Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Moose gets a football card

I could spend a lot of time creating 1955-style custom cards for guys who played football in college but went on to greater fame in Major League baseball. In, fact, I already have: Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Jackie Robinson, etc.

In order to balance my output, however, I generally limit my cross-over customs to guys who meant something special to me as players or baseball card subjects when I was growing up in the 1950s.

One such is Moose Skowron. As a kid, Skowron was one of my favorite Yankees. Maybe it was the nickname, or just the fact that he had such great looking cards in the Fifties.  I liked him ever better after he grounded out (he recalls it as a "sizzling shot") to Eddie Mathews with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to end Game 7 of the 1957 World Series and give the Braves the World Championship.

Some of the infatuation wore off a year later when his three-run home run in the top of the eighth of Game 7 clinched the 1958 Series for the Yankees, preventing a Braves repeat. 

Skowron is a frequent guest or even just a visitor to card shows in the Chicago area, and is an absolute delight to talk with about baseball in the Fifties.

It has only been in the past three or four years, however, that I realized that Skowron had been a college football  player at Purdue.

Skowron had gone to a Chicago prep school on a basketball scholarship, and received a football scholarship from Purdue, where he also played basketball and baseball. He only played one season of Boilermaker football, as halfback and punter for the 1949 team that went 4-5 in the Big 10.

During the 1950 baseball season, sophomore Skowron played shortstop and batted .500 (10-20), setting a batting mark that stood in the Big 10 for a decade. (Skowron's record was shattered in 1961 by Michigan catcher Bill Freehan, who hit .585.) He was named an All-American. His baseball coach at Purdue was Hank Stram.

That summer, Skowron took a $400 a month job with a plumbing and heating company in Austin, Minn., so he could play third base on the company team in the fast semi-pro Southern Minnesota League. He hit .323 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in 23 games. At the end of the season he was signed by the New York Yankees for a $25,000 bonus.

Moose spent 1951 with the Yankees' farm clubs at Norfolk (Class B) and Binghamton (Class A), batting a cumulative .321 with 20 homers (RBI stats weren't kept) in 116 games.

With the Yankees top farm club at Kansas City in 1952, Skowron was named Minor League Player of the Year with a .341 average, 31 home runs and 134 RBIs. The Blues won the American Association pennant that season, and repeated in 1953 with Skowron, kept down at the farm to be converted from an outfielder to a first baseman, contributing a .318 average, 15 home runs and 89 RBIs.

He began his big league career the next season, playing for the Yankees from 1954-62. In pinstripes he was named to seven All-Star teams between 1957-61 (both games in 1959 and 1960). He was also an All-Star in 1965 with the White Sox.

Skowron went from the Yankees to the Dodgers for 1963. Meeting his old teammates in the World Series where he batted .385 -- he'd hit National League pitching for only .203 during the regular season -- he helped Los Angeles sweep the Yankees.

It was back to the American League for Skowron in 1964, splitting the year between the Senators and the White Sox. He remained with his hometown White Sox until May, 1967, when he was traded to the L.A. Angels where he ended his career after that season.

As I mentioned, I thought most of Moose's Topps cards in the 1950s and early '60s were pretty neat, so I hope my football tribute card is a worthy addition to his cardboard compendium.

As with the Ted Kluszewski Indiana card presented a few days ago, I'm indebted to collector Jay Sokol for providing a football-specific photo of Skowron, taken from a Purdue yearbook.

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