Baseball lost a great example Friday. Bill "Moose" Skowron, a six-time All-Star with the New York Yankees and a beloved member of the Chicago White Sox, died at age 81. He had been battling lung cancer.
Moose was a friendly and funny man with a buzz haircut and a squeaky, Chicago-accented voice who could tell legendary stories about everyone from Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin to Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.
Skowron played in seven World Series as a first baseman with the Yankees during one of their golden eras. He wasn't quite as good, or as famous, as Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, but he was just as much of a Yankee as all of them.
And Skowron seemed just as comfortable going against the Empire. After getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he helped beat the Yanks with a great World Series in 1963. And, despite Skowron's history in New York, he managed to become one of the most beloved White Sox players after getting traded to his hometown team in 1964. That was Skowron, fitting in wherever he went.
Here's what Yankees teammate Tony Kubek said about him in a feature published in the Chicago Tribune last year:
"Moose was all about winning and toughness and coming through in the clutch, and that team consistently did it. Truthfully, if Moose had played with anyone else in his prime and batted fourth where he should have, instead of fifth or sixth, he'd be in the Hall of Fame."
Of course, it's a funny story of how he came to be called "Moose."
Friends gave him the nickname not because of a hulking frame (he stood about 6-foot-1 but weighed just under 200 pounds — kind of average) but instead because his hairdo supposedly made him look like Italy's Benito Mussolini. Poor kid. No doubt, he still had that haircut the day he died.
He attended Purdue and played baseball for coach ... Hank Stram?
"Yes, that Hank Stram," Skowron said. "He was a football assistant too. But when the Yankees offered me $25,000 to sign after my sophomore year, he said, 'Moose, forget the matriculation. Take the money and get out of here.' "
Skowron hit .282/.332/.459 with 211 career homers from 1954 to 1967, numbers no doubt muted by the home ballparks in which he played that were tough on right-handed power hitters.
After his playing career, Skowron became a fixture at Old Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium, and with the White Sox as a coach and the best fan liaison a team could ask for. If a fan, or anyone else, came upon Moose, a smile and a story would inevitably result. Baseball will miss him.