Garfien: Remembering Moose Skowron

Garfien: Remembering Moose Skowron
April 27, 2012, 7:15 pm
Share This Post

In a world of six billion people, there are only a select, precious few who are actual living legends.

81 years ago, one was born in Chicago.

His knack for playing baseball made him a household name, sent him around the world, and produced a life that was straight out of the movie, "Forest Gump."

But his story? It's completely real. And there was no one more real than the one and only Moose Skowron.

Friday morning, the former New York Yankee great passed away at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Ill., from congestive heart failure.

He was loved by so many, the baseball world feels a pain in its collective heart with the loss of such an incredible icon.

On December 18, 1930, Moose was born as William Joseph Skowron Jr. However, his first name would be changed forever as a seven-year-old when his grandfather gave him a haircut that looked like Italian dictator Mussolini. His family shortened his name to "Moose."

He wouldn't be known as William or Will or Bill ever again.

Signed by the New York Yankees in 1950, his surreal journey left the port, taking him to places well beyond his wildest expectations.

"I've been lucky all my life," Skowron said in an interview last year. "I'd rather be lucky than good. I was at the right spot at the right time."

Was he ever.

Over a nine-year period from 1955 to 1963, Moose played in eight World Series, winning five of them. Four with the Yankees. One with the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a Yankee, he drove in the winning run against the Milwaukee Braves in Game 6 of the 1958 World Series. He then smashed a three-run homer in Game 7 to lead the Yankees to the title. In Game 7 of the 1962 World Series against the San Francisco Giants, only one person crossed the plate in that game.

Moose did.

Looking back, it all makes sense.

In the course of his career, Skowron came into contact with just about everybody who was anybody. Both past and present.

He met Ty Cobb. He met Honus Wagner. He met even Cy Young.

"I met all those guys," Skowron said. "I never asked for autographs. Today it's a big thing. I could kick myself in the fanny when I think about the people I met."

His was a life straight out of Hollywood, and often mingled with it. Like the time Moose went to dinner with Joe DiMaggio and Joe's wife...Marilyn Monroe.

"I shaved four times that day," Moose said with a huge grin across his face. It was his standard line. He probably said it a million times, and he gave that same, big smile every time.

Moose appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

"They put me in the stands, so when you waved you got 500 bucks. That's all I did. They introduced me and I waved."

Moose was fine with that.

He also got to meet television's other Ed. The famous horse named Mr. Ed.

"They hit the ball, the horse ran around all the bases and touched homeplate," Skowron remembered. "I said, 'Leo Durocher you have a telephone call!' He was in the dugout. That was it. That's all I said."

Skowron played 14 seasons in the major leagues, and never made more than the 47,000 paycheck he received from the White Sox in 1965.

"Today A-Rod from the Yankees, he's making 27 million!"

Rodriguez was actually making 32 million. I didn't have the nerve to tell him.

"I made a half million dollars in 14 years! He gets that in two times at-bat," Moose said. "But these kids today. God bless them."

The bonds between Moose and his Yankee teammates were immeasurable. He had an especially close kinship with Mantle, who during his prime carried baseball, as well as a heavy burden.

"He'd maybe strike out three or four times in a game, and he'd cry by my locker. I said, 'Mickey, tomorrow's another day.' He said, 'Moose, I let 50,000 people down.' That's the way he was. He was a great competitor."

Above the fireplace in Moose's living room is a signed photograph from Mantle which reads, "To Moose, my best wishes. We came up at the same time, and it was one of the best things in my life. Thanks a lot, Mickey Mantle."

Moose read Mantle's words, paused, and said, "I never forgot him."

Bring up the 1964 season, and Skowron never forgot how close he came to winning another pennant with the White Sox, who acquired him from the Washington Senators that July.

"I was a Chicago born guy from the Northwest Side. I got a chance to play for my home team," he recalled. "We beat the Yankees four in a row at home. A kid by the name of Phil Linz got on the bus and played a harmonica. He and Yogi Berra, he was the manager, they got into a fight. That motivated the Yankees. They won 11 in a row. We won nine in a row. We lost the pennant by one game. I'd been in three consecutive World Series with three different teams."

In 1999, Skowron joined the White Sox community relations department. His duties were to make appearances around the area and greet fans on behalf of the team. Mainly, his job was to just be Moose. There was no one like him. He was cherished for his wit, his charm, and for always telling it like it is.

I asked him one day why he was always so open and honest. He nearly jumped out of his chair.

"What have I got to hide? I'm 81 years old! Where am I going, Chuck? I tell the truth. I got some good stories."

He sure did. Some of the best.

In the last year, Moose's health began to deteriorate. Doctors found cancer in his throat, then his lungs, then his bladder. He kept putting up a fight, but his body started wearing down. As recently as January of 2011, he participated in the White Sox fantasy baseball camp in Glendale, Arizona, serving as one of the coaches. He coached first base, and had more energy than most of the campers.

Still, he knew that time would eventually catch up to him. He never feared death, and was prepared for what was to come, whenever that time arrived.

"What can I say? God has been good for me," he said. "I just hope that when I go, I go fast. I already told my wife, 'Pull the plug.' I'll sign the papers. Anything, because I had a wonderful life."