December 2011

December 18 – Happy Birthday Moose Skowron

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.

Moose passed away on April 27, 2012 at the age of 81. He shares his December 18th birthday with this former Yankee pitcher and this former Yankee super scout.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1954 NYY 87 237 215 37 73 12 9 7 41 2 19 18 .340 .392 .577 .969
1955 NYY 108 314 288 46 92 17 3 12 61 1 21 32 .319 .369 .524 .894
1956 NYY 134 523 464 78 143 21 6 23 90 4 50 60 .308 .382 .528 .910
1957 NYY 122 501 457 54 139 15 5 17 88 3 31 60 .304 .347 .470 .818
1958 NYY 126 502 465 61 127 22 3 14 73 1 28 69 .273 .317 .424 .740
1959 NYY 74 309 282 39 84 13 5 15 59 1 20 47 .298 .349 .539 .888
1960 NYY 146 584 538 63 166 34 3 26 91 2 38 95 .309 .353 .528 .881
1961 NYY 150 608 561 77 150 23 4 28 89 0 35 108 .267 .318 .472 .790
1962 NYY 140 524 478 63 129 16 6 23 80 0 36 99 .270 .325 .473 .798
14 Yrs 1658 6046 5547 682 1566 243 53 211 888 16 383 870 .282 .332 .459 .792
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/20/2013.

December 17 – Happy Birthday Roland Sheldon

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.

Rollie shares his birthday with this former Yankee outfielder, this one-time Yankee first baseman and this former Yankee and Met pitcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP
1961 NYY 11 5 .688 3.60 35 21 5 6 2 0 162.2 149 70 65 17 55 84 2
1962 NYY 7 8 .467 5.49 34 16 5 2 0 1 118.0 136 78 72 12 28 54 1
1964 NYY 5 2 .714 3.61 19 12 2 3 0 1 102.1 92 43 41 18 18 57 1
1965 NYY 0 0 1.42 3 0 1 0 0 0 6.1 5 1 1 0 1 7 0
5 Yrs 38 36 .514 4.09 160 101 19 17 4 2 724.2 741 358 329 87 207 371 14
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/17/2013.

December 15 – Happy Birthday Stan Bahnsen

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.

December 13 – Happy Birthday Lindy McDaniel

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.

McDaniel shares his December 13th birthday with this son of a former Yankee manager, this former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee third baseman.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1968 NYY 4 1 .800 1.75 24 0 19 0 0 10 51.1 30 10 10 5 12 43 0.818
1969 NYY 5 6 .455 3.55 51 0 31 0 0 5 83.2 84 37 33 4 23 60 1.279
1970 NYY 9 5 .643 2.01 62 0 51 0 0 29 111.2 88 29 25 7 23 81 0.994
1971 NYY 5 10 .333 5.04 44 0 28 0 0 4 69.2 82 41 39 12 24 39 1.522
1972 NYY 3 1 .750 2.25 37 0 25 0 0 0 68.0 54 23 17 4 25 47 1.162
1973 NYY 12 6 .667 2.86 47 3 32 1 0 10 160.1 148 54 51 11 49 93 1.229
21 Yrs 141 119 .542 3.45 987 74 577 18 2 172 2139.1 2099 934 821 172 623 1361 1.272
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/15/2013.

December 12 – Happy Birthday Pee Wee Wanninger

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.

Wanninger shares his birthday with this former Yankee closer , this former Yankee utility infielder, and this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1925 NYY 117 427 403 35 95 13 6 1 22 3 11 34 .236 .256 .305 .561
2 Yrs 163 598 556 53 130 15 8 1 31 5 23 43 .234 .266 .295 .560
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2013.