White Sox

Garfien: Remembering Moose Skowron

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Garfien: Remembering Moose Skowron

In a world of six billion people, there are only a select, precious few who are actual living legends.

81 years ago, one was born in Chicago.

His knack for playing baseball made him a household name, sent him around the world, and produced a life that was straight out of the movie, "Forest Gump."

But his story? It's completely real. And there was no one more real than the one and only Moose Skowron.

Friday morning, the former New York Yankee great passed away at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Ill., from congestive heart failure.

He was loved by so many, the baseball world feels a pain in its collective heart with the loss of such an incredible icon.

On December 18, 1930, Moose was born as William Joseph Skowron Jr. However, his first name would be changed forever as a seven-year-old when his grandfather gave him a haircut that looked like Italian dictator Mussolini. His family shortened his name to "Moose."

He wouldn't be known as William or Will or Bill ever again.

Signed by the New York Yankees in 1950, his surreal journey left the port, taking him to places well beyond his wildest expectations.

"I've been lucky all my life," Skowron said in an interview last year. "I'd rather be lucky than good. I was at the right spot at the right time."

Was he ever.

Over a nine-year period from 1955 to 1963, Moose played in eight World Series, winning five of them. Four with the Yankees. One with the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a Yankee, he drove in the winning run against the Milwaukee Braves in Game 6 of the 1958 World Series. He then smashed a three-run homer in Game 7 to lead the Yankees to the title. In Game 7 of the 1962 World Series against the San Francisco Giants, only one person crossed the plate in that game.

Moose did.

Looking back, it all makes sense.

In the course of his career, Skowron came into contact with just about everybody who was anybody. Both past and present.

He met Ty Cobb. He met Honus Wagner. He met even Cy Young.

"I met all those guys," Skowron said. "I never asked for autographs. Today it's a big thing. I could kick myself in the fanny when I think about the people I met."

His was a life straight out of Hollywood, and often mingled with it. Like the time Moose went to dinner with Joe DiMaggio and Joe's wife...Marilyn Monroe.

"I shaved four times that day," Moose said with a huge grin across his face. It was his standard line. He probably said it a million times, and he gave that same, big smile every time.

Moose appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

"They put me in the stands, so when you waved you got 500 bucks. That's all I did. They introduced me and I waved."

Moose was fine with that.

He also got to meet television's other Ed. The famous horse named Mr. Ed.

"They hit the ball, the horse ran around all the bases and touched homeplate," Skowron remembered. "I said, 'Leo Durocher you have a telephone call!' He was in the dugout. That was it. That's all I said."

Skowron played 14 seasons in the major leagues, and never made more than the 47,000 paycheck he received from the White Sox in 1965.

"Today A-Rod from the Yankees, he's making 27 million!"

Rodriguez was actually making 32 million. I didn't have the nerve to tell him.

"I made a half million dollars in 14 years! He gets that in two times at-bat," Moose said. "But these kids today. God bless them."

The bonds between Moose and his Yankee teammates were immeasurable. He had an especially close kinship with Mantle, who during his prime carried baseball, as well as a heavy burden.

"He'd maybe strike out three or four times in a game, and he'd cry by my locker. I said, 'Mickey, tomorrow's another day.' He said, 'Moose, I let 50,000 people down.' That's the way he was. He was a great competitor."

Above the fireplace in Moose's living room is a signed photograph from Mantle which reads, "To Moose, my best wishes. We came up at the same time, and it was one of the best things in my life. Thanks a lot, Mickey Mantle."

Moose read Mantle's words, paused, and said, "I never forgot him."

Bring up the 1964 season, and Skowron never forgot how close he came to winning another pennant with the White Sox, who acquired him from the Washington Senators that July.

"I was a Chicago born guy from the Northwest Side. I got a chance to play for my home team," he recalled. "We beat the Yankees four in a row at home. A kid by the name of Phil Linz got on the bus and played a harmonica. He and Yogi Berra, he was the manager, they got into a fight. That motivated the Yankees. They won 11 in a row. We won nine in a row. We lost the pennant by one game. I'd been in three consecutive World Series with three different teams."

In 1999, Skowron joined the White Sox community relations department. His duties were to make appearances around the area and greet fans on behalf of the team. Mainly, his job was to just be Moose. There was no one like him. He was cherished for his wit, his charm, and for always telling it like it is.

I asked him one day why he was always so open and honest. He nearly jumped out of his chair.

"What have I got to hide? I'm 81 years old! Where am I going, Chuck? I tell the truth. I got some good stories."

He sure did. Some of the best.

In the last year, Moose's health began to deteriorate. Doctors found cancer in his throat, then his lungs, then his bladder. He kept putting up a fight, but his body started wearing down. As recently as January of 2011, he participated in the White Sox fantasy baseball camp in Glendale, Arizona, serving as one of the coaches. He coached first base, and had more energy than most of the campers.

Still, he knew that time would eventually catch up to him. He never feared death, and was prepared for what was to come, whenever that time arrived.

"What can I say? God has been good for me," he said. "I just hope that when I go, I go fast. I already told my wife, 'Pull the plug.' I'll sign the papers. Anything, because I had a wonderful life."

Kenny Williams shuts down rumor connecting free agent Yasiel Puig to White Sox

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USA TODAY

Kenny Williams shuts down rumor connecting free agent Yasiel Puig to White Sox

You can put to bed the rumors about free agent outfielder Yasiel Puig possibly signing with the White Sox. It’s not happening.

The two sides did get together during the MLB Winter Meetings in December. Kenny Williams, Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria met with Puig for about 90 minutes to discuss the possibility of the 29-year-old joining the White Sox as their everyday right fielder.

But instead, the White Sox chose to take a different route. That same week, they acquired Nomar Mazara from the Texas Rangers for minor league outfielder Steele Walker, ending any chance of Puig coming to the South Side.

“After our meeting we came away big Yasiel Puig fans, but he wasn’t the right fit for us then and he isn’t right now,” Williams said.

With spring training games starting this weekend and the regular season a little over a month away, fellow Cuban Jose Abreu says he’s surprised the flashy 29-year-old outfielder remains a free agent.

“Yes, I am (surprised). That’s one of those things that happen that you don’t understand. A guy with his talent. He’s still so young,” Abreu said through a translator. “He doesn’t have a team yet. It’s a surprise. I’m confident he’s going to find something this year.”

Even with Puig’s talent, Abreu looks around the White Sox clubhouse and agrees with the decision by the White Sox not to sign the former All-Star, who hit .267/.327/.458 with the Reds and Indians last season.

“I don’t think he would be a good fit here. Don’t get me wrong. He has a lot of talent, but we’re full," Abreu said. "Our outfield is looking great with Nomar (Mazara), Eloy (Jimenez) and (Luis) Robert. There’s no reason for us to make more moves in that area of our team. He’s someone who would fit in with any major league ball club because he has the talent to help any of those teams.”

What about possibly platooning Puig with Mazara in right field? On paper, that might sound like a good plan, although Puig has traditionally hit better against righties than lefties in his career. But a larger issue could be the timeshare. The idea of Puig, nicknamed “Wild Horse,” being forced to the stable for half the season could spell problems, not only for him, but the chemistry inside the clubhouse.

“It would be difficult, especially for him being an everyday player,” Abreu said about Puig being a platoon player.  “When you have to make that decision, it’s not easy.”

So, where will Puig end up?  No one knows for sure, but it won’t be with the White Sox.  

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White Sox lock up Aaron Bummer with record five-year extension

White Sox lock up Aaron Bummer with record five-year extension

PHOENIX — The White Sox have locked up a key part of their bullpen and did it in record fashion.

The team is keeping Aaron Bummer on the South Side for the next half decade. The deal contains a pair of team options that could keep Bummer in a White Sox uniform through the 2026 season. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, it’s the biggest extension for a pre-arbitration, non-closer reliever in baseball history.

According to the team’s announcement, Bummer will receive $1 million in 2020, $2 million in 2021, $2.5 million in 2022, $3.75 million in 2023 and $5.5 million in 2024. The White Sox hold options for $7.25 million in 2025 and $7.5 million in 2026, with $1.25 million buyouts for either season.

The White Sox have good reason to want to keep the 26-year-old Bummer around. He was excellent during the 2019 season, emerging as one of the team’s most reliable late-inning options. He finished the campaign with a 2.13 ERA in 58 appearances. A left-hander, he was effective against both right- and left-handed hitters, holding righties to a .188 batting average and lefties to a .178 average.

“Any time you’re looking at relievers, there’s the capacity to come in in key situations, in high-leverage and be that guy that you can count on in any situation. That’s what we have with Aaron," White Sox assistant GM Jeremy Haber told reporters Saturday in Glendale. "In addition, the nature of the position — there’s ups and downs, and he’s experienced that in his career on and off the field, demonstrated that resiliency that you look for in that position."

Bummer will continue playing a prominent role in the White Sox ‘pen in 2020, likely starting the season as Rick Renteria’s primary eighth-inning option and forming a formidable back end of the bullpen alongside closer Alex Colome and new addition Steve Cishek.

But with Colome slated to hit free agency after the 2020 season, it’s possible Bummer could be a candidate to take over the closer’s job.

"The reliever role and coming in in the seventh, eighth, ninth inning — it takes a certain type of temperament," Haber said. "Not to just deal with and thrive in those, but handle the ups and downs whenever they come, and Aaron’s shown that."

Add Bummer’s name to the list of young, core players the White Sox have under team control for a long time. Now there’s an exciting bullpen arm to go along with locked-up stars in the making such as Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson and Luis Robert, among the other youngsters like Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, who aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

You need a strong bullpen to compete, and with their eyes on competing long into the future, the White Sox are trying to build just that for the long term.

"Every organization seeks to acquire and develop and retain championship-level talent," Haber said. "We’re very pleased to have been able to accomplish that today with another piece."

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