Reusse: Townball heroes still revered in southern Minnesota

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2012 - 12:03 AM

The late "Moose" Skowron became Austin's adopted big-leaguer after he leaped from town ball to the Yankees.

hide

Former town ball star Bill Skowron posed with Whitey Ford, left, at a Yankees old-timers’ game in June. Skowron died Friday at age 81.

Photo: Ramsay De Give, New York Times

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The Rochester Royals and the Austin Packers were playing in the 1949 championship series for the Southern Minny League. This was Class AA town-team baseball, which was more semi-pro than amateur during that fleeting time between the end of the Big War and the start of television reaching the masses.

Austin had finished 5 1/2 games in front of second-place Rochester during the regular season. This put the Packers at home on Sept. 1 for the first game of a best-of-five series.

Rochester came with Sam Jones as its starting pitcher. He was one of several black players signed for Rochester by Ben Sternberg, later well-known as a boxing promoter and sports columnist for the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

Jones carried a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth, before shortstop Dick Seltz reached him for a three-run home run. It was a Bobby Thomson moment in Austin baseball, even though it came two years before Thomson performed the "Miracle at Coogan's Bluff" for the New York Giants.

"Sad Sam threw from the side, and I didn't like that as a righthanded hitter," Seltz said. "But I got lucky. He hung a curveball right where I wanted it."

Jones would pitch a no-hitter vs. Austin later in the series -- Rochester's only win in the best-of-five. Six years later, Jones would pitch a no-hitter for the Cubs, the first in major league history for an African-American.

"Sad Sam was a tough customer," Seltz said.

Dick Seltz had faced much tougher. He was in combat with the Army's First Battalion for seven invasions in the Pacific.

"There were guys you got to know, and then you never saw them again," Seltz said. "You assumed the worst."

The worst was Leyte, to start the retaking of the Phillipines. "Horrible," Dick said, then paused and added: "But I made it home."

Seltz went to Humboldt High in St. Paul. He played in the minor leagues for St. Louis in 1943. He spent two years in the New York Giants' farm system after the war.

"I was going to school at Hamline in the offseason," Seltz said. "After three years, I knew I wasn't going to the big leagues, so I wound up playing ball in Austin."

Seltz also wound up marrying Rosalie, raising four children and teaching social studies and coaching baseball for nearly four decades at Austin High School.

No surprise there. Dick could have been named Austin's emperor after the home run off Sad Sam in 1949. Austin won the Class AA title that year, then found an impressive reinforcement for the 1950 season:

Bill (Moose) Skowron, a baseball and football player for the Purdue Boilermakers.

On Friday, Skowron died at 81 of cancer in Arlington Heights, Ill. The assumption always had been that the "Moose" nickname came from his muscular frame, but things weren't that simple growing up on the north side of Chicago in the 1940s.

Obituaries informed readers that "Moose" came from childhood friends who thought a bad haircut made him look like Benito Mussolini.

Skowron came to Minnesota through the lobbying of Harry Smith, a Purdue graduate and owner of a shoe store in Austin.

"I was living in a room above the shoe store," Seltz said. "Moose didn't have a place to stay, so he moved in above the store, too. We got to be friends that summer."

Skowron did so well in Austin that the Yankees made a contract offer. He signed in September and his college athletic career was over. Moose played 14 years in the big leagues. He hit 211 home runs, including 77 in his three best seasons as the Yankees first baseman from 1960 through 1962.

Skowron met Virginia Hulquist in Austin and they were married for a time. When the Yankees first started coming to Bloomington to play the Twins, there were generally feature stories on Moose in the Twin Cities newspapers as if he were a home-state athlete.

"I never thought there was enough credit given to Moose with the Yankees," Seltz said. "It was all Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Moose was an outstanding hitter."

Apparently, Moose felt the same way about the shortstop he saw that summer in Austin.

Years ago, the Seltzes' daughter Louise sent a letter to Skowron asking for some autographs. She received those and also a return letter that included this note:

"Your Dad was a hell of a ballplayer."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Team Irvin 32 FINAL
Team Carter 28
Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 98 FINAL
Cleveland 108
Dallas 106 FINAL
New Orleans 109
Indiana 106 FINAL
Orlando 99
LA Clippers 120 FINAL
Phoenix 100
Minnesota 100 FINAL
Atlanta 112
Detroit 110 FINAL
Toronto 114
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
San Antonio 101
Boston 111 FINAL
Golden State 114
Washington 117 FINAL
Denver 115
Houston 99 FINAL
LA Lakers 87
Team Toews 17 FINAL
Team Foligno 12
South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Virginia 50 FINAL
Virginia Tech 47
Indiana 70 FINAL
Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
UCF 46
Maine 70 FINAL
Hartford 61
Monmouth 64 FINAL
Manhattan 71
Fairfield 67 FINAL
Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 77 FINAL
St Johns 68
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 57 FINAL
Butler 77
NJIT 72 FINAL
South Alabama 55
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Illinois State 53
Louisville 80 FINAL
Pittsburgh 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Albany 69
Niagara 64 FINAL
Iona 87
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
NC State 78
Belmont 63 FINAL
Tennessee St 55
Creighton 50 FINAL
Villanova 71
Northwestern 67 FINAL
Maryland 68
Washington 56 FINAL
Utah 77
Senior-North 34 FINAL
Senior-South 13
Seton Hall 99 FINAL
Georgetown 85
St Johns 69 FINAL
Villanova 81
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Florida 72
Maine 56 FINAL
UMBC 42
Vanderbilt 55 FINAL
Alabama 52
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Lehigh 65
UCF 61 FINAL
SMU 57
Utah 51 FINAL
Washington 63
James Madison 73 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 53
Delaware 56 FINAL
Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Towson 63 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
Drake 79 FINAL
Evansville 62
Iona 80 FINAL
Canisius 62
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
Wisconsin 71 FINAL
Michigan State 77
Ohio State 79 FINAL
Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 58 FINAL
Xavier 54
Creighton 93 FINAL
Marquette 75
Providence 42 FINAL
DePaul 90
Northeastern 77 FINAL
Elon 80
(2) Connecticut 96 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Oregon 78 FINAL
Arizona 81
Bradley 46 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
NC State 49 FINAL
(23) Syracuse 66
(7) Maryland 84 FINAL
Indiana 74
Illinois State 35 FINAL
Missouri State 58
Colorado 68 FINAL
Washington St 73
Tulane 45 FINAL
South Florida 64
(14) Kentucky 83 FINAL
Missouri 69
(9) Oregon State 68 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 57
Vermont 63 FINAL
UMass Lowell 72
Iowa State 58 FINAL
(8) Texas 57
Southern Ill 61 FINAL
Wichita State 80
(15) Duke 74 FINAL
(12) North Carolina 67
Miami-Florida 55 FINAL
(4) Louisville 68
(21) Minnesota 61 FINAL
(25) Rutgers 66
California 72 FINAL
UCLA 57
(11) Stanford 71 FINAL
USC 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How optimistic are you about the 2015 Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close