Happy Birthday, Lou Skizas!

Usually, I try to do as much research as is possible for a given player (and much can be done online – more than ever before) when writing these biographies.  In this case, I found a great article that summarizes a young Lou Skizas – who was born on 2 June 1932.

Lou was a Yankees prospect, then traded to the As in 1956 – where he would have a pretty good season (well, about 60% of the season) and finish second to Luis Aparicio for the Rookie of the Year award.  His batting fell off after that, though, which led to his being traded to Detroit and then the White Sox, and by 1960 he was through.  He had, however, gone back to finish college and would return to the University of Illinois where he would teach and coach baseball.

I’ll one day go back and revisit this story another day.  Until then, enjoy this article from the archives of The Sporting News.  This dates back to the summer of 1955 when Skizas was likely at his peak in the minors.

Skizas, Bears’ Fidgety Slugger, Gives Flingers Fits With His Hits

Frank Haraway

It’s really a jumpy situation whenever Lou Skizas of the Denver Bears comes to the plate.

The compact righthanded slugger is known as “The Nervous Greek” for his ants-in-the-pants mannerisms around home plate.  And the things Louis does with the bat, once he gets settled, are certainly hard on a pitcher’s nerves.

With only a short time to go in the American Association race, Skizas looks like a cinch to win two of three coveted slugging titles, and he might have made the grade on all three had not injury forced him out of the lineup for three stretches during the season.

Skizas’ batting average of .353 through games of August 17 topped the circuit, and with an edge of 13 points over his nearest rival he should become the champion.  He had 99 runs batted in with 21 games left on the Denver schedule and was tied with his teammate, Marv Throneberry, for the league’s RBI lead.

Out for Week With Injury

However, Throneberry had played in every one of Denver’s 133 games to that point while Skizas had participated in only 104.  Nine of the games in Skizas’ 104 total were only pinch hit appearances, making his RBI average all the more impressive.

He had a chance for the home run crown, too, until a groin injury knocked him out of the lineup for ten days, August 6 – 15, when his bat was in the midst of one of its hottest streaks of the season.  Unless he enjoys a phenomenal homer barrage in the closing games, he will not be able to raise his total of 21 round-trippers sufficiently to nail down that title.

Barring further injury, Skizas will pass the 400 at-bats needed to qualify for the batting championship should he wind up with the highest average.

Skizas’ first injury occurred when he caught a fly ball on the end of the ring finger on his glove hand and went out of the regular lineup for two weeks early in the season.  Twice he was sidelined with groin injuries, costing him nearly two additional weeks.

Skizas is unusual among hard swingers as he seldom strikes out.  He whiffed only 29 times in those first 104 games.  Neither did he walk much, drawing only 35 free tickets in the same stretch.  Louie goes up to the plate with only one thing in mind – to hit the ball as quickly and as hard as he can.  Many of his walks were intentional.

One night during a critical spot in an extra-inning game in Denver, the opposing manager jerked his southpaw pitcher and brought in a righthander.  That brought chuckles from the press box occupants.

“Louie doesn’t know which side a pitcher throws from anyway,” quipped one of them.

Skizas hit the ball out of the park to bring the Bears a victory.  Sure enough, when being interviewed in the clubhouse after the game, he grinned: “I always could hit those lefthanders.”  He apparently hadn’t been aware of the pitching change.

Asked what he hit, Skizas shot back: “How do I know what I hit?  I just see the ball and if I like it, I swing.”

Goes Through Plate Ritual

Skizas’ batting box mannerisms are both unusual and provoking.  His first act upon arriving is to drop the bat and cover it with dirt.  Then comes the wiping off process, accomplished by drawing the bat between his pants legs.

Next, a fond kiss on the fat end of the flail and Louis is ready for business – almost anyway.

There remains the little matter of reaching into his right hip pocket at least three times before the pitcher delivers the ball.  No one knows just what he’s reaching for.  Some say it is a Greek religious medal.  Skizas won’t say.

His stance is unique, too.  His left heel is held off the ground while his weight is solidly on the back leg.  The left heel never touches the ground until the moment of bat impact on the ball.  The unusual stance has enabled him to whip the sometimes troublesome problem of keeping his weight on the back foot.

What about his other qualities besides hitting?  He is an average fielder, average thrower has better than average speed and is a hard battler, using spectacular head-first belly-slides.

Haraway, Frank. “Skizas, Bears’ Fidgety Slugger, Gives Flingers Fits With His Hits”, The Sporting News, 24 August 1955, Page 29.


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