Monday, April 30, 2012

RIP Moose Skowron

As many of you know already, former Dodger Moose Skowron died this past Friday.  Although he didn't wear Dodger Blue for a very long time (only the 1963 season) he did have a huge impact on the team.  He was traded to the Dodgers by the Yankees and proceeded to have a dismal season at the plate, but came alive during the World Series against the Yankees.  He batted .385 with a home run as the Dodgers swept the Yanks in 4 games.

Anyway, this morning I received the below obituary on Moose Skowron from Raymond Rolak with instructions that it would be OK to reprint it.  Since I failed to find a copy of it online I figured I should post it up in its entirety.  Mr. Rolak is a past Chariman of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame and a veteran broadcaster.

By Raymond Rolak
Past Chairman of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame and veteran sports broadcaster
Stan Musial and Moose Skowron.
New York--  Bill “Moose” Skowron, 81, passed recently after a lifetime connected with baseball. He professed a love for his hometown of Chicago and his Polish heritage. Skowron, who had been ailing, suffered from congestive heart failure complicated by lung cancer. He had been a patient at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

“There weren’t many better guys than Moose,” said former teammate Yogi Berra. “He was a dear friend and a great team man and a darn good ballplayer, too.” Most recently Skowron had been a community ambassador for the Chicago White Sox.

When the announcement of Skowron’s passing came, the Yankees remembered their former first baseman before they took on the Detroit Tigers in their scheduled games at Yankee Stadium. “He was great to be around,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Very energetic, went to some of the fantasy camps we put on, we’d see him every year we went to Chicago. He was so very popular at the old-timers games here. He had a real zest for life. Loved the game, (he) loved to talk about the game.”

Everyone affectionately knew him as Moose and he was known for his great baseball stories along with the reputations of being one of the best clutch hitters of all time. He had tremendous success in the post season, earning five World Series rings, four with the New York Yankees and one with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His one year stint with the Dodgers brought him a new kind of notoriety. “After we won the ‘63’ Series a group of us were brought out to Las Vegas for a week of stage performances. We had singing, skits and jokes for a week, two shows a night, with big crowds,” he had told me in a 2005 interview. Skowron was also featured in a “Mr. Ed” television episode with Leo Durocher and was highlighted or appeared eight times on “The Ed Sullivan Show” national telecasts.

Skowron starred with the Yankees from 1954 to 1962 before playing with the Dodgers, White Sox, Angels and the expansion Washington Senators. He was an All-Star pick in six of his 14 major league career seasons.

Another teammate and NPASHF inductee (1982), Toney Kubek, spoke fondly of Skowron, “Casey Stengel had us room together on the road. Stengel wanted me with a winner, with a mentor who was a consummate professional and knew how to win championships. And that’s what Moose was.” Kubek who had a second career as a national baseball broadcaster added, “Moose ate the same pregame meal everyday when we were on the road. He started with a salad and then a hamburger-steak smothered in onions and finished with a small chocolate ice cream-sundae. I don’t know how he did that but it never varied,” said the smiling Kubek.

Injuries took a toll on Skowron’s statistics. In 1955 he was plagued by a torn thigh muscle and was out for more than 40 games. In 1957 he missed 30 games after damaging his back lifting an air conditioner. The collision he had with Coot Veal of the Tiger’s at first base in 1959 broke his arm and he was out for more than half the season.

As a story teller, Skowron was the best and he always tried to put an optimistic spin on past events. He had told me about his struggles to stay in the lineup. This was the advice he shared with me that he had received from Wally Pipp, a Yankee first baseman of days gone by.

Skowron recalled, “I met Pipp at an Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium. “Don’t ever get a headache or catch a cold. I got a headache once and took a day off and never played again. A guy named Lou Gehrig took my place.” After sharing this with me, Skowron waited for the laugh, “I made sure from that day on to do everything I could to remain healthy.”

Born William Joseph Skowron in Chicago with humble upbringings he went to Purdue on a football scholarship. He signed with the Yankees in 1950 after hitting .500 in his sophomore Big Ten baseball season. He played shortstop for Purdue. His college baseball coach at Purdue was also an assistant football coach, Hank Stram (NPASHF 1985). He had a spectacular season as Minor League Player of the Year in 1952 for the Triple-A Kansas City Blues but didn’t crack the Yankees lineup until 1954.

Richard Lally wrote in the book, “Bombers: An Oral History of the New York Yankees” some reflections from Frank Lary, the Detroit Tigers’ pitcher known as the Yankee Killer. “Skowron was a smart hitter, went with the pitch, thought along with the pitcher, and could hit the long ball the other way as hard as anyone. And Moose was underrated as a fielder at first base. He had real soft hands and could dig tough chances out of the dirt.” What many didn’t know was that the Yankees had paid for dance lessons in the 1952 off-season for Skowron to get his footwork faster as he transitioned from an outfielder to a great fielding first baseman.

Another former teammate Ralph Terry said, “Moose was a Yankee all the way. He was a true professional who always worked hard and took the game as serious business. I am proud to have been able to call him a good friend. I remember during spring training when I was 18; he took me for my first pizza-pie.”

It was Chicago that loved him the most. He was a native son. I shaved four times the night I went to dinner with Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio,” said Moose. He told the story smiling with a big grin so many times when he was speaking in front of a fraternal group or at a youth sports banquet.

After his playing days, Skowron stayed involved in baseball, and was in great demand as a speaker recalling his storied days of Yankee experiences. Some of his most appreciative audiences were present day major league players. Also in his later years, sometimes at White Sox games he would call bingo in Polish on the right field patio porch at U.S. Cellular Field.

Wally Ozog, former Polish Roman Catholic Union of America National President remembered Skowron as a gentle ambassador for the PRCUA. “Skowron went to the old Archbishop Weber High School in Chicago, class of 1948 and excelled in football and basketball. They didn’t have a baseball team then. Edward Dykla who had taught at Weber got him enrolled with the PRCUA,” said Ozog. “Moose always was a great help with any request and was a regular at Polish Night at old Comisky Park.”

Native Detroiter and famed White Sox pitcher Billy Pierce said, “Moose was a champion in the game of life. He will be sorely missed.” He was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.

Skowron is survived by his wife Lorraine “Cookie,” and adult children Lynette, Greg and Steve along with four grand-children. He has one surviving brother, Edward. Visitation was at the Colonial-Wojciechowski Funeral Home in Niles, Illinois. A Requiem Mass of Resurrection was held at the Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago.

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