Around The Horn With The '61 Yankees: 1B

May 18, 2008

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Street Reporter

Around The Horn With The '61 Yankees: 1B

When a guy gets named "Moose," you generally figure it's because he's a knucklehead or looks like he should be one. Bill Skowron had the lumpy face of a prizefighter, but he was generally known as a gentle giant with a smooth, opposite-field stroke. His nickname came from his Polish grandfather, who thought his haircut at one point reminded him of dictator Benito Mussolini. But Skowron wasn't any sort of dictator, just a good guy who could drive ball into the gaps.

Moose Skowron could play football and baseball--he was a punter at Purdue, but hit .500 his sophomore year, which both caught the attention of Yankee scouts and set a Big Ten record that wouldn't be broken for a decade. New York signed him in 1950, and he started playing as a platoon player in 1954, mostly at first base, with the occasional start across the diamond, or even two games at second. That first season, he showed his stuff by hitting .340/.392/.577. In time, he'd become a full-time first-sacker, never hitting more than 28 bombs in a season, but always good for a batting average around .300 and 80-90 RBIs.

But part of being a Yankee in those days was the postseason, where New York were perennial participants. In his eight seasons with the Yankees, they appeared in the World Series seven times. Skowron struggled early, going 5-26 in his first three Series. In 1957, the third of those initial appearances, he made the final out of the Series, which the Yanks lost--they lost two of his first three World Series, and Skowron took his performance to heart.

In 1958, Skowron became the hero against Hank Aaron's Milwaukee Braves. Down 3-1, the Yankees won the next three to take the Series. Moose drove in the winning run in Game Six, and his three-run homer in the eighth inning of Game Seven sealed the deal for the Yankees; he drove in four of their six runs in that final game. Though pitcher Bob Turley won the Series MVP, Skowron's power numbers--2 homers and 7 RBI--were second only to Hank Bauer. 

In the magical 1961 season, Skowron typically hit in the middle to lower half of the order, protecting Mantle or Howard or occasionally hitting cleanup. His numbers were a slight dropoff from his 1960 season, but his .267/.318/.472, with 89 RBI and 76 runs, were more than enough to contribute to the team's success. And in the '61 World Series, Skowron once again outperformed his better-known teammates, posting numbers (.353/.450/.529) that were second only to teammate Hector Lopez. Mantle and Maris could only muster 3 hits between them (an abscess in Mick's hip would keep him from playing in more than two games).

Skowron's 1962 season numbers were almost identical to his '61 numbers, but his postseason was disappointing. In one of the most exciting Series, a seven-game battle with the San Francisco Giants, in their first series since relocating from New York in 1958. The two teams alternated wins until New York won Game 7 in Candlestick, 1-0. Skowron, however, went only 4-18 in his six games, with a lone triple as his only extra-base hit.

Skowron would be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963, where he would continue to decline, once again platooning at first. Hitting a moribund .203/.252/.287 for the season, Moose found some of his old postseason magic when his new Dodgers faced off against his former team in the Series. Facing the Yanks, he went 5-13 with a homer in the series, as the Dodgers delivered a stunning sweep against the Yankees in one of the lowest-scoring series ever and the first one in which the Yankees had failed to win a game. 

Skowron would bounce around for several more teams before retiring in 1967, including the Chicago White Sox, where he currently works as a public relations "Pied Piper." Affable and friendly, modest about his achievements, this six-time All-Star remains steadfast in his loyalty, however: "I am first and foremost a Yankee."

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