Originally created 02/28/97

Burgeoning players' pay angers ex-Yankees greats



They travel in tandem most of the time, these two proud old New York Yankees with 13 World Series rings between them.

Some promoter from some card show will call Bill "Moose" Skowron up in Chicago and invite him to make an appearance. The old first baseman will say, "Sure, and why don't you give my good friend Hank Bauer a call."

Moments later, the phone rings in Overland Park, Kan., where the former Yankees left fielder and Baltimore Orioles manager now lives. Next thing they know, Skowron and Bauer are meeting in another distant airport, heading out to make another joint appearance.

Thursday night, the destination is Augusta. Before a captive audience of 250 at American Legion Post 63 on Milledge Road, the Moose and the Bruiser tell the same old stories they've told a thousand times. They even play their traditional roles, the ones they first settled on in 1954, their first year together as Yankees.

Skowron, 66, is the softie, the overgrown kid with the goofy grin. He'll sign as many autographs as you need, and he always keeps his needle close at hand.

"That'll be $5," he tells a young boy who thrusts an 8-by-10 glossy toward

the famous crewcut. Pause. "Naw, I'm just kidding."

Bauer is the hard nose. Now 74 and bespectacled, the ex-Marine barks out stories in a sandpaper voice.

"Aw, I ain't talking about the Copa," he tells a reporter before Thursday's program begins.

Later, of course, he recounts all the juicy details about the famed 1957 scuffle at New York's Copacabana nightclub, the one in which Bauer was accused of punching out a stranger and Billy Martin wound up getting traded.

But if you really want to get a rise out of Bauer - and Skowron, for that matter - just mention Joe DiMaggio. Seems not everybody loves Joltin' Joe, still reclusive at 82 down in Miami Beach.

"I played with both of them, DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle," Bauer says. "We both miss No. 7 (Mantle). He was very good to us. But as far as I'm concerned, DiMaggio could die tomorrow."

A few nervous chuckles spread through the room as Skowron steps to the podium to explain. Seems Joe D turned down an autograph request from Skowron about six years ago. The Moose wanted it for the friend of a friend, but DiMaggio waved him off, muttering something about "other obligations".

Skowron hasn't spoken to the Yankee Clipper since.

"Who the hell is DiMaggio?" he says. "He gets $200, $250 now for his autograph. How much money can you make? ... I don't need that stuff. DiMaggio, you can have him. `Hey, Joe, you can stick your autograph up yours."'

Perhaps Bauer and Skowron are unaware of the exclusive deal DiMaggio signed with Upper Deck Trading Cards a few years back. In exchange for a sum of more than $1 million, DiMaggio is contractually allowed to sign autographs for the California-based company alone.

Judging from the tenor of their act on Thursday, though, that fact probably wouldn't sway either man.

"I believe something has to be done about these salaries the players are making," Bauer says. "And the only people that can do anything about it are the fans. Don't go to the ballpark."

Skowron barely grossed $500,000 in his 14-year big league career. He notes Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made nearly that much last year alone.

"And this Mark Grace?" he says, citing the Chicago Cubs first baseman. "They're paying him $4.4 million and he only hit nine home runs last year? In Wrigley Field? That's crazy. Mark Grace couldn't carry my jock."

Now they're really warmed up. Back and forth they go, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of reminiscence with their jabs at the "modern-day ballplayer".

Such open bitterness isn't uncommon among the players who missed out on the free agency era, but it's still a bit sad nonetheless. At least Skowron and Bauer are among the lucky ones. Most of their contemporaries have been forgotten, assigned to the scrap heap of sporting history.

But their phones keep ringing. For them, the offers keep coming and the stories keep flowing. Skowron thinks he knows why.

"We were very fortunate to be in New York when the Yankees were the Yankees," Skowron says. "We were Yankees. We were winners. We had a dynasty."

Too bad they can't just leave it at that.