"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!"