Miseries of the Moose

He's one of the most powerful men in the major leagues, but the Yankees' first baseman gets injured so often and so easily that he's a perennial question mark for the New Yorkers
March 21, 1960

Meet Moose Skowron, 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, bandages included. When his wrist is not broken, when his back is not aching and when his muscles, of which he seems to have twice as many as most first basemen, are in good order, Moose plays first base for the New York Yankees. To the regret of the Yankees, such times are rare. Something is always happening to the Moose.

Just last week, for instance, the Yankees were taking batting practice at Miller Huggins Field in St. Petersburg. A tall rookie was pitching when Skowron took his turn at bat. The first pitch was slow and over the plate, and Skowron bunted. Then the rookie wound up and threw his very best fast ball. It sailed right at Moose's head. Twisting and falling away, Skowron managed to take the pitch on the shoulder instead of the ear. It hurt, but he was all right. When the next batter, Elston Howard, stepped into the cage, he asked the catcher where the pitch had hit Skowron.

"Shoulder," said the catcher.

"Thank God," said Howard softly, shaking his head.

Moose's physical welfare concerns all the Yankee players. When he is healthy he plays, when he plays he hits home runs, and when he hits home runs it helps the Yankees to win pennants and make money. Skowron has played with the Yankees for six seasons, and in only one of those, 1956, was he able to get through the year without a sidelining injury. Two of his injuries were especially severe. Late in the 1957 season, he hurt his back in the area around the base of the spine while lifting an air conditioner. Recurrences of that injury have plagued him periodically ever since. Last July, his left wrist was smashed when he collided with the base runner while reaching for a throw from third base. The injury put him out for the season.

This spring, however, Skowron feels fine. His back, supported by a baby-blue surgical corset, is not aching. His wrist, secretly operated on during the winter to relieve pressure on a nerve, is mended and strong again. In practice he has been hammering at the ball in his customary manner.

One day recently after the Yankees' morning workout, Moose Skowron sat in the sun outside the clubhouse digesting his lunch of cold cuts and hard-boiled eggs.

HIGH COST OF HURTING

"Everybody wants to know about my injuries," he said in answer to a question. "The way some people talk, you'd think I enjoy getting hurt. Hell, every time something happens to me it costs me money. When I go in to discuss a contract for a new season they say, 'Look, Moose, you only played in 70 games last year.' The worst of it is I always get hurt when I'm going real good. Think that's any fun? But I guess I really shouldn't complain. There's little kids a lot worse off than I am. Paralyzed from the waist down and things. But I still don't like getting hurt."

Last October the Yankee management sent its battered Moose to the Mayo Clinic for a complete examination. He spent a week there, soaking his wrist in whirlpool baths and having tests made on his back. The doctors found nothing chronically wrong with him but suggested he try swimming to develop more elasticity in his muscles.

"I didn't know how to swim," Moose said. "I almost drowned when I was a kid and after that I was always afraid of the water. But I went to the Ridgewood YMCA and took lessons from a lady instructor there. After that I went swimming three times a week. I'm still not too good at it, though."

Despite the whirlpool baths and the swimming, Skowron's left wrist was still painful and stiff in January. Gus Mauch, the Yankee trainer, invited him to Kissimmee, Fla., where Mauch runs a school for trainers. Skowron flew down and let Mauch go to work on him.

"I massaged that wrist for two hours a day," said Mauch in his office, which smelled strongly of liniment. "I subjected it to passive and active exercises. I'll show you. Give me your wrist." Mauch's professional fingers began to pinch, pummel and probe. "This is a passive exercise. When I did this to Moose you could hear the adhesions breaking up." Mauch stopped the massaging and cracked his knuckles. "Sounded just like that. I also had to exercise the forearm. Supinate and pronate, one side up, then the other.

"Then came the active exercises. Moose and I would sit down, clasp hands—his left, my right—and bend each other's wrist back and forth, very gently of course. Just like Indian wrestling.

"After five days Moose was able to play pepper with some of the boys in the baseball school down there. By the end of the two weeks, he was taking batting practice and hitting them"—Mauch's hand zipped out and up—"like that."

Another man who has become closely involved with Skowron's physical misfortunes is Dr. Sidney Gaynor, who repairs broken Yankees. Dr. Gaynor is attached to the New York hospital where Skowron is sent every time something happens to him. ("They know me by now," says Moose. "They always say, 'Well, back again.' ") Gaynor spends every March in Florida to take care of the wave of minor ailments that inevitably occur during spring training.

"I have warned Skowron that he must warm up properly before practice," Gaynor said, sitting under a palm tree watching the squad work out. "Sometimes Moose isn't too careful about things like that. He should loosen up his muscles before he throws a ball or swings a bat. Sometimes he forgets."

Many of Skowron's injuries, especially those to his back, have occurred while he was performing some incidental act, like picking up his glove, catching a ball, playing pepper or running out a hit. That is what worries the Yankees the most. There is the feeling that at any time, anywhere, doing just about anything, Skowron can get hurt. When Skowron signed his contract this winter, one New York writer noted that he had managed to sign his name without breaking his arm. Such humor does not amuse Skowron.

"I'm not self-conscious about my injuries," he says defensively. "And you can bet I'm not going to take it easy out there. I don't play that way. I'm not going to try to avoid any collisions at first base. Sometimes I'll get them, sometimes they'll get me. I'm not going to shy away from it. If an injury ends my career, well, that's the way it ends."

ILLUSTRATIONJOE KAUFMAN

JULY 25, 1959
Broke left wrist. Out for season.

MID-SEPT. 1957
Pulled muscle lifting air conditioner. Recurrence in World Series.

MAY 11, 1958
Hurt back fielding ball. Out 19 days.

APRIL 2, 1959
Hurt back in pepper game. Out two weeks.

JULY 12, 1959
Hurt back picking up glove. Out two weeks.

SEPT. 16, 1955
Broke left toe in batting practice. Out five days.

MARCH 13, 1957
Broke right thumb. Out two weeks.

APRIL 27, 1955
Tore muscle in right thigh.

MAY 11, 1955
Reinjured same muscle in practice. Out three weeks.

MAY 7, 1959
Pulled right thigh muscle in Campanella benefit game. Out two weeks.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)