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.”
The Hall of Fame induction speeches are always heartfelt and always noteworthy, but rarely do they have such emotional impact as this year’s.
Had the great pleasure of joining the family of 2009 Frick Award Winner Tony Kubek on its private tour of the Hall (and lunch) and while private means private, I can share some of the artifacts and one very nice family image.
on one of the prettiest streets of the Democracy, until an update after tonight’s big soiree or tomorrow morning’s pre-induction mayhem.
Greetings from Cooperstown, New York, where baseball did not begin, but where it could conceivably end Sunday at what could easily wind up being the first-ever underwater Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies.