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."

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

Carlos Rodon's return to the South Side is coming soon.

The top-five draft pick recovering from last fall's shoulder surgery made his first rehab start Saturday with Class A Kannapolis and threw well. Rodon allowed just one run on three hits in his five innings of work, striking out six and walking none.

The White Sox announced Sunday that Rodon's second rehab start will come Thursday with Triple-A Charlotte.

As for the exact date Rodon returns to the big league roster, it's unknown at this point. General manager Rick Hahn said that Rodon will make multiple rehab starts. One might look to the pitcher's recovery from a spring injury last year as a guide. Rodon made four rehab starts in June before debuting with the White Sox on June 28.

This recovery is different, of course. Rodon is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28.