Bill Skowron, long-time Yankee all-star first baseman has died. He was 81.
I remember him as a huge guy, who played football at Purdue before becoming a baseball star. The fact is that he was 5-11, 195 in his prime. Compiled decent career numbers: .282 career BA, 211 HRs 888 RBIs in 14 seasons. Played in six all-star games and eight World Series -- seven with the Yankees and one AGAINST the Yankees as a member of th 1963 LA Dodgers (he hit .385 in that four-game sweep). Hit a grand slam in Game 7 of the 1957 World Series to help beat the Dodgers in that one.
Very good player, obviously, but bothered by injuries -- the Yankees nicknamed him "The Glass Moose" because he was always pulling muscles, plus he had a chronic back problem. HJe was also hurt by his ballpark -- as a right-hand pull hitter in the pre-renovated Yankee Stadium, he lost a bunch of HRs in Death Valley. For his career, he hit 85 HRs at home and 125 on he road.
A big part of my youth -- I'll never forget the Boyer-Kubek-Richardson-Skowron infield.
BTW, the game 7 granny was in 1956. The Yankees lost the '57 series.
had a chance to meet him (and Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford) at Mickey Mantle's charity golf tournament many years ago. I don't remember much, but I remember him taking time to actually play catch with me for a few minutes which made my year (even though, at the time, I had no idea who he was).
My Quick Smells Like French Toast.
Unfortunately, he was a little too dazzled by the bright lights of Broadway. He wasted a lot of his talent chasing the babes. The appointment of Johnny Keane as manager after 1964 really hurt Pepitone's career -- the two did not see eye to eye. Pepitone lost a lot of zest for the game. His numbers were also a bit deflated by the era (remember he played at a time when only one player in the AL hit better than .290 ... Yaz won the batting title at .301). Even though he didn't become the stud everybody thought he should be, he was better than his career average (.258) suggests.
In the end, his career did not match Skowron's, but I don't think comparisons are a mismatch. Skowron was a slightly better offensive player and a more consistent player for his career. Pepitone was a better defensive player. They were both key supporting players on some great Yankee teams -- Skowron had the fortune to play most of his career with Mantle, Berra and Ford. Pepitone's first two years -- when Mantle and Ford and Howard (a great player for a short time) were still great players -- Pep was a key supporting player championship teams. When Mantle, Ford and Howard dropped off, Pepitone wasn't great enought to fill the void ... but I suspect, Skowron couldn't have done it either.
When I was playing as a kid, my permanent baseball positions became pitcher and first base. I wanted a first-basemen's mitt, so Poppa Turk borrowed one from a friend at work. It was an autographed "Moose Shannon" model and was obviously older than I was, so I wondered who the heck he was. My dad pointed out that it was actually "Skowron." I had actually heard of him, as a key player on the 1960 Yankees in all those stories about Maz and his Game 7 dinger (Let's go Bucs!), and the glove served its purpose for a few years until I gave it back to my dad's friend. (Ironically enough, I developed a rep as a good defensive player with that glove. However, the rest of my game as a slow, throws-left, bats-right, good-eye, line-drive hitter with no power doomed my "career" such as it was - where was the "Moneyball" era when I needed it?).
Fast forward a few decades, and one of my young Turks is starting to play a bit of first on the middle school team (he also catches and plays some third). He's started pestering me that he needs his own first basemen's glove. One of the other kids has one he can use, but he tells me it's an old piece of crap. I've told him a good worker never blames his tools, and to put it on his Christmas list, and we'll see. Now I'll have to ask him if it's an autographed model. I doubt it's a Moose Skowron, but maybe it's a Don Mattingly... (or Willie Stargell, even better...)
As for Moose and Pep and the Yankees, maybe it's time to re-read Ball Four sometime this summer...
Last edited by Turk; 04-29-2012 at 11:38 AM.
"We are men of action, lies do not become us."
Another one of my childhood imprints.
I read a great story about Skrowon, somewhere. He was very proud to be a Yankee. The story goes that every morning he would get up, look in the mirror and say "I'm Bill Skowron and I'm a New York Yankee."
By all accounts, the trade to L.A. just devastated him.
RIP Moose. Most of your career was before I was a cognizant Yankee fan (my first game at the Stadium was 1961, when I was 7), but thanks for all you did.
I never did take a shine to Joe Pepitone (whose last name I changed to Pepish..), or to Tommy Trash, er, Tresh, either. Too many performance failures in 1964 and after (when they collapsed and stunk) in 1965, 66 and 67.
I understand your distain for Joe Pepitone -- few players have squandered their talent so shamelessly. As I noted earlier in this thread, he was on an early Hall of Fame track, but he threw it away to party and to pout because he didn't like the Yankees straightlaced management. Boo-hoo ...
But Tresh was a different story. He was the son of a former big league catcher (Mike Tresh) and was a tough,. hard-nosed and hard-working player.
In 1962 -- at age 23 -- he was an all-star. He not only won rookie of the year (by a mile), he was No. 12 in the MVP voting,. He hit .283 with 20 HR and 83 RBIs, filling in at SS for most of the season while Kubek was in the Army, then moving to leftfield.
He followed that up with solid seasons in '63 and '64 -- he was the ultimate utility player, filling in a centerfield for the injured Mandle, at short for the banged up Kubek and in left when needed. His averages don't look like much, but remember, that was the era when the pitchers were starting to dominate. He continued to have power with 51 home runs in the two seasons as the Yankees won the pennant each year. He was an all-star for the second time in '63 and finished 11th in the MVP vote.
In 1965 -- the first year of the Yankee collapse, Tresh was the team's best player. He hit .279 with 26 HRs and 74 RBIs -- which again may sound modest, but he was in the top 10 in batting average and HRs (fifth actually in HRs). According to WAR (a stat I'm a little wary of), he was the 10th most valuable player in the AL. He made the all-star game again and was ninth in the MVP vote for a team that finished under .500 He won a gold glove in the outfield (hard for a leftfielder to do in that era, when they usually picked three CFs or maybe a RF with a great arm).
Obviously, no complaints so far -- Tresh was 26 years old and one of the best -- and most-respected -- players in baseball.
What happened next was a tragedy.
In the spring of 1966, Tresh tore up a knee. It might have responded to surgery, but that would have sidelined the Yankees best player for at least half, maybe all of the season. And with the once-great franchise slipping quickly (from 77-85 in 1965, then would drop to 77-89 -- dead last in the AL -- in 1966), management was desperate to keep Tresh in the lineup. They downplayed his injury, rushed him back on the field. Tresh played 151 games and while his average dropped to .233 (again, remember the era) he continued to have power (a career high 27 HRs, ninth in the AL).
But he was crippled and never the same player after playing with his bad knee in '66. His batting declined rapidly and by '69 he was traded to Detroit. He finished up as a spot player there.
The Yankees had a lot of bad actors in the mid- and late 1960s ... but Tommy Tresh wasn't one of them. He deserves better than to be smeared as "Tommy Trash" He's a guy who literally played himself into a cripple to help the team. He'll always been one of my favorite Yankees -- just as I'll always despise the cowardly management types -- Ralph Houk, this means you! -- who encouraged/forced valuable players to destroy themselves by playing with crippling injuries. Tresh in not the only player they threw away in that era -- Jim Bouton was the best young righthander in baseball in 1963-64, but he was done at age 26 after they forced him to pitch with a sore arn in 1965 ... and Roger Maris' case was the worst -- the Yankees actually lied to him about the severity of his wrist injury and smeared him as a malingerer when he tried to stay out of the lineup. It turned out he had bone chips and playing with the wrist led to severed tendons that ended his career as a power hitter.
I have new respect for Tommy Tresh.
I undestand your frustration with the mid-1960s Yankees. I was a little luckier -- I became a fan in 1959 and was able to revel in the five straight pennants from 1960-64. Of course, that made the 1965 slide and the 1966 collapse that much harder to swallow.
The 1968 season is interesting. I keep mentioning it, but people need to understand that '68 was the pinnacle of pitching dominance- -- the Year of the Pitcher. That was the year Yaz won the AL batting title with a .301 average (second place was .290). Bert Campaneris led the league with 177 hits and only three players hit more than 29 home runs. It was the return of the deadball era. Of course, it was the year McLain won 31 games and Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA and Don Drysdale had about a million scoreless innings in a row, but the pitching/hitting balance got so out of whack that in the offseason they lowered the mounds and shrunk the strike zone to restore some balance to the game.
I bring this up because the decline in offense led some dumb owners -- including the guys running the Yankees -- to make some dumb moves. It's kind of like Billy Beane's discovery on OBP and OPS and how he later used his early adoption of the modern stats to snooker the rest of the league for a while. In the mid-60s, too many owners looked at the old stats -- batting average HRs and RBIs -- without considering context.
Allow me to offer an example -- Mickey Mantle in 1968. It was his last yea and his knees were terrible and he had to play first base and he hit .237 and just 18 home runs. He was washed up, right?
Well, he also had a .385 OBP that year and a .782 OPS. He had the third best OBP in the American League and the ninth best OPS. His 18 home runs were the most on the Yankee team. He was still the team's most effective offensive player.
The misperception of Mantle's decline didn't really hurt -- he quit because of his knees, not his batting. But the same kind of misperception led to some bad mistakes. I guess the worst was the misjudgement of Clete Boyer -- who rivaled Brooks Robinson as the best defensive third baseman in baseball. Boyer had always been perceived as a bad hitter and indeed, in his early years he was. But he was getting better -- it's just that his improvement coincided with the decline in offense in the league. In 65 and 66 he hit .251 and .240 with 18 and 14 home runs. These were't bad numbers -- in fact his OPS plus was over 100 both years (meaning he was a better than average AL hitter). A slightly better than average hitter and one of the two best defensive 3rd basemen in the game? That should have been a no-brainer ... but the Yankees traded him to Atlanta, saying they couldn't carry his weak bat in the lineup! he hit 26 home runs in his first year in Alanta.
Horace Clarke is another victim of the misperception. I've heard other Yankee fans moan about the double play combo of Michael and Clarke. Well, Gene Michael ws a terrible SS. But Clarke was actually a pretty good player at second base -- in many ways a better second baseman than the much revered Bobby Richardson. In a similar number of career games, Clarke had a better career OPS-plus (83 to 77), a greater range factor at second (5.54 ro 4.91), a better career fielding percentage (.983 to .979) and was a far better baserunner. Richardson was better at turning the double play. Clarke's career WAR (again, a stat I'm wary of) is almost twice that of Richardson. Yet, in Yankee lore, Clarke is a disaster and Richardson a hero (which just goes to support my theory that we greatly overrate average players on great teams, while we greatly underrate average players on bad teams).
Anyway, back to 1968 -- that was the first year Roy White became a regular in the OF. He would still be there when the team returned to the top in the mid1970s. Great potching staff -- Mel Stottlemyre was a legitimate ace, while Stan Bahnsen and Fritz Peterson (later involved in the most bizarre trade in baseball history) were very good starters. Too bad that Al Downing had thrown his arm out. Plus, too many holes in the everyday lineup -- Jake Gibbs was a disaster at catcher, Michael was a zero at SS and Tresh was played out. But rightfield was even worse with Andy Kosco and Bill Robinson (the guy NY got for Boyer) sharing the job. The '68 Yanks did have a future Hall of Famer at third, but Bobby Cox will go in as a manager and not a third baseman.
To me, he climb back to the top started the next year, hen rookie Bobby Murcer (a much underratd star) arrived to play rightfield and draftee Thurman Munson arrived late in the season to debut at catcher. It wouldn't be an easy fix, but with White, Murcer and Munson on board, that was the first step back to the top.
Murcer came up as a shortstop, like another Oklahoma slugger he was always compared to! Then they switched him to the outfield after he couldn't field (like the other OK guy - Mickey Mantle!) They also had another shortstop they converted to the OF, I'm thinking it was 1969, Jerry Kinney. Kinney made the best catch I ever saw at the Stadium - a ball hit into death valley - left center field, when it was still 461 feet to the wall. Kinney was positioned at a short CF depth straight away, and made a running backhanded catch near the warning track about 450 ft. from the plate.
And let's not forget their 1967 #1 pick in the MLB draft, Ronnie Blomberg. When he finally made it to the bigs, he had the quickest, most explosive bat I ever saw. He just didn't make contact often enough... He hit a home run into the upper deck in right field, and I swear it was the hardest hit ball I ever saw - it got into the upper deck faster than any other ball I saw hit.
Two comments, one personal, and one correction.
The correction is that it would be Lloyd Bridges sniffing glue, not Leslie Neilsen.
Second, I was at that doubleheader against Detroit in August when Rocky Colavito was the winning pitcher. First game that I attended for which I can remember details. (I was eight; I had attended games at the Polo Grounds and Shea, and one game at old Yankee Stadium before, but couldn't tell you anything about them.)
Checking BaseballReference.com, the Yanks were down 5-1, which in '68 was a lot. The Yankees had three or four double headers in a week thanks to rainouts, so they brought in Rocky. In his last season, he didn't have much left at bat, but still had his great arm. After the two+ innings, the Yanks took the lead, and they brought in Dooley Womack to save the game. I still think Rocky was a better pitcher than Dooley!
Roy White, on the other hand, is underrated. Bill James ranked him higher than Jim Rice in his last Historical Baseball Abstract in 2000. Murcer, also ranked highly by James, played center his first few years before being moved to right for Elliott Maddox. (not Garry, but almost fielded like him.)
You're right to note the similarities between Murcer and that other shortstop-turned-outfielder from Oklahoma. I think that comparison has really hurt the perception of Murcer. He was compared to Mantle and when he didn't turn out that good, he was dismissed as a great player. But he was a great player -- just not quite as good as the Mick.
It also comes back to my point about players being overrated and underrated based on the teams they played on. Murcer was a very good player on some mediocre teams. He was better than Heinrich or Bauer or Maris, who had good years for some great teams.
2. Very cool!
3. You're right about them having 3 double headers in 4 days. I went to the Monday or Tuesday double header, and short stop Gene (Stick) Michael was the (desperation) starting pitcher in the first game. I just checked the stats online http://www.baseball-almanac.com/play...hp?p=michage01 and it shows him pitching 3 innings but not starting the game. I respectfully disagree with that as I knew he was listed as the starting pitcher before we went to the game, and he did in fact start the game. Of course, I was 14 so that was a couple of years ago...
Can you imagine them having that many games/double headers today and the players' union allowing it? I think not. Plus, they only charged one admission ($4 for a field level box seat) for both games! None of this day/night double header with two separate admission charges! I think the first double header was in the original schedule. I loved going to double headers! The last one I went to was on June 8th, 1969 - Mickey Mantle day, when they retired his jersey! That place was packed, and we gave the longest Standing O I can ever remember! Here's his web site; some interesting and memorable stuff here! http://www.mickeymantle.com/
Last edited by OZZIE4DUKE; 05-01-2012 at 09:39 AM.
Ah, Bill James and statistics.
All I can tell you is that anyone who saw Bobby Murcer and Andre Dawson play in person dozens of times as I did would fall down laughing at the notion that Murcer was the better player. Just preposterous.
Let's see: Dawson had a marginally better batting average, .279 vs .277; 438 home runs vs. 252 for Murcer; 1591 rbi vs. 1043 for Murcer; 157 assists vs. 119 for Murcer (guys gave up running against Dawson or it would've been a wider gap);
Dawson stole 314 bases, was successful 74% of the time; Murcer stole 127, successful 63% of the time. Dawson won five Gold Gloves, Murcer two.
Dawson is in the Hall of Fame. To my knowledge, Murcer was never close.
Sure, Murcer had to fight the Micky Mantle aura thing, no disputing that. But ANY serious baseball observer who watched those guys over the years would take Dawson over Murcer every day of the week.
Dawson had more power, much better footspeed, was a better fielder with a better arm.
Was Murcer better at anything?