Remember the Yankees’ last spring training camp? There were lots of questions about who would form the team’s starting rotation for the 2011 season. Although there was plenty of speculation that one might, most Yankee fans were not expecting any of the “Three B’s” to head north with that rotation in April. We knew Banuelos, Betances and Brackman were not yet ready for prime time, partly because a similar situation from 2008 was still fresh in our minds. Back then, Brian Cashman’s plan was to fill New York’s urgent starting pitching needs with another trio of young arms developed in the Yankees’ own farm system. Even though he had a phenomenal run as the bullpen’s bridge to Mariano Rivera during the 2007 regular season, Joba Chamberlain was being touted as the team’s next ace back then. Phil Hughes had also already provided New York fans with a glimpse of how good he could be, when he flirted with a no-hitter in his second big league start in May 2007 against the Rangers. Then, after fully recovering from an injury, Hughes finished strong by winning his final three starts that same season. The final part of that young Yankee pitching triumvirate was today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant, a young right-hander from Huntington Beach, CA named Ian Kennedy.
As we all know now, none of the three were ready to take on the responsibility they were given at the start of that 2008 season. Instead of pitching inning after inning of lights out baseball as he had as Mo’s setup man the season before, Joba as a starter seemed to to struggle with both concentration and rhythm. Hughes stunk up the joint too, going 0-4 before a cracked rib forced him out of action. Both Chamberlain and Hughes remain enigmas in the Bronx.
As for Ian, well let’s just say his Yankee debut was another Kennedy assassination. He was 0-4 in 2008 with an ERA of over eight runs per game. In his last start that year in early August, he lasted just two innings against the Angels, giving up five runs in a 10-5 loss. When the Yankee media surrounded his locker after that game, Kennedy insisted he had pitched well. The Big Apple tabloids crucified him for the comment, which the young pitcher later explained was an attempt by him not to get too down on himself and destroy his self confidence.
Kennedy was sent back down to the minors and his Yankee career ended when he was included in the three-team trade in December of 2009 that brought Curtis Granderson to New York and landed Kennedy in Arizona. Ian was 9-10 for the Diamondbacks in his first season in Arizona, finishing strong by winning his last three starts and lowering his ERA to 3.80 for the year. Then in 2011, Kennedy finally busted out with an outstanding season, compiling a 21-4 record with 198 strikeouts and a sparkling 2.88 ERA as he led Arizona to the NL West Division flag. The Yankee front office had finally been proven right about Kennedy’s potential as a big league front line starter. Fortunately, they were also right about Curtis Granderson.
|ARI (4 yrs)||48||34||.585||3.82||119||119||0||2||1||0||748.1||693||340||318||91||228||661||1.231|
|NYY (3 yrs)||1||4||.200||6.03||14||12||1||0||0||0||59.2||63||43||40||6||37||43||1.676|
|SDP (1 yr)||4||2||.667||4.24||10||10||0||0||0||0||57.1||52||29||27||9||25||55||1.343|
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|