyed interacting with all the other ex Yankees, I would miss Moose too much.
I played softball against your team Seals, for years in Oak Brook Terrace. I was on a handful of different team names. Most recently UJays. I will never forget the 630pm Monday night game we had to square off against you guys about six or seven years ago on a July night. I was the first of my team to show up to the field. There were four guys at the field. You, me, another one of your teammates and Moose Skowron! As I was walking toward your bench from the parking lot, where he was sitting, I said to myself, ” oh shit that’s Moose Skowron”. I was in awe! I didn’t even think of walking over to our bench on the other side. I walked right to your bench and dropped my bag as he was in the middle of a story. I just stood there to listen to the story. He finished it and you asked me if I knew who who he was, and I replied ” hell yeah, I know who this is”. He shook my hand and introduced himself. I stood there and listened to the multiple stories he had to tell about Roger, Yogi and the Mick. Being a die hard White Sox fan and baseball junkie, I knew this would be a story I now had to tell forever! Since then I have told this story to anyone I thought would listen. To see he passed away today struck me. If you were close enough with him to have him show up to a Monday night rec softball game in Oak Brook Terrace, I’m sure he was a good friend. So I just wanted to say I’m sorry for your personal loss and also the loss to the White Sox family. Baseball lost a great man! But on the flip side I wanted to thank you for the experience I had, and appreciation I had in soaking in the stories he had to tell.
I hope all is well and look forward to the Robin era! Thanks again!
And this from veteran sportswriter and White Sox fan, Bob Vanderberg:
Bill “Moose” Skowron, who wore uniform No. 14 across 14 major-league seasons, whose car’s license plates read “BMS 14” and who almost became the first player in baseball history to play in three straight World Series with three different clubs, died early Friday. He was 81.
He leaves behind a book’s worth of stories, tales he enjoyed telling as much as his audiences enjoyed hearing them. One day several years ago, over lunch at a west suburban eatery, I had the privilege to be an audience of one. He told me how, as a high school athlete at the old Weber High School on Chicago’s Northwest Side, he had played football and basketball but not baseball—because the city’s Catholic schools did not offer the sport in those days. So he played Windy City softball midweek and sandlot baseball on Sundays. He won a scholarship to Purdue—for football, not baseball—but “the summer after my sophomore year, I went to play semipro baseball in 1950 in Austin, Minn. And a scout from the Cubs named Bill Prince saw me hit four homers off four different pitchers in a single game. And he didn’t offer me a contract.” Nor had Doug Minor, a White Sox scout, who had quarreled with Bill’s father and also failed to offer a deal. “Thank God there were two scouts there that night from the Yankees, Joe McDermott and Burleigh Grimes. They offered me a contract and made me a bonus baby—gave me a bonus of $25,000. And I quit school and signed professionally.”
Playing in the outfield, he led the Class B Piedmont League in hitting his first year in the minors; then, promoted to Triple-A Kansas City in ’52, he batted .341 with 31 homers and 134 RBIs. “I was named Minor League Player of the Year,” he said, “and you know what? I wasn’t even invited to spring training the next year with the Yankees.” Instead, Yankee instructors in the minor-league camp began teaching him the finer points of playing first base. That’s where he played that summer in Kansas City, where he hit .318 and finally got his invite to big-league camp in the spring of 1954. He won a roster spot and hit .340 in 87 games. Moose was on his way, embarking on a career during which, as a Yankee, he took personal delight in destroying White Sox pitching. In his nine years as a Yankee, he played 151 games against the Sox, was 161-for-527 for a .306 batting average and added 24 homers and 88 runs batted in.
Most memorable of his damaging blows against Chicago came on Sunday, July 14, 1957, before a Comiskey Park crowd of 48,244. Billy Pierce had beaten the Yanks 3-1 in Game 1 of the day’s doubleheader, moving the Sox within two games of the AL-leading New Yorkers. Now, Dick Donovan took a 4-0 lead into the ninth inning of Game 2. Then came three straight hits, making it 4-1, chasing Donovan and bringing a new pitcher, Jim Wilson, into the contest. Hank Bauer ripped a hard grounder off third baseman Sammy Esposito’s glove to fill the bases before Wilson fanned Elston Howard. Stepping up now as a pinch-hitter was Skowron, 0-for-4 in the opener. Moose sent the first pitch he saw rocketing into the left-field upper deck for a grand slam. The Yankees went on to win 6-4 and the Sox never got to within two games of the New Yorkers the rest of that season.
“I hit good against the White Sox in my career because I wanted to prove to them that their scouts had made a mistake not offering me a contract,” he said. “As it turned out, though, I could never complain, because I got into seven World Series with the Yankees. I get traded to the Dodgers, we win the pennant, we win the World Series. So I was in eight World Series out of my 14 years in the big leagues.”
Skowron came this close to being in three straight World Series with three diffeent teams. The year was 1964. “Moose” had been traded by the Dodgers to lowly Washington in December 1963. White Sox general manager Ed Short, a huge Skowron fan who had tried unsuccessfully to get him from the Dodgers that winter (and, even before that, from the Yankees), went all out to acquire the Chicago native once the ’64 season moved into early June. The Senators turned down every bid, and the June 15 trading deadline came and went with the Sox still Skowron-less. Meanwhile, the Sox were struggling in a three-team pennant race with New York and Baltimore. They were especially hapless against the Yankees, who won the teams’ first 10 face-to-face matchups in ’64. The Yankees swept a five-game weekend series from Chicago June 12-14 in New York, then took four straight the next weekend in Chicago—by scores of 1-0 in 11 innings, 2-0, 2-1 in 17 innings and 6-5. Certainly, Short felt, Skowron’s presence in the lineup, not to mention the clubhouse, would have meant the difference in at least one of those defeats. Short kept the phone lines open to Washington and finally, in a waiver deal during the All-Star break, landed “Moose” in exchange for another first baseman, Joe Cunningham, and young lefty Frank Kreutzer. Skowron was hitting .271 with 13 homers and 41 RBIs when he joined the Sox. His average in a Sox uniform was .293—-with 38 RBIs. And though he hit just four homers, he provided protection for lefty-swinging Pete Ward and shortstop Ron Hansen, the team’s only other longball threats.
The difference Skowron made was especially evident in the Sox’s competition with the Yankees in the second half. Chicago swept a day-night doubleheader in New York Aug. 11, by scores of 6-4 and 8-2, as Moose went 5-for-7 with two doubles and two RBIs. The Sox lost the next two days in Yankee Stadium but came home the following week and swept four straight from the Yankees to move into first place. In the eight games vs. his old club, Skowron had gone 11 for 29 (a .379 average).
With Skowron, the White Sox appeared poised to win the pennant as the race moved into September. Indeed, after a pulsating, un-Sox-like victory over Cleveland Sept. 4 at Comiskey Park, even the doubters and naysayers had to rethink their position. With the Sox trailing 5-4 in the 10th and Tribe relief ace Don McMahon (1.52 ERA) on the mound,
Ward led off with a long drive over the center-field fence and into the old bullpen to tie the game. Moments later, Skowron lined a ball to the opposite field, a shot that landed in the right-field lower deck and won the game 6-5.
But shortly thereafter, the White Sox dropped a Labor Day twin bill in Washington, and the Yankees began a surge of 26 wins in 33 games that put them back on top. The Sox won their last nine in a row but finished 98-64, one game behind; third-place Baltimore finished 97-65. The failure of 1964 was among Moose’s biggest disappointments. So was 1965, when he hit .274 with 18 homers and 78 RBIs and made the All-Star team but saw his White Sox finish second to Minnesota. And so was 1966, when he batted just .249 in much limited play under new manager Eddie Stanky.
“But being home in Chicago, coming back here to play—it was a big thrill for me. And I’ll never forget that year we lost the pennant by one game.”
And those thousands of fans who watched him play ball or got to know him in later years through his community-relations work with the White Sox surely will never forget Bill “Moose” Skowron.