By Glen Sparks
Bill “Moose” Skowron swung the bat five times during his major league tryout at Comiskey Park in Chicago. He knocked at least a few pitches into the upper deck.
“I guess maybe that’s why (the New York Yankees) signed me,” Skowron said, according to a biographical article written by Joseph Wancho for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
Moose ended up playing 14 seasons in the majors (1954-67), nine for the Yankees. He belted 211 home runs and drove in 888. The six-time All-Star played on five World Series championship squads. Skowron knocked eight Series homers in 39 games. (He hit three home runs in Game 7s, including a grand-slam in 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers.)
“There weren’t many better guys than Moose,” long-time Yankee teammate and legend Yogi Berra said. “A darn good ballplayer, too.”
Born Dec. 18, 1930, in Chicago, Skowron grew up on the city’s northwest side. His dad worked for the Sanitation Department, his mom for Zenith Radio. (Supposedly, the Moose nickname goes back to Skowron’s childhood. His grandfather gave him a haircut. The kids thought it made young Bill look like Benito Mussolini, the Italian Facist dictator. Later, the name was shortened to “Moose.” Tough neighborhood.)
Skowron mulled over becoming a priest for a while during his youth. Later, his attention turned more to sports. Purdue University offered him a scholarship. Moose played varsity basketball, baseball and football his sophomore year for the Boilermakers.
The following summer, a Yankee scout saw Skowron ripping baseballs around semi-pro ball fields. He invited the burly young ballplayer to a tryout at Comiskey. As mentioned earlier, Skowron did quite well with his handful of cuts.
Originally a third baseman, Skowron learned how to play the outfield in the minor leagues. He hit .334 with 18 home runs and 76 RBI in his first pro season, 1951, for Norfolk of the Class B Piedmont League. For that, he took a league MVP trophy back home to Chicago.
The Yanks called up Moose in 1954. Manager Casey Stengel decided that first base, not the outfield, suited Skowron. That decision prompted Moose to sign up for dance lessons at the Arthur Murray Studio to improve his footwork.
Skowron put together a series of solid seasons for the Yanks. He knocked 23 home runs, drove in 90 and hit .308 in 1956 and followed that up with a similar campaign in ’57 (17-88-.304). Stengel platooned the right-handed hitting Skowron with the lefty Joe Collins at first base.
Moose took over the job fulltime in 1960. He hit behind Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in the Yankee batting order for a few seasons. Skowron cracked 26 homers in 1960, 28 in ’61 and 23 in ’62. In his 2003 Historical Baseball Abstract, author Bill James argues that playing half his game games at Yankee Stadium cost Moose plenty of home runs. In 1961, for instance, James writes that Skowron hit only 7 homers at home. In 1956, he hit six at home, 17 on the road.
The Yankees, in search of pitching, traded Skowron to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Nov. 26, 1962, for reliever Stan Williams. Moose hit just four home runs and .203 in 237 at-bats for the Dodgers in 1963. He did, however, hit one round-tripper and batted .385 (5-for-13) in the ’63 Series as L.A. beat Skowron’s former club, the Yankees. It was the fifth and final championship for Moose. (Playing ball in Hollywood offered another reward for Moose. He appeared in a 1963 episode of Mr. Ed, the t.v. show about a taking horse. The episode it titled “Leo Durocher Meets Mr. Ed.”)
Skowron played another four seasons in the majors. He even made another All-Star team, as a member of his hometown Chicago White Sox team in 1965.
Following his retirement from baseball, Skowron worked for several years in the White Sox’ community relations department. Inducted into the National Polish-American Hall of Fame in 1980, Skowron died April 27, 2012, at the age of 81.
“He was a great man,” long-time White Sox player and current manager Robin Ventura said. “He was a friend to everyone.”