Garfien: Remembering Moose Skowron

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Garfien: Remembering Moose Skowron

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."

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

Jose Abreu has made quite a turnaround from being a guy who was admittedly lost to bashing the ball like Abreu of old.

From April 19th on, Abreu has hit at another level, reminiscent of the performances he put on throughout an eye-opening 2014 campaign in which he was the unanimous American League rookie of the year winner. Over that stretch, Abreu has slashed at an absurd .347/.404/.677 clip with nine doubles, one triple, 10 home runs and 22 RBIs in 136 plate appearances.

Earlier this week, Abreu said the run is the product of trusting his tireless preparation.

"I struggled in the first few weeks of the season but I kept working," Abreu said through an interpreter. "Now I'm at this point where I feel very good and confident with my offense and things are going well for me. That's part of what you work for and if you work hard, you know the results will be there at the end of the day."

Two numbers that have improved significantly during Abreu's five-week tear are his average exit velocity and strikeout rate.

Abreu entered Wednesday 39th in the the majors with an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph this season, according to Baseball Savant.

But Abreu wasn't hitting the ball nearly as hard early this season, which was littered with weak contact. Abreu stumbled out of the gate with a .157 average, one extra-base hit and only five RBIs in his first 54 plate appearances. Through the first two weeks, Abreu's average exit velocity was 89.0 mph on 31 batted-ball events, which was slightly down from last season's 89.6 mph average and significantly down from 2015, when he averaged 90.9 mph.

Since then, however, Abreu has seen a significant increase in hard contact. Over his last 92 batted-ball events, Abreu is averaging 92.6 mph, a total that would qualify for 15th in the majors this season. Included in that span is 35 balls hit 100 mph or more.

But Abreu's success isn't just related to how hard he has hit the ball. He's also made much better contact this season and is striking out less than ever. Abreu struck out 14 times in his first 54 plate appearances (25.9 percent). But since then, he has whiffed only 17 times in 136 plate appearances, good for a 12.5 percent strikeout rate.

His season K-rate of 16.3 percent, according to Fangraphs.com, is down from a career mark of 19.6 percent.

"You have started to see him heat up a little," manager Rick Renteria said earlier this week. "He's given us solid at-bats. He's in a good place right now."

Actually, it's a great place and one Abreu hasn't done with consistency since 2015. He once again looks like the hitting machine he was for most of his first two seasons and the final two months of 2016.

Abreu is on pace to hit 36 home runs this season, which would match his 2014 total. His current wRC+ of 138 is his highest since he finished 2014 at 167.

Last season, Abreu didn't hit his 10th home run until June 18. He hit his 11th homer on June 23 and then didn't hit another until August 4. That stretch raised myriad questions both inside the organization and externally about whether or not Abreu would return to prominence as a hitter. Perhaps inspired by the August arrival of his son, Dariel, Abreu finished 2016 with a flurry, hitting .340/.402/.572 with 14 home runs in his final 241 plate appearances.

General manager Rick Hahn said last September that the stretch was important for White Sox evaluators to see.

"It certainly makes you more confident as you see him over the last six weeks, projecting out that he's going to be that same player that he was for the first two years of his career," Hahn said. "Earlier, when he was scuffling, you looked at some of the things he was doing from his approach or some of the mechanical issues he might have been having and you felt confident he was going to be able to get back. But in all candor, you like seeing the performance match what you're projecting and we've certainly seen that over the last six weeks."

The White Sox offense has benefitted from Abreu's leap back into prominence. The team has averaged 4.53 runs per game this season and is 9th in the American League with 204 runs scored and 17th overall in the majors. But the increase in offense still hasn't helped the White Sox improve in the standings. While Abreu is glad to be on the roll he is, he'd prefer if his team is along for the ride.

"We're are passing through a tough moment, a rough stretch," Abreu said. "For me as I've always said the team is first. I want to thank God for how I've performed through this rough stretch. But it's not something makes me feel happy because we didn't win as many games as we wanted to win. It's tough."

Has Jose Quintana's slow start to the season affected his potential trade value?

Has Jose Quintana's slow start to the season affected his potential trade value?

 

Jose Quintana has not started his 2017 campaign as many White Sox fans had hoped or expected.
 
Through nine games the 2016 All Star has posted just two wins and watched his ERA climb to 3.92 after Wednesday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. 
 
This past offseason, Quintana was frequently mentioned as a possible trade piece for the White Sox who if moved might have brought in other key pieces for the retooling South Siders, much like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton did. 

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
 
Have Quintana’s early season struggles impacted his trade value?
 
White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti weighed in while appearing on Wednesday’s edition of SportsTalk Live.
 
“Somebody's trade value isn’t contingent necessarily on what he’s doing right now,” Benetti said. “I mean general managers are smart enough to know Jose Quintana is worth X over the course of time and a lot of what trade value has to do with, is what other teams need. So as injuries continue to pile up to other pitchers, if we’re talking about the value of a starting pitcher, the market has as much to do with that as his performance in one specific game.” 
 
Listen to what else Benetti had to say in the video above.