One of the felicities of my position as an armchair baseball guy is that sometimes I can get out of the armchair and talk to my heroes.
Since the mid-1990s, I’ve made it a point to get a press credential for every Yankees Old-Timers Day and talk to the players. In that capacity, I’ve gotten to talk to some great players who are now gone: Bob Feller (what he was doing there I don’t know, but he was, so I did), Enos Slaughter (I’m pretty sure I was his last interview), Hank Bauer, and yes, Moose Skowron.
Skowron was always a terrifically nice man, loved to tell stories of his career and had the same haircut he brought to the big leagues in 1954. There are several fascinating “might have beens” in his career:
He hit .341/.411/.614 at Triple-A in 1952 and could have been in the majors that year or the next, but the Yankees were stacked at first base and the outfield, so, though ready at 21, he didn’t make his major-league debut until he was 23. He then had to battle through injuries, the Yankees’ depth and Casey Stengel’s rotating lineups to get playing time. He didn’t get into 140 games until he was 29.
Skowron was a .304 career hitter through 1960. Part of that was Stengel protecting him from tough right-handers, but even more of it was just how good a hitter he was at Yankee Stadium—a park which simply killed right-handed hitters. Skowron seems to have been less affected by that than most right-handers, hitting .296 there from 1954 to 1960, as opposed to .311 on the road.
From then on, Skowron hit only .261/.310/.416 overall. He had turned 30; age and injuries had taken their toll, and he had been dealt to other difficult offensive environments, like Dodger Stadium and Comiskey Park, just as overall offensive levels were declining.
His career didn’t have a long tail as a result. Still, he hit .294/.346/.496 for the Yankees and remains one of the 10 most valuable first basemen in team history (no doubt I will have a slideshow on this soon), and that’s an accomplishment given the company he keeps on that list.
My favorite personal interaction with Skowron was talking about some of the struggles he had on defense as a rookie. Manager Casey Stengel felt that Skowron’s footwork around the bag was poor. He hit upon a solution that seems novel, but when you think about it, it makes all kinds of sense—he sent Skowron to dancing school.
So long, Moose. I will miss seeing you stalking about Yankee Stadiums new and old once a year. Thank you for your generosity.