Even though I was just eight years old at the time, I can still remember the sadness I felt when I learned that the Yankees had traded the “Moose” to the Dodgers after the 1962 season. He was one of my favorite Yankees. I can also remember opening a pack of baseball cards the next spring and seeing Moose’s first non-Yankee card. As shown here, he’s pictured hatless, still wearing the pinstripes with the words “Los Angeles Dodgers, first base” printed below his name. It remains one of my least favorite cards. Reflecting on that trade three and a half decades later, giving up Moose was the first step the Yankees took in the dismantling of that great Yankee team of the late fifties and early sixties. Perhaps not coincidentally, Moose’s last season in the Bronx was the last time the Yankees won a World Championship until fourteen full seasons later.
As far as Bill “Moose” Skowron was concerned, what you saw was not always what you got. Take his face for example, he looked like one of those ornery, tough-talking, short-fused Marine drill sergeants. In reality, Moose was one of the kindest, most gentle Yankees to ever play the game. Moose had a finely sculpted, muscular body. But rips, pulls, and spasms to those muscles caused Moose to spend much of his career in terrible crippling pain. Skowron was also one of the most helpful and encouraging members of the Yankee team. It was Moose who would show up at the Stadium hours early to help a teammate drill and practice his way out of a hitting or fielding slump. Another Yankee player could strike out four times in a row and still get a pat on the back and some kind words from Moose. But as nice as Moose was to everyone else he was impossibly critical and tough on himself. He could be three for three, drive in five runs and still smash a water cooler and scream obscenities at himself because he hit a ball off the end of his bat the fourth time up.
Skowron was born in Chicago on December 18, 1930. He was a star schoolboy athlete and received the nickname “Moose” from a grandfather who, for some reason, was reminded of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini when he looked at his grandson. Skowron was a two-sport athlete at Purdue University where he was signed to a Yankee contract right off campus.
Skowron became an immediate hit as a Yankee when he batted .340 in 87 games during his 1954 debut season with the parent club. Moose topped the .300 mark the next three years, also. Even though he batted right-handed, Moose had a powerful opposite field swing, perfectly suited to Yankee Stadium. His Yankee career numbers saw Moose hit 25 homeruns and drive in 100 for every 162 games he played.
In the early stages of his Yankee career, crafty and merciless Yankee GM George Weiss, exploited Moose by paying him thousands of dollars less than Skowron’s achievements on the field deserved. Finally, his Yankee team mates grew tired of seeing Skowron taken advantage of and lectured the timid and shy first baseman on the art of salary negotiation. A much better-informed Moose was then able to get Weiss to fork over more equitable amounts.
In the late fifties, a series of disabling back injuries cheated Skowron of playing time and prevented him from putting up even more impressive numbers during his Yankee career. The pain at times grew so bad, Moose could not get off a chair without assistance or even tie his own shoes. But by 1960 and 1961, Moose was healthy enough to enjoy two of his finest years as a Yankee. Together with Mantle, Maris, Berra, Howard, Richardson, Kubek, and Boyer, Skowron was part of one of the most productive offensive and defensive starting line-ups in the history of the game.
Moose was a solid World Series performer, in seven fall classics as a Bomber. He batted .283, smacked 7 round trippers and drove in 26 runs in a total of 35 Series games. Skowron’s eighth and final Series performance was in a Dodger uniform against his beloved former teammates in 1963. Moose was a hitting star for Los Angeles, batting .385 in a four game sweep of New York.
Back when Moose was a rookie, as much as he craved playing time, the fact that he was getting it at the expense veteran first-sacker, Joe Collins, was upsetting to the kind-hearted Skowron. It was not until Collins himself approached Moose and actually started helping the rookie take over his position, that Skowron’s sympathy for Collins began to subside. Eight years later, a brash, loud-mouthed Joe Pepitone showed little respect for the man he was trying to replace, constantly telling Moose his days as the Yankee regular first baseman were numbered. Skowron, ever the pro, remembering how Collins helped him as a rookie, now offered the same assistance to the outspoken Pepitone.
Compounding the fact that Moose was being pushed out of his position by this talented rookie, Skowron’s marriage began to disintegrate. When the Yankees traded Moose to the Dodgers for starting pitcher, Stan Williams, Pepitone was able to replace Moose’s offensive numbers and defensive skills, but not the positive and giving attitude Skowron exhibited toward his Yankee teammates.
|NYY (9 yrs)||1087||4102||3748||518||1103||173||44||165||672||14||278||588||.294||.346||.496||.842|
|CHW (4 yrs)||347||1279||1177||109||317||50||8||28||146||2||77||159||.269||.317||.397||.713|
|WSA (1 yr)||73||278||262||28||71||10||0||13||41||0||11||56||.271||.306||.458||.764|
|LAD (1 yr)||89||256||237||19||48||8||0||4||19||0||13||49||.203||.252||.287||.539|
|CAL (1 yr)||62||131||123||8||27||2||1||1||10||0||4||18||.220||.267||.276||.544|
I have a Roland Sheldon 1962 baseball card like the one pictured here. As you can see, he looks like a high school kid in a Yankee uniform. On the back of this card, it lists Sheldon’s date of birth as December 17, 1936, which means he would have been 24 years old during his 1961 rookie season with New York. That year he went 11-5 as the fifth starter on one of the greatest teams in the history of the franchise. He sure as heck doesn’t look 24 years old in his picture on this baseball card. That’s why I was pretty shocked when I came across an old newspaper article in which it was reported that some of Sheldon’s old classmates from his Putnam, CT high school claimed he lied about his age. According to them, Sheldon was born in 1932 which meant he would have been 28 years old during that rookie season. In any event, Rollie spent a little bit more than three seasons with the Yankees and won 23 of 38 decisions. He was traded to Kansas City in 1964. He retired after the 1966 season. So happy 75th or 79th birthday, Rollie.
|NYY (4 yrs)||23||15||.605||4.14||91||49||13||11||2||2||389.1||382||192||179||47||102||202||4|
|KCA (2 yrs)||14||15||.483||3.73||46||42||2||5||2||0||255.2||253||117||106||25||82||131||8|
|BOS (1 yr)||1||6||.143||4.97||23||10||4||1||0||0||79.2||106||49||44||15||23||38||2|
Bahnsen was a real cornhusker, who was born in Council Bluffs, IA, in 1944 and played baseball for the University of Nebraska. He earned AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1968 when he won 17 games in his first full season in pinstripes and posted an incredible earned run average of just 2.05 runs allowed per nine innings pitched. I remember that season well. The Yankees had finished in last place in 1966 and next to last the following year. When they added the 23-year-old Bahnsen to a starting rotation that already included Mel Stottlemyre and Fritz Peterson, who were both just 26-years old at the time, things finally began looking up for New York.
In doing research for this post, I came across a very funny story involving Stan. It seems that in addition to being a wife swapper, Fritz Peterson was one of the Yankee’s all-time practical jokers. He used to always carry a set of padlocks with him and one day, after the final game of a Yankee series, he padlocked Bahnsen’s buckled shoes together. There was a bus outside the stadium waiting to take the Yankees to the airport to catch a plane to LA. Manager Ralph Houk and a bewildered Bahnsen were the last two people in the Yankee locker room. When Houk saw Bahnsen sitting there with no shoes on he told him to finish dressing and get on the bus. When Bahnsen told him he couldn’t put on his shoes, Houk asked him why. When Bahnsen told him that Peterson had locked his footwear together, Houk just about had a fit.
Bahnsen won 37 more games as a Yankee starter during the next three seasons before being traded to the White Sox in 1972 for a guy named Rich McKinney. He proceeded to win 21 games during his first season in the Windy City. He then went 18-21 the following season and then his right arm began rebelling. He had pitched over 950 innings in four seasons in New York and then over 750 more during his first three years with the White Sox. He ended up his 16-year big league career in the bullpen, retiring after the 1982 season with a 146-149 record.
The “Bahnsen Burner” shares his December 15th birthday with this former Yankee first baseman Also, at the end of yesterday’s PBB post recognizing John Anderson, who was the first native Norwegian born Yankee, I asked who was the second Yankee to be born in Norway and gave the hint that he had been catcher Bill Dickey’s backup for most of the thirties. The correct answer is Arndt Jorgens.
This devout Christian was the Lord and saver of the Yankee bullpen in 1970 when he saved 29 games, won 9 of 14 decisions and posted a 2.01 ERA in 62 relief appearances. He had come to New York in a 1968 trade with San Francisco for Bill Monboquette. Born in Hollis, OK, in 1935, McDaniel was 32 years-old at the time of that deal and had already posted 97 big league wins and 112 career saves, mostly as a Cardinal. He pitched five plus seasons for New York, compiling a 39-29 record in pinstripes and 58 more career saves. Even his departure from the team was productive for the Yankees when he was traded to the Royals after the 1973 season because it brought Lou Piniella’s bat to the Bronx. Lindy retired after the 1975 season, his 21st year in the big leagues, with 141 wins and 172 career saves. He also holds the distinction of being the last Yankee pitcher to hit a home run.
|STL (8 yrs)||66||54||.550||3.88||336||63||188||15||2||64||884.2||920||432||381||83||258||523||1.332|
|NYY (6 yrs)||38||29||.567||2.89||265||3||186||1||0||58||544.2||486||194||175||43||156||363||1.179|
|SFG (3 yrs)||12||11||.522||3.45||117||3||49||0||0||9||213.2||202||98||82||12||64||150||1.245|
|CHC (3 yrs)||19||20||.487||3.06||191||0||114||0||0||39||311.2||301||120||106||25||97||238||1.277|
|KCR (2 yrs)||6||5||.545||3.75||78||5||40||2||0||2||184.2||190||90||77||9||48||87||1.289|
On May 6, 1925, the Yankees were scheduled to play the Philadelphia A’s at the old Yankee Stadium. Manager Miller Huggins picked that particular contest to do something he hadn’t done in the previous 475 regular season Yankee games. That was to start a Yankee player at shortstop who was not named Everett Scott. In fact, up until that afternoon Scott had played in 1,307 consecutive regular season games, which was the all-time record at the time. Huggins felt the streak was putting too much pressure on Scott so he decided to take it upon himself to end the thing. In Scott’s place, Huggins started a 22-year-old rookie shortstop named Paul Wanninger. The kid was only 5’7″ tall and weighed just 150 pounds, which earned him the nickname Pee-Wee. He went 0-2 that afternoon against the A’s and was himself removed for a pinch hitter as he was about to take his third at bat.
As it turned out, Huggins’ intention was not to simply give Scott a day off. Just a few weeks later, the Yankees placed Scott on waivers and Wanninger took over as the Yankees’ starting shortstop. That 1925 season proved to be a terrible one for New York. It was the year of Babe Ruth’s big bellyache, which in reality was the Bambino’s total physical breakdown caused by his horrible habits and lifestyle. Without their star, New York lost 85 games and fell to seventh place in the AL. Wanninger ended up playing in 117 games that year. Pee Wee got hot early and finished May with a 13-game hitting streak.
On June 1, Huggins made another decision that would end up having a legendary impact on the game. The Yankees were losing to the Senators and Wanninger was 0 for 3 and due to come up a fourth time. Instead, Huggins decided to pinch hit for Pee Wee and you know the diminutive shortstop must have been steamed about that decision because it ended any chance he had of extending his thirteen game hitting streak to 14. The guy Huggins selected to pinch-hit was another Yankee rookie, who was built like Adonis and was five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Pee Wee. His name was Lou Gehrig. That pinch-hitting appearance would be the first of Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive game streak, shattering Everett Scott’s previous record and holding up for over 50 years, until Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed it in 1995.
In the mean time, Pee Wee Wanninger stayed hot offensively for New York right through June, when he was still averaging .290 and playing a decent shortstop. But as the summer temperatures rose, Wanninger’s bat got cold. After he averaged just .167 for the month of August, Huggins began playing another rookie named Mark Koenig at short. It would be Koenig who would start at that position for the great Yankee teams of 1926, ’27 and ’28. Wanninger would end his one and only year in pinstripes hitting just .236. The Yankees sold him to a minor league team after that season. He got back to the big leagues for a brief spell in 1927, playing for both the Red Sox and Cincinnati and then was gone for good. But not before he got the opportunity to play key roles in the ending of one one of the Game’s great streaks and the beginning of another.
|CIN (1 yr)||28||104||93||14||23||2||2||0||8||0||6||7||.247||.293||.312||.605|
|NYY (1 yr)||117||427||403||35||95||13||6||1||22||3||11||34||.236||.256||.305||.561|
|BOS (1 yr)||18||67||60||4||12||0||0||0||1||2||6||2||.200||.284||.200||.484|
I doubt there’s a Yankee fan who ever heard of Joe Kelley. Yet, he was one of the original Yankee franchise’s first stars and he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1971. Kelley’s anonymity within Pinstripe Nation is due to two factors. The first is that he played most of his baseball back in the 19th century. The second reason is that he played just 60 games for the Yankee franchise and those games were played in 1902, when the team was still based in Baltimore and nicknamed the Orioles.
There is no doubt, however, that Kelley was one of baseball’s brightest stars back when Grover Cleveland and William McKinley lived in the White House. He was a lifetime .317 hitter, who was consistently among league leaders in most offensive categories and also recognized as one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders. He had a 17 year-career, but his best seasons were spent in Baltimore, when the Oriloles were still part of the senior circuit. He teamed with John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler and Hughie Jennings to lead Baltimore to three straight pennants and averaged .352 during his six year tenure with that team. He once had nine consecutive base hits in an Orioles’ double-header. Kelley was also quite the lady’s man back in the day. He was often seen in public with beautiful members of the opposite sex, enjoying the night-life of Baltimore and other NL home cities, sort of like a 19th century version of A-Rod.
He was traded to Brooklyn in 1899 and helped that team win two straight pennants, but his heart and his family were still in Baltimore. By 1902, the Orioles were part of Ban Johnson’s upstart American League. That year, Kelley jumped the NL to return to the O’s. When his former teammate and current Oriole manager, John McGraw got into a personal squabble with Ban Johnson. McGraw reversed Kelley’s geographical path and jumped from Baltimore back to the Big Apple to manage the Giants. Though it was Wilbert Robinson who took over for McGraw as the official manager, Kelley actually became that Oriole team’s co-skipper. He ended up appearing in 60 games that year and hit .311. When it was learned that Johnson had finagled the transfer of the financially troubled Orioles’ franchise to New York, Kelley jumped back to the NL and became a player-manager for the Reds.
|BLN (7 yrs)||781||3624||3048||768||1069||181||98||40||653||290||482||178||.351||.446||.514||.960|
|CIN (5 yrs)||487||2042||1774||270||492||78||36||6||210||53||186||116||.277||.353||.372||.725|
|BRO (3 yrs)||384||1678||1484||275||471||66||43||16||249||75||163||67||.317||.391||.452||.843|
|BSN (2 yrs)||85||310||273||32||70||9||3||2||20||5||29||32||.256||.332||.333||.666|
|PIT (1 yr)||56||222||205||26||49||7||7||0||28||8||17||21||.239||.297||.341||.639|
|BLA (1 yr)||60||263||222||50||69||17||7||1||34||12||34||16||.311||.405||.464||.869|
You’d probably have to go back to Nelson Rockefeller to find someone who had a more self-satisfying final performance than the one Mike Mussina enjoyed during the 2008 season. “Moose” had been one of the most effective starting pitchers in the Majors during the previous seventeen years of his career but had never been able to win twenty games in a single season. Plus, after a mediocre performance in 2007, the pundits were saying Mussina was past his prime and the Yanks would be better off giving the ball to younger studs like Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain instead of the aging 38-year-old right-hander.
We Yankee fans all saw what happened to our young studs during that ill-fated season and I can’t imagine how much worse Joe Girardi’s first year as Manager would have been if Mike Mussina had decided to call it quits instead of pitching one more year.
He went 20-9 with an ERA of just 3.37 and pitched over 200 valuable innings for a Yankee staff that was decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness. The 20 victories gave Mussina 270 for his career and made his case for getting to Cooperstown a heck of a lot stronger.
Most other veteran hurlers who had the type of season and career numbers Mussina had as a 39-year-old would be anxious to cash in on one more multi-million dollar contract and continue their pursuit of 300-wins. Not Moose. He has always been a quiet guy who cherished family more than fame and retirement was an easy choice for him to make. Mike was born in Williamsport, PA, in 1968. He shares his December 8th birthday with this outfielder the Yankees acquired during the 2013 preseason, this former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee shortstop.
|BAL (10 yrs)||147||81||.645||3.53||288||288||0||45||15||0||2009.2||1895||836||789||210||467||1535||1.175|
|NYY (8 yrs)||123||72||.631||3.88||249||248||0||12||8||0||1553.0||1565||723||669||166||318||1278||1.212|
Long time Yankee fans look back at the 1980s as the era of bad free agent signings for the franchise. After taking brilliant advantage of the Supreme Court’s striking down of baseball’s reserve clause in the 1970s, the Yankee front office led by the impetuous and impatient George Steinbrenner, evolved into one of the worst judges of free agent talent in all of baseball. They’d sign guys with games that did not complement the Yankee lineups they were expected to join or were not conducive to the dimensions of the old Yankee Stadium. It was these poor fits that used to upset me most. They’d give lots of bucks to players who performed well on their old teams and in their old ballparks but once they put on the pinstripes, it seemed as if they lost half their skills and most of their confidence. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant was a classic example.
Gary Ward had been in the big leagues for eight seasons when the Yankees signed him to a three-year, two million dollar free agent contract on the day before Christmas, in 1986. He had averaged right around .290 with both Minnesota and Texas and could be counted on to hit between 15-to-20 home runs and drive in close to 80 runs every season. The Yankees were depending on the burly native of L.A. to produce similar numbers in pinstripes and take up a significant chunk of the offensive slack and one of the two outfield holes created with the departures of both Ricky Henderson and Dan Pasqua.
During the first half of the 1987 season it looked as if the Ward signing was a stroke of genius, as he got off to a torrid start at the plate. Even though he slumped badly in the second half of the season, he still managed to produce 16 home runs and 78 RBIs during his initial year as a Yankee but as his slump worsened, his average plummeted into the .240s. He was unfortunately in the process of discovering how the spacious left field of Yankee Stadium acted as a burial ground for well-hit balls off the bats of right-handed hitters.
In 1988, things got much worse for Ward. He averaged just .225, hit only four home runs and drove in the putrid total of just 24 runs. By the second half of that season he had become a part-time player and the Yankees ended up giving him his outright release during the first month of the 1989 regular season. The Tigers picked him up and he spent his last two big league seasons in Motown, as Detroit’s fourth outfielder.
|MIN (5 yrs)||417||1681||1543||216||439||80||20||51||219||26||115||260||.285||.333||.461||.794|
|TEX (3 yrs)||414||1715||1575||228||461||64||16||41||200||45||125||264||.293||.345||.432||.777|
|NYY (3 yrs)||245||851||777||94||188||31||1||20||103||9||60||147||.242||.297||.362||.659|
|DET (2 yrs)||211||645||584||56||148||21||4||18||75||3||51||104||.253||.312||.396||.707|
Gary Roenicke was best known as a Baltimore Oriole. Born in Covina, CA in 1954, he spent eight of his twelve big league seasons with the Birds as an outfielder and had his best year in 1982, when he achieved career highs of 21 HRs and 74 RBIs for an Earl Weaver managed team that won 94 games but finished one behind the Brewers. The Yankees got him in a December 1985 trade and Lou Piniella used him as a fourth outfielder the following season behind future Hall of Famer’s Dave Winfield and Ricky Henderson and second-year player, Dan Pasqua. Roenicke got into 69 games for New York that year, hitting an unremarkable .265. The Yankees released him after that season and he signed with Atlanta.
As I researched Roenicke’s history, it got me thinking about other trades that have taken place between the Oriole and Yankee franchises. There have been some doozies over the years. For shear volume, you can’t top the deal the two teams made after the 1954 season that involved a total of seventeen players. The Yankees got the best of that one because they received future Cy Young Award winner, Bullet Bob Turley and 1956 World Series perfect game pitcher Don Larsen in the deal. In June of 1976 the two teams put together another blockbuster and this one was especially noteworthy because it took place in the middle of a regular season during which the two teams were battling for the same division flag. The Yankees won that flag with lots of help from Doyle Alexander, Ken Holtzman and Grant Jackson, the three pitchers they received in that ten player deal. The Orioles, however, got the biggest longterm benefit because they got a great starting pitcher in Scott McGregor, a wonderful reliever in Tippy Martinez and an outstanding catcher and team leader in Rick Dempsey. The following season, the Yankees got outfielder Paul Blair from the Birds for outfielder Elliott Maddox and a pitcher named Rick Bladt. Blair became a valuable reserve on two consecutive Yankee World Championship teams. The last time the two teams did a deal in which players exchanged uniforms was the 2006 post season trade of pitcher Jared Wright to Baltimore for pitcher Chris Britton.
|BAL (8 yrs)||850||2634||2217||311||555||114||3||106||352||15||335||342||.250||.355||.448||.803|
|ATL (2 yrs)||116||309||265||36||59||13||0||10||35||0||40||38||.223||.324||.385||.709|
|MON (1 yr)||29||96||90||9||20||3||1||2||5||0||4||18||.222||.260||.344||.605|
|NYY (1 yr)||69||165||136||11||36||5||0||3||18||1||27||30||.265||.388||.368||.756|
Looking for a great Christmas gift or perhaps just an easy-read that will make you laugh out loud every few pages? I humbly suggest you preview my brand new book, “Not Just Another Christmas Story.”
If you were raised in a big-city Italian American neighborhood during the 1950s, chances were very good that your life was dominated by family, old-country tradition, the Catholic Church and in a direct or indirect way, organized crime. Pinstripe Birthday’s poignant, often hilarious recollections place the reader back inside one of these vibrant neighborhoods (in Brooklyn) for one crazy Holiday week and describe how a family being pulled apart struggles to stay together.
Big Apple sports fans will especially love the surprise Yankee Stadium ending to this suspenseful tale. You can preview the first chapter and order your hard copies here.