In keeping with the policy NPR seems to have about replaying its best bits during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, hosted by Peter Sagal, featured a few prominent guests from the “Not My Job” segment, including Sen. George McGovern, Leonard Nimoy, Garrison Keillor, Jimmy Carter of the singing group The Blind Boys of Alabama, and former baseball great Bill “Moose” Skowron.
Now Skowron (I had always thought his nickname came from his appearance and size, but it was because of his haircut that the appellation was given because of a resemblance to Benito Mussolini) was a good player — an eight time all-star with eight World Series appearances, a fact he took great pains to remind Sagal several times during the conversation.
Judging solely from that interview, Skowron, now 78, seems to be one of those old-timers who loves to compare the lack of “sand” in modern players, afraid to pitch inside, afraid to slide. He spoke of an incident in his career that reminded me of Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, The Lies, and Everything Else.
Every time I hear one of these gentlemen relating an anecdote about the good old days, I find I’ve become fairly cynical (damn you, Neyer!). So when Skowron talked about getting hit in the head after htting a home run against the Red Sox and talking it out on second baseman Gene Mauch with a career-ending hard slide, well, I just had to see if that was indeed the case.
Skowron’s tale goes like this:
After hitting the homer off of Ike Delock, the pitcher swore revenge, telling Ted Williams that he would hit Skowron right between the eyes in the next at bat, which he did (actually, it was the head Delock hit, but that’s close enough for jazz).
It must not have been a very hard pitch because Skowron was able to stay in the game. As he took first base, he prayed for his roommate Bob Cerv to hit a ground ball to the shortstop so Skowron could break up the double play.
“Gene Mauch was at second at the time,” Skowron told Sagal and his audience. “I broke his leg and he never played another game in the Major Leagues. I didn’t do it on purpose…, we were taught to break up double plays.”
So I went to Baseball Reference to see if I could verify the story.
Mauch, who would go on to manage the Phillies, Expos, and Angels, did play his last major league game against the Yankees on Sept. 28, 1957, so one would expect this was the contest to which Skowron referred. He singled as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning, so he couldn’t have played the field. (Strike two. Ooh, I feel like Sherlock Holmes.)
The Yankees beat the Red Sox, 2-0. No home runs were hit that day. That’s okay, because Skowron wasn’t in the game at all; in fact, his last game of the year came on Sept. 13 (strike three and then some). He did hit six homers against the Sox in 1957; four came over a two-day stretch in April.
Skowron was hit by a pitch three times that season. One came in an April 28, 3-2 win over Boston, in which Mauch played second. Gil MacDougal followed the HBP with a strikeout and Billy Martin (not Cerv, who was on the Kansas City Athletics in 1957) grounded to short for the force at second. Perhaps Skowron went in hard, but is no indication of a violent injury; Mauch was lifted for a pinch hitter in the ninth and played another 50+ games before calling it quits at the end of the year.
So what did we learn by this exercise, other than the fact that I have way too much time on my hands? Was Skowron lying or is this just the way he remembers the incident? No one can say for sure, perhaps not even the Moose. Look, I’m considerably younger and according to my wife I completely mistold an anecdote from our honeymoon in Aruba that involved a goat skull, a scorpion, and hotel housekeeping. I wasn’t lying; that’s how I recalled the event. So you have to give Skowron the benefit of the doubt.