It is a common trait among baseball fans of many generations in the cities that comprise the American League – they hate the Yankees.
Anything associated with the New York Yankees gets their repulsion – no matter how irrational, absurd or irrelevant their objections may be.
ANY BALLPLAYER WHO actually wore the “real” pinstripes (as opposed to any other ball club whose uniforms happen to have pinstripes on them) gets derision – usually in inverse proportion to their actual talent.
The better they were, the more abuse they draw.
Which is why I always found the local reaction to Bill Skowron to be amusing.
For Skowron is about as “Yankee!!!” as a ballplayer can get – having been a significant part of those 1950s-era into the 1960s Yankees teams that were ever so dominant.
THAT 1961 TEAM of Mantle and Maris is also known for having six ballplayers who managed to hit at least 20 home runs that season. One of them was Skowron – who hit 28 that year even though – as a right-hander – his “power alley” was the deep left field of the old Yankee Stadium that could easily gobble up 430-foot fly balls.
The one that would have robbed of home runs some shots that made it into the upper deck at the old Comiskey Park – making it look downright dinky, by comparison.
Yet the word about Skowron’s death on Friday at a hospital in suburban Arlington Heights is going to get the sympathy from Chicago sports fans. Skowron may well be the one lone Yankee who isn’t held in contempt.
Of course, it helped that Skowron was a Chicago boy who graduated from Weber High School, and even played a bit of Big Ten college football with Purdue before signing on to play baseball with the New York Yankees after being seen by scouts playing Chicago-style slow-pitch softball and smashing the ball like crazy.
AND IF ONE would think that being a North Sider would limit his appeal, it helped on the South Side that he played a stint for the White Sox – including that year in 1964 when the Sox came so close to actually beating the Yankees for a league championship.
And in more recent years, there was the fact that Skowron was among the retired ballplayers kept on the payroll by the White Sox (Minnie Miñoso and Bill Melton are a couple of others) to make public appearances on behalf of the team.
It’s almost as though some people can forget the fact that the Moose achieved his baseball greatness in the Bronx, rather than in Bridgeport or Lakeview.
By the way, the nickname wasn’t because of his size. It was given to him after a childhood haircut that some thought made him look like Benito Mussolini – the fascist dictator.
IT CERTAINLY WASN’T because of his size, because I still remember the first time I met the man and was able to compare myself physically to him.
I’m just average sized, height-wise, although my gut protrudes just a bit too much for me to ever claim I was much of a ballplayer.
But I can recall being in wonder that I was about an inch taller and a bit broader shouldered than the so-called Moose.
Which means it’s not purely about physical ability to play sports at the highest levels. I have no doubt that even at his advanced age (he was in his early 70s when I met him), he could probably still swing the bat better than I ever did.
IN HIS TIME, he was a winner on the athletic field. Among the “facts” I find most amazing were his being a part of the New York Yankees teams that won World Series titles in 1961 and 1962 and the Los Angeles Dodgers team that beat the Yankees in the 1963 World Series.
Then, he came to Chicago. If only that team had not finished one game behind the Yankees in ’64, he could have had a chance to be on four straight World Series-appearing teams – with three different ball clubs.
Which makes me think that perhaps Skowron was just as significant a player in New York as the Yankee legends like Mantle and Yogi Berra (whose nickname may well rival Skowron’s for childhood absurdity that won’t wither away with age).
And this may well be the occasion upon which Yankees fans and Yankee-haters manage converge.