Yankee great Moose Skowron died a few weeks ago. Really good ballplayer on really great teams with a really great nickname. I was too young to see him play, though I remember hearing snatches of the 1962 World Series in kindergarten (hard to imagine today, the World Series watched and heard through snippets here and there, at school, work, in transit). This did not stop me, however, from growing up very aware of who he was and how he fit in – seamlessly – with the Yankee dynasty of the ’50’s and early ’60’s. By the time I was ten, the Red Sox just becoming relevant again, I knew that Moose was the steady, consistent, Yankee first baseman for eight seasons – in which he played in seven World Series. And was absolutely a stone-cold killer clutch hitter.
All these facts I learned from my Yankee loving father, a man who embodied the line that rooting for the New York Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel.(Bank of America today?) I, of course, grew up to hate the Yankees, reveled when they were so awful through elementary and junior high, got a little nervous in high school when they started inching up on the Sox and Orioles (I loved those Oriole teams), went into full panic mode in college in ’76 when Chambliss hit the homer, was polished off in ’78 even though I professed to be a Dodger (read The Boys of Summer, had no choice) and Oriole fan, managed to survive until the inevitable fall of the ‘Steinbrenner-who-needs-a-farm-system’ built Yankees and remained safe until Joe Torre showed up. (Irony- one of my favorite childhood players, we were all awed by a guy who could catch, play third, and win a MVP.)
What I did not learn about Moose in my home was that he was traded to the Dodger’s in ’63, was hurt, had a miserable regular season, ended up – on the backs of Drysdale, Koufax, Maury Wills, and Tommy Davis – in his eighth World Series in nine seasons and tore the Yankees apart. For my father (and almost every Yankee fan I’ve ever met, of any generation) Moose ceased to exist the moment he no longer wore pin-stripes. Win a MVP, Gold Glove, hit .385 in the Series against the Yankees, cure cancer, be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – if it’s accomplished outside the Bronx, it does not count or matter.
I read Peter Golenbock‘s Dynasty: The New York Yankees 1949-1964 (one of the great baseball books) in college and really liked Moose. Which completely destroyed several of my fervently held , decade old conceptions about the man and player.
For back in ’67, while Moose was finishing up his career with the Angels – who were intimately involved in the Sox winning the pennant – I, shades of things to come, invented a back story for the Moose who by then had been held up for the almost ten years of my life as a paragon of efficient, ruthless, cold-blooded, joyless, success.
It was simple and made complete sense – Bill ‘Moose’ Skowron, All-Star first baseman, was, in fact, the same Moose who had beat on Archie, annoyed Veronica and Betty (Veronica, by the way – Mary Ann and Betty Ruble, just to be thorough), and alternated between blind obedience and outright hostility to Reggie. He had grown up to join the most famous gang of bullies in America outside the Gambino family – with a far better winning percentage.
Not to be, though, reality was not very lyrical here – Moose was 5’11”, 195, much less a moose than Bullwinkle; was a gentle, nice guy; got the nickname as a kid when he got a hair cut that left him pretty much bald and the neighborhood started calling him Mussolini (it was the ’30’s folks).
So no Archie connection, another childhood myth shattered, self-created as it may have been . . . although, wasn’t Reggie’s last name Mantle?