Bill “Moose” Skowron, a six-time all-star first baseman who was known for his heroics while helping lead his teams to five World Series championships, died April 27 at a hospital in Arlington Heights, Ill. He was 81 and had congestive heart failure and complications from lung cancer. The New York Yankees, for whom he played most of his career, reported his death on their Web site.
From 1954 until he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963, Mr. Skowron was a major element in the Yankee dynasty, helping the team reach the World Series seven times. He hit a grand slam home run in the seventh inning of the seventh game of the 1956 World Series, clinching the championship for the Yankees over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Two years later, Mr. Skowron drove in the winning run in the 10th inning of the sixth game of the World Series against the Milwaukee Braves. In the seventh and decisive game, he hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning off pitcher Lew Burdette, sealing a 6-2 victory and another World Series title for the Yankees.
In 1963, after he had been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mr. Skowron helped his new team sweep the Yankees in the World Series.
During his Yankee years, Mr. Skowron played with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford, stars who tended to overshadow the workmanlike quality of Mr. Skowron’s play.
Six feet tall and a hulking 200 pounds, Mr. Skowron was a right-handed hitter known for powerful opposite-field home runs.
“I don’t always swing at strikes,” he told Harvey Frommer in the book “A Yankee Century.” “I swing at the ball when it looks big.”
Mr. Skowron was not a naturally graceful man and was asked by his manager to take dancing lessons to improve his footwork at first base.
“I couldn’t catch a fly ball,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2006. “[Yankee manager] Casey Stengel said, ‘The only way you can play is to play first base, and the only way you can learn is by going to dancing school.’ I went to Arthur Murray Dance Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida, to learn how to shift my legs, because I was no gazelle.”
William Joseph Skowron, the son of a garbage collector, was born Dec. 18, 1930, in Chicago.
“Dad was a disciplinarian,” Mr. Skowron told Baseball Digest in 2003. “I got called for dinner once, but I was in the park with my friends and didn’t hear my mom. He kicked me in the behind when I came in and drove me right into the door knob. It took 20 stitches to close up my head, but I never missed dinner again.”
Mr. Skowron acquired his nickname, “Moose,” from childhood friends who thought he had a resemblance to the Italian dictator of the 1930s, Benito Mussolini.
Mr. Skowron attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., on a football scholarship. He didn’t play baseball regularly until he was at Purdue, but he soon became such a powerful hitter that he left college when the Yankees offered him a $25,000 bonus to pursue a career in baseball.
He made his major-league debut in 1954 and played on the Yankees’ World Series-winning teams in 1956, 1958, 1961 and 1962. He later played for the Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox and California Angels until his retirement in 1967.
Mr. Skowron had a lifetime batting average of .282, with 211 home runs. In 39 World Series games, he hit a total of eight home runs. His best season was in 1960, when he batted .309, with 26 home runs and 91 RBI for the Yankees.
He once had a restaurant in Illinois named Call Me Moose and, after his playing career, worked in public relations with the White Sox and as a sales manager.
Mr. Skowron’s personal life drew unwanted headlines in 1963, when he made a surprise visit to his home in New Jersey and found his wife, the former Virginia Holmquist, in what news reports described as a “compromising position with a gentleman friend.”
They were divorced a year later.
Survivors include his second wife, Lorraine “Cookie” Rochnowski Skowron; two sons from his first marriage; a daughter from his second marriage; a brother; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Skowron met his second wife on a blind date.
“She told me over the phone, ‘Meet me at the bowling alley and if you like what you see, we’ll go out,’ ” he told Baseball Digest.
“Well, I did like what I saw and I guess she liked what she saw because we got married two years later . . . I found out later she thought I was Moose Vasko, the hockey guy.”