This story was first published in the Tribune on May 22, 2011.
The voice is softer now but as affable and entertaining as ever.
Moose Skowron still has many, many tales to tell.
Like the night Marilyn Monroe was flirting -- only not with Skowron, nor her volatile paramour Joe DiMaggio, nor the other New York Yankees at dinner.
"DiMaggio had brought her to spring training one year, and we begged him to take us to dinner with her," Skowron said. "I shaved four times that day. She was great -- charming, funny, wanting to learn more about baseball.
"And absolutely gorgeous."
But the celluloid goddess had been quietly checking out some fella across the room. When the supremely territorial Yankee Clipper went to the men's room, the glances only got chancier.
"All I thought was, 'If DiMaggio comes out and sees this, we've got problems,' " Skowron said. "Thank God she had the sense to cut it out when he got back."
Monroe. DiMaggio. Marquee names that drop easily when you're talking with William Joseph "Moose" Skowron Jr., one-time Yankee, White Sox and "Mr. Ed" co-star, among other experiences.
They are conversations that carry greater significance for those closest to him. It has been a rough few months for Skowron. After turning 80 in December, he collapsed at a ballpark in Arizona during spring training.
"He collapsed into my arms," said oldest son Greg, a trucking executive in the Phoenix area. "We were leaving a spring game around the fifth inning, which was unusual for him. Then he turned down an autograph request, which I'd never seen him do before. Then he turned to me and said, 'I don't feel so good.' "
The initial diagnosis was pneumonia.
Tests later found lung cancer.
Since then, Moose's life has spun around chemotherapy and radiation sessions at Rush University Medical Center. Not to mention the ceaseless faith, nurturing and hope from wife Cookie and daughter Lynnette.
"Don't leave out Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox people in all of this," said Skowron, who has served the South Siders as a community relations representative since 1999. "Bob Grim, Ed Farmer, Steve Stone, so many ... They've all been great."
Said Reinsdorf: "I love Moose. He is one of the most wonderful people I've ever known." For Skowron, through the love, through the unknown and the fatiguing hospital appointments have come his new greatest hope -- a return to normalcy, a day at the old ball game.
A few years ago, a Chicago newspaper ran its list of the 25 greatest athletes ever produced by the toddlin' town.
Skowron was not on the roster. To this day, his friends remain outraged.
"How in the hell could you put together a list like that and not have Moose Skowron on it?" asked Jerry Murphy, an Arlington Heights barkeep and himself once a Catholic League football star. "Did they have Martians put together the list?"
Martians might have included Skowron. He earned his kielbasas at Weber High School and Purdue before going on to seven World Series in his nine seasons with the Yankees (1954-62). "My first spring training with the Yankees, Hank Bauer and Gene Woodling cornered me," Skowron said. "They said, 'Don't (screw) with our eight grand each fall.' "
That was the winner's share of a World Series title. In 1954, Skowron made $6,000 for his rookie season. For good measure, Bauer -- later Skowron's best friend on the team -- added: "And abide by the rules. Break up double plays, but don't break curfew."
Abiding by rules was second nature by then for the son of a Chicago garbageman. Skowron grew up on the Northwest Side, where his budding athleticism was augmented by eight years as an altar boy and a championship as the top 11-year-old marbles shooter in Bishop Sheil's Catholic Youth Organization.
Oddly, Weber did not have a baseball team. So while the determined lad starred in football and basketball for the Red Horde, his adolescent diamond deeds centered on 16-inch softball. "I really wanted to go to Notre Dame, and Frank Leahy wanted me," Skowron said. "But when I went to visit, he told me it would be football and nothing else. So I went to the grotto, lit a candle and decided to go to Purdue."
In West Lafayette, Ind., his versatility began to astound. He started at right halfback as a sophomore for Stu Holcomb's Boilermakers, kicking a record 82-yard punt left-footed against Northwestern.
"It was on an icy field, and I got a real good roll," he said.
Skowron also played basketball and hit a Big Ten-record .500 as a sophomore for the Boilers' baseball team and head coach Hank Stram.
"Yes, that Hank Stram," Skowron said. "He was a football assistant too. But when the Yankees offered me $25,000 to sign after my sophomore year, he said, 'Moose, forget the matriculation. Take the money and get out of here.' "
The money was never grand in New York. The game was.
In his 14-year major league career -- including stays with the Dodgers, Senators, White Sox (1964-67) and Angels -- Skowron grossed less than $600,000.
"And that includes all of the World Series shares with the Yankees and the one (1963) with the Dodgers," he said. "My mother should have waited 30 years to have me."
But New York was the nexus of it all when he arrived, and superstars including Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra were well into laying the foundation of another decade of pinstriped dominance.
Pushing the buttons was "The Old Perfessor" himself, Casey Stengel, renowned for playing percentages, none more so than lefty-righty batting probabilities. Here's how Skowron, the storyteller, recalls one of Stengel's moves:
"My rookie year, I'm batting cleanup and walking in to hit with the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning . I hear Stengel's whistle. I turn to the dugout, and he's motioning me back. He's sending Eddie Robinson (a left-handed hitter) up to bat for me against some righty." Skowron threw his bat as he returned to the dugout. Robinson cleared the bases with a double. The Yankees won the game 3-0. "Stengel said nothing until the next morning before the game. Then he walked up to me and said, 'Don't ever show me up again, kid. My reasons got reasons you'll never figure.' "
Great story, even if baseball records don't exactly confirm it.
It is known that Stengel left Skowron in to bat with the bases loaded for one of the most famous home runs of his career. That came in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 1956 World Series, two games after Don Larsen's perfect game.
"We were actually ahead already, but Stengel whistles again," Skowron said. "I looked at Campy (Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella) and said, 'Christ, Campy. The old man's going to pinch hit for me.' Campy said, 'No, he's not, Moose.' "
Skowron and Stengel met halfway. "He tells me, 'Try to take it to right-center with the first two swings, Moose.' "
Instead, Brooklyn righty Roger Craig came in low with his first pitch. Skowron looped quick power into the pitch and drove it down the left-field line for a grand slam to clinch the Fall Classic. A jubilant Stengel said, "That's the ol' zipperoo, Moose!"
Two years later, Skowron again capped a championship for the Yankees when he nailed a three-run homer off Lew Burdette and the Milwaukee Braves in the eighth inning of Game 7. New York won 6-2.
He also was manning first base in October 1960 when Bill Mazeroski's fabled ninth-inning smash gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a 10-9 win in Game 7 of the World Series.
Noting the difference between winning and losing, Skowron said he turned to Berra as both reached the dugout steps at Forbes Field and lamented, "Well, there went three grand, Yogi."
Skowron's favorite team remains the 1961 Yankees. Those were the runaway Bombers who finished 109-53 in a season dramatized by the home run derby between Mantle and Roger Maris.
"No team of that era more prominently represented what the New York Yankees were all about then," said Tony Kubek, the shortstop and still a regular caller to the Skowron household. "Moose was all about winning and toughness and coming through in the clutch, and that team consistently did it.
"Truthfully, if Moose had played with anyone else in his prime and batted fourth where he should have, instead of fifth or sixth, he'd be in the Hall of Fame."
Amid the galaxy of Yankees stars, Skowron found his places to shine, on the field and off. He appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show"a handful of times, including a classic 1958 episode in which he, Mantle, Berra and Whitey Ford sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with Sullivan and lyricist Jack Norworth. (Check out edsullivan.com to watch it, including when Mantle gives Skowron a good-natured elbow to the gut at "for it's one, two, three strikes ...")
He also appeared on "What's My Line?"and in 1963, after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, co-starred in an episode of "Mr. Ed" with Leo Durocher. He is also the godfather to Butch Patrick, the one-time child actor of Eddie Munster fame.
In 1963, his .385 World Series batting average and the arms of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres sparked the Dodgers to a 4-0 sweep of the Yankees.
"As an 11-year-old on Long Island, I couldn't believe it," Bob Costas said. "My most vivid memory is his home run in Game 2. I thought, 'My gosh, our Moose is coming back to do this to us. This can't be.' "
One year later, he returned home, joining the White Sox in a mid-July trade. With hot arms including Gary Peters and Juan Pizarro and the wily Hoyt Wilhelm, the Sox crafted a magnificent September only to finish one game behind the Yankees.
From car hikers in Las Vegas to shy young fans in hotel lobbies in Atlanta, Jerry Reinsdorf has had the gamut note their reverence for Skowron.
"You cannot go anywhere without someone knowing Moose Skowron," the White Sox chairman said. "He just spreads goodwill. We employ him. But talk about getting tremendous value for your money."
Reinsdorf goes on.
"Chuck Armstrong, the president of the Mariners, went to Purdue. Someone in our office -- I think Bob Grim -- found a photo of Moose in his college football uniform there. As a gag, we had it blown up and sent to Armstrong."
The Seattle chief proudly displays it in his ballpark suite.
Last summer, Armstrong entertained a group of astronauts including Neil Armstrong, another Purdue alum who also happens to be the first man on the moon. "Chuck told me Neil Armstrong walked in the suite, and the first thing he said was, 'Hey, that's Moose Skowron,' " Reinsdorf said.
Skowron wades through his treatments these days, his beloved Cookie at his side. Daughter Lynnette has evolved into his tireless chauffeur. After a recent morning at Rush, even with the Sox on the road, all he wanted to do was visit Sox Park.
"He may be one of the greatest storytellers in baseball," said Grim, a Sox executive and the nephew of the late Bob Grim, the Yankees hurler who beat out Skowron for the 1954 American League Rookie of the Year award. "He is a throwback -- a blue-collar, tough, tell-it-like-it-is guy who engages groups so quickly. The game is so ingrained in him. The ballpark is his home." Only grudgingly did Skowron talk about his current challenge.
"We're doing everything we're supposed to, and it should all be fine," he said. "I just miss not getting out to the ballpark all the time."
Kubek said their phone chats are business-as-usual, with a predictable autumnal tinge. "We talk about our families," he said. "And then we talk about the guys. And then it's stuff like when we lost Johnny Blanchard (in 2009) and Tommy Tresh (in 2008), and Don Larsen recently had some surgery. But that's just the way it is when you hit your mid-70s or 80s. We're not different than anyone else in that respect."
But they're not like everyone in every respect.
"They are different when they're together," Greg Skowron said. "It's 1961 all over again, and they're a fraternity -- a very special fraternity -- that shares a remarkable bond.
"But my father is also a realist. He's 80 years old. He still hops around as best he can. I say a prayer every night, but the last guy on Earth who would shed any tears about any of this is him. He said to me, 'If it's my time to go, it's my time. I've lived a great life.'
"I, of course, hope it's not. But I do know, if he gets to pick where he'll spend his last day, it'll be at the ballpark."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times