Moose Skowron: The Merry All-Time World Series Great
The list of the top ten Home Run hitters in World Series history is fascinating, but not for the reasons you’d think.
Mickey Mantle still leads (and almost certainly will; Albert Pujols trails him by 14, cluster-hitter Nellie Cruz trails him by 15, and Alex Rodriguez trails him by 17). Babe Ruth (15) and Yogi Berra (12) follow. Duke Snider is fourth with 11, Lou Gehrig and Reggie Jackson tied for fifth at 10. The rest of the top ten are three men tied with eight homers each: Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, and Moose Skowron.
Bill “Moose” Skowron died today after a fight with cancer. He was 81. He was one of the most appreciated, most fun, most filter-free guys in baseball history (“Keith Olbermann! You look great! But, Jeez, ya put on a little weight, huh?”). For the last 40 years he had gradually become the stuff of anecdotal legend, roaming the various parks of the White Sox and dropping into almost anybody’s broadcast booth and inevitably being asked about the stash of Mantle-signed baseballs he supposedly kept locked away somewhere (“Oh, now don’t start on me about that again, Sheesh, I’m not talkin’ about that again”).
What got lost in all this merriment – and that’s the word for it, Bill Skowron was almost unstoppably merry – was that he was a helluva first baseman, mostly for the New York Yankees. And unless somebody gets on the stick, he is going to be in the top ten in all-time World Series home runs for quite awhile. Because while you may or may not be able to prove that there is such a thing as clutch hitting, Moose Skowron played in 39 World Series games, got 39 hits, hit his eight homers, and drove in 29 runs. He slugged .519, hit two homers in the same Series in two different years, and in the dramatic 7th Game in 1958, with the Yankees having just broken a 2-2 tie in the 8th Inning, he hit a two-out three-run job to kill off the Braves and Lew Burdette (who had only won the Series from the year before by pitching three victories for Milwaukee).
To throw more numbers at you:
Most Career World Series RBI
1. Mickey Mantle 40
2. Yogi Berra 39
3. Lou Gehrig 35
4. Babe Ruth 33
5. Joe DiMaggio 30
6. Bill Skowron 29
Something else to consider about this cascade of stats. Moose would be the first person to tell you he was no Mickey Mantle and certainly no Babe Ruth. But he put up World Series numbers that approach both of them, with far fewer opportunities. In his first three Series, Skowron was platooned by Casey Stengel. He only batted four times in the ’57 Classic.
Skowron only had 142 World Series plate appearances. Mantle had 273, Berra 295, DiMaggio 220. Mantle homered once every 15.2 ups, Skowron once every 17.75, Berra once every 24.6, DiMaggio once every 27.5.
The RBI rate is even more impressive. Rewrite that list based on plate appearances (lower is better), with the caveat that a tack-on Grand Slam, like the Moose hit in Game 7 in 1956, can go a long way.
Plate Appearances Per World Series RBI:
1. Gehrig 4.0
2. Skowron 4.9
3. Ruth 5.0
4. Mantle 6.8
5. DiMaggio 7.3
6. Berra 7.6
Again, Bill’s explanation for this was pretty easy (“I was real lucky”). In point of fact, he produced in this way even though, almost invariably, Mantle, Berra, and later Maris, were batting ahead of him. As often as he might have added tack-on runs, he was probably much more often coming up after one of the epic sluggers had cleaned off the bases. He hit when it counted.
But ultimately, Moose (and although he went to Purdue on a football scholarship he was 5’11” 195 – the “Moose” came from a haircut that made the childhood Bill look like the Italian dictator Mussolini) was just endless good fun. I had the great luck to be invited by Tony Kubek to join his family at the 2009 Hall of Fame inductions. Kubek’s first roomate was Skowron, and they were proud enough of their Polish heritage that Skowron introduced the rookie Kubek to a fellow countryman, Stan Musial to get some batting tips. Moose was sitting next to be as Kubek got up to begin his acceptance of his entry into the Broadcasters’ wing. Kubek smiled towards us and said “I have to start with a story about my first year in the majors, and my first roomie, Moose Skowron, and when he introduced me to Stan Musial.”
Moose buried his head in his hands. “Oh, Jeez, Tony, don’t tell that story,” he muttered, “Jeez, don’t tell that story!” As the MLB Network cameraman raced towards us to get a reaction shot, Bill muttered again, “Keith, can’t you do something to stop this? You’re on tv, ain’t ya?” When I pointed out that I was part Polish, too, Bill sat upright and said “You’re one of us? Well, I guess that means you can’t. I’ll just have to sit here and take this.”
I’m sorry for your loss.
Nicest man. If there was a White Sox event, Moose was there. He’ll be missed.
Chase Utley is one home run away from cracking the top 10. His five homers in the ’09 Series went almost completely unacknowledged by the media.
This is undoubtedly the best “Feel-Good Obituary Story for a Player of Whom Which I’d Never Heard” in the history of the genre. Thanks for sharing this, Keith. I don’t know if you’re a fan of Marty Lurie, but this is right up his alley – and it’s the kind of thing I could listen to (or read) for hours. In fact, it’s right up any baseball fan’s alley, come to think of it. Thanks again. -RGR
Moose was a neighbor of mine and I always enjoyed going over to his house and talking our favorite teams: the White Sox and the Yankees. He was such a generous man and an amazing story teller. Keith is right though—he definitely had no filter! One of my favorite stories he had was touching Mayilyn Monroe’s boobs—that he loved to tell me about in front of his wife, Cookie! Overall Moose was an amazing man who will surely be missed in the baseball world and in the hearts of those who had the pleasure of knowing him.
Thanks for the great post about a very underrated player. Moose holds a somewhat special spot in baseball lore with my family as he and my grandfather got to be good friends when they both worked as Hormel meat salesmen in Austin, Minnesota in the 50’s when Moose was there during his offseason. The amount of Moose memorabilia we’ve got is endless. Used to love having my grandfather relive the stories Moose used to tell him. Really what I think helped fuel my passion for the sport. Quite sad to hear of his passing.
I became a Dodger fan in ’63. Moose Skowron was one of my first baseball cards. When these legends pass, the beauty of this game is self-evident. Thanks Keith for sharing the #s and the stories.
My father-in-law and Moose were cousins. So sorry for your loss. It just so happens that we got a new Yorkie puppy a couple of weeks ago and named him after Moose. So Moose Skowron lives on and continues to bring joy to us Yankee fans.
Thank you, Keith, for introducing me to Mr. Merry Moose Skowron. I had not heard of him before and he is truly baseball treasure! I love learning from the stats and that plate appearances chart really helped me to see what a wow factor this champ was! Your blog always makes me miss my dad. He loved baseball so much and would be so proud of me for finally learning so much about this sport! On a Saturday morning when I watched the news clip of a player throwing a bat at an ump, my frown turned upside down upon reading this happy story! I agree with R.G. It is rare to read a “feel-good obituary”…but somehow you made us all merry with his memory! Thanks for bringing him to life for those of us who did not have the pleasure to know him or see him play. Sorry for your (our) loss, sir.
Great to see the TV announcers did a tribute to Mr. Moose today during the Yankees / Tigers game. They had a wonderful little graphic that showed his pic (probably his baseball card!) and a few of his stats. They spoke highly of him, just like you did. Neat.
Keith, I found this blog searching for an NPR broadcast with Moose, telling the story about Yogi and a few other players (not Mickey) going out to dinner DiMaggio and Marilyn at spring training in ’61 or ’62. I’m 69 and the late ’50s & early ’60s Yankees were my team. I’ve been lucky and met Mickey, Yogi, Whitey, Rizzuto, Jerry Coleman and a few others over the years, but when I met Moose it was special. Through work I got lucky and took my wife to the 2008 Old Timer’s Day, the last one at the old Yankee Stadium. Canon was the sponsor and had guests like us on the warning track several hours before the festivities were to begin to meet Yankees of all generations, all in uniform. It was like a Yankee version of “Field of Dreams.” You were able to take pictures, shake hands and say hello. No autographs. Moose was one of the first we met, we shook hands, I introduced him to my wife and he was a smiling and friendly as could be. After I took the first picture I asked him if I could take a picture of the World Series ring he was wearing. Typical of Moose he said, “Sure! Ya wanna buy it? I have four more just like it back home.” The three of us laughed. Heck of a nice guy.