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Phil Rizzuto

Shortstop
Born: September 25, 1917(1917-09-25)
Brooklyn, New York
Died: August 13, 2007 (aged 89)
West Orange, New Jersey
Batted: Right Threw: Right 
MLB debut
April 14, 1941 for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
August 16, 1956 for the New York Yankees
Career statistics
Batting average     .273
Hits     1,588
Runs batted in     563
Teams
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Induction     1994
Election Method     Veterans Committee

Philip Francis Rizzuto (September 25, 1917 – August 13, 2007), nicknamed "The Scooter", was an American shortstop in Major League Baseball. He spent his entire career from 1941 to 1956 with the New York Yankees, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A popular figure on a team dynasty which captured 10 AL titles and seven World Championships in his 13 seasons, Rizzuto holds numerous World Series records for shortstops. His best statistical season was 1950, when he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player. Despite this offensive peak, Rizzuto was a classic "small ball" player, noted for his strong defense in the infield. The slick-fielding Rizzuto is also regarded as one of the best bunters in baseball history. When he retired, his 1,217 career double plays ranked second in major league history, trailing only Luke Appling's total of 1,424, and his .968 career fielding average trailed only Lou Boudreau's mark of .973 among AL shortstops.

Ted Williams once claimed that his Red Sox would have won most of the Yankees' 1940s and 1950s pennants if they had had Rizzuto at shortstop[1], but Rizzuto himself was more modest: "My stats don't shout. They kind of whisper."[2]

After his playing days ended, Rizzuto enjoyed a 40-year career as a radio and television sports announcer for the Yankees. His idiosyncratic style and unpredictable digressions charmed listeners, while his lively play-by-play brought a distinct energy to his broadcasts. He was well-known for his trademark expression, "Holy cow!"

Contents

Early years

Rizzuto was born on September 25, 1917 in Brooklyn, the son of a streetcar motorman. There has been confusion about his year of birth, stemming from Rizzuto's "shaving a year off" the date at the beginning of his pro career, on the advice of teammates. Throughout his career, his birth year was reported as 1918 in both The Sporting News Baseball Register and the American League Red Book; later reference sources revised the year to 1917, indicating his age at the time of his death to be 89. After Rizzuto's death, the New York Post broke a story reporting Rizzuto's actual birth date as being in 1916.[3] However, it was subsequently reported that the New York City Department of Health said Rizzuto's official birth certificate is dated 1917.[3]

Despite his modest size — usually listed during his playing career as five feet, six inches tall and either 150 or 160 pounds, though he rarely reached even the lower figure[4] — Rizzuto played baseball as well as football at Richmond Hill High School in Queens.[5]

Playing career

YankeesRetired10.svg
Phil Rizzuto's number 10 was retired by the New York Yankees in 1985

Rizzuto was signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1937. His nickname, at times attributed to Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen, was actually bestowed on Rizzuto (according to him) by minor league teammate Billy Hitchcock because of the way Rizzuto ran the bases.

After being named the Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News in 1940 while playing with the Kansas City Blues, he played his first major league game on April 14, 1941. Taking over for the well-liked Frank Crosetti, whose batting average had dropped to .194 after several strong seasons, Rizzuto quickly fit into the Yankees lineup to form an outstanding middle infield with second baseman Joe Gordon. In his syndicated column on October 1, Grantland Rice compared the pair favorably to the middle infield of the crosstown Brooklyn Dodgers: "Billy Herman and Pee Wee Reese around the highly important keystone spot don't measure up, over a season anyway, with Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto, a pair of light-footed, quick-handed operatives who can turn seeming base hits into double plays often enough to save many a close scrap."[6]

Rizzuto's rookie season ended in the World Series, and though he hit poorly, the Yankees beat the Dodgers. The following year, Rizzuto led all hitters, for both the Yankees and the opposing St. Louis Cardinals, with 8 hits and a .381 average in the 1942 World Series; the light-hitting shortstop even added a home run after hitting just 4 in the regular season. Like many players of the era, his career was interrupted by a stint in the United States Navy during World War II. From 1943 through 1945, he played on a Navy baseball team alongside Dodgers shortstop Reese; the team was managed by Yankees catcher Bill Dickey.

In 1947 Rizzuto recorded a .969 fielding average, breaking Crosetti's 1939 team record for shortstops of .968. He broke his own record the following year with a .973 mark.

Rizzuto's peak as a player was 1949-50, when he was moved into the leadoff spot. In 1950, his MVP season, he hit .324 with 200 hits and 92 walks, and scored 125 runs. While leading the league in fielding percentage, Rizzuto handled 238 consecutive chances without an error, setting the single-season record for shortstops. From September 18, 1949 through June 7, 1950, he played 58 games at shortstop without an error, breaking the AL record of 46 set by Eddie Joost in 1947-1948; the record stood until Ed Brinkman played error-free for 72 games in 1972. Rizzuto recorded 123 double plays in 1950, three more than Crosetti's total from 1938; it remains the Yankee record. Rizzuto's 1950 fielding percentage of .9817 led the league, and came within less than a point of Lou Boudreau's league record of .9824, set in 1947. Rizzuto's mark was a franchise record until 1976, when Yankees shortstop Fred Stanley posted a mark of .983.

Rizzuto was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player by a large margin in 1950, after having been the runner-up for the award behind Ted Williams in 1949. He became the only MVP in history who led the league in sacrifice bunts. Rizzuto played in five All-Star Games, in 1942 and each year from 1950 to 1953. In 1950, he also won the Hickok Belt, awarded to the top professional athlete of the year, and was named Major League Player of the Year by The Sporting News. He was voted top major league shortstop by The Sporting News four consecutive years (1949–1952).

Rizzuto batted .320 in the 1951 World Series, for which the New York chapter of the BBWAA later voted him the Babe Ruth Award as the Series' top player. Decades later, Rizzuto still spoke resentfully of the incident in which pugnacious New York Giants second baseman Eddie Stanky sparked a rally by kicking the ball out of Rizzuto's glove on a tag play.

Rizzuto's 1953 Topps baseball card read in part: "Phil was turned down by the Dodgers because he was too small. He tried out for the Yanks. Despite his size, a scout liked him and sent him to a Yank farm. Later Phil was the Yank shortstop who helped N.Y. beat the Dodgers in three World Series!" Ty Cobb named Phil Rizzuto and Stan Musial as "two of the few modern ball players who could hold their own among old timers." Yankees manager Casey Stengel had famously dismissed Rizzuto during that Brooklyn Dodgers tryout in 1935 when Stengel was managing that team, advising him to "go get a shoeshine box." But Stengel ended up managing Rizzuto during five consecutive championship seasons, and would later say, "He is the greatest shortstop I have ever seen in my entire baseball career, and I have watched some beauties." During his heyday, Yankees pitcher Vic Raschi noted, "My best pitch is anything the batter grounds, lines or pops in the direction of Rizzuto." Decades into his retirement, teammate Joe DiMaggio characterized Rizzuto's enduring appeal to fans: "People loved watching me play baseball. Scooter, they just loved."

Rizzuto was noted for "small ball", strong defense, and clutch hitting, which helped the Yankees win seven World Series. As an offensive player, he is particularly regarded as one of the best bunters of his era; he led the AL in sacrifice hits every season from 1949 to 1952. In retirement, he often tutored players on the bunt during spring training. In the announcing booth, Rizzuto talked about the several different kinds of bunts he would use in different situations. Later during his broadcasting career, he occasionally expressed disappointment that the art of bunting had largely been lost in baseball. Rizzuto was among the AL's top five players in stolen bases seven times. Defensively, he led the league three times each in double plays and total chances per game, twice each in fielding and putouts, and once in assists. Rizzuto ranks among the top ten players in several World Series categories, including games, hits, walks, runs, and steals. Three times during his career, the Yankees played until Game Seven of the World Series; Rizzuto batted .455 in those three games (1947, 1952, 1955).

In Rizzuto's obituary, The New York Times recalled a play that had occurred on September 17, 1951, with the Yankees and Cleveland Indians tied for first place and just 12 games left in the season:

Rizzuto was at bat (he was righthanded) against Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, in the middle of a pennant chase. The score was tied at 1. DiMaggio was on third base. Rizzuto took Lemon’s first pitch, a called strike, and argued the call with the umpire. That gave him time to grab his bat from both ends, the sign to DiMaggio that a squeeze play was on for the next pitch. But DiMaggio broke early, surprising Rizzuto. Lemon, seeing what was happening, threw high, to avoid a bunt, aiming behind Rizzuto. But with Joltin’ Joe bearing down on him, Rizzuto got his bat up in time to lay down a bunt. “If I didn’t bunt, the pitch would’ve hit me right in the head,” Rizzuto said. “I bunted it with both feet off the ground, but I got it off toward first base.” DiMaggio scored the winning run. Stengel called it “the greatest play I ever saw.”

As the winning run scored, Lemon angrily threw both the ball and his pitching glove into the stands.

Rizzuto was released by the Yankees on August 25, 1956. Rizzuto often talked about the unusual circumstances of his release. Late in the 1956 season, the Yankees re-acquired Enos Slaughter, who had been with the team in 1954–55, and asked Rizzuto to meet with the front office to discuss adjustments to the upcoming postseason roster. They then asked Rizzuto to look over the list of Yankee players and suggest which ones might be cut to make room for Slaughter. For each name Rizzuto mentioned, a reason was given as to why that player needed to be kept. Finally, Rizzuto realized that the expendable name was his own.

He called former teammate George Stirnweiss, who told him to refrain from "blasting" the Yankees because it might cost him a non-playing job later. Rizzuto said many times that following Stirnweiss' advice was probably the best move he ever made.

When he retired, his 1,217 career double plays ranked second in major league history, trailing only Luke Appling's total of 1,424, and his .968 career fielding average trailed only Lou Boudreau's mark of .973 among AL shortstops. He also ranked fifth in AL history in games at shortstop (1,647), eighth in putouts (3,219) and total chances (8,148), and ninth in assists (4,666).

At the time of his last game, he had also appeared in the most World Series games ever (52), a record soon surpassed by five of his Yankees teammates. Rizzuto still holds numerous World Series records for shortstops, including the most career games played, singles, walks, times on base, stolen bases, at-bats, putouts, assists and double plays.[7]

Personal life

Rizzuto married Cora Anne Ellenborn on June 23, 1943; the two first met the previous year when Rizzuto substituted for Joe DiMaggio as a speaker at a Newark communion breakfast. “I fell in love so hard I didn’t go home,” Rizzuto recalled. He rented a nearby hotel room for a month to be near her.

Despite Rizzuto's desire to be near Cora, wives did not come along on Yankee road trips. Years later, on hearing that former teammate Joe DiMaggio was to marry Marilyn Monroe, Yogi Berra quipped, "I don't know if it's good for baseball, but it sure beats the hell out of rooming with Phil Rizzuto."

The Rizzutos moved to Hillside, New Jersey in 1950, to a home on Windsor Way. With later financial successes, they moved to a magnificent Tudor home on Westminster Avenue, where they lived for many years.

During his playing days, Rizzuto (along with several other big leaguers) would work in the off season at the American Shops off U.S. Route 22 near Bayonne, New Jersey. At a charity event in 1951, Rizzuto met a young blind boy named Ed Lucas, who had lost his sight when he was struck by a baseball between the eyes on the same day as Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World." Rizzuto took an interest in the boy, and his school, St. Joseph's School for the Blind. Until his death, Rizzuto raised millions for St. Joseph's by donating profits from his commercials and books, and also by hosting the Annual Phil Rizzuto Celebrity Golf Classic and "Scooter" Awards. Rizzuto and Lucas remained friendly, and it was through the Yankee broadcaster's influence that Lucas's 2006 wedding was the only one ever conducted at Yankee Stadium. Lucas was one of Rizzuto's last visitors at his nursing home, days before his death.

Broadcasting career

Rizzuto had options following his release by the Yankees, including a player contract from the Cardinals and a minor league offer from the Dodgers. But Rizzuto, who'd filled in for the New York Giants' wraparound host Frankie Frisch in September 1956 following Frisch's heart attack, received a favorable response. With his eye on a post-playing career, Rizzuto submitted an audition tape to the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees' sponsor, Ballantine Beer, took notice, and insisted that the team hire Rizzuto as an announcer for the 1957 season. General manager George Weiss was obliged to fire Jim Woods to make room for Rizzuto in the booth. When Weiss told Woods he was out in favor of Rizzuto, he said that it was the first time he'd had to fire someone for no reason.

Rizzuto broadcast Yankee games on radio and television for the next 40 years. His popular catchphrase was "Holy cow." Rizzuto also became known for saying "Unbelievable!" or "Did you see that?" to describe a great play, and would call somebody a "huckleberry" if he did something Rizzuto didn't like. He would frequently wish listeners a happy birthday or anniversary, send get-well wishes to fans in hospitals, and speak well of restaurants he liked, or of the cannoli he ate between innings. He also joked about leaving the game early, saying to his wife, "I'll be home soon, Cora!" and "I gotta get over that bridge", referring to the nearby George Washington Bridge, which he would use to get back to his home in Hillside. In later years, Rizzuto would announce the first six innings of Yankee games; the TV director would sometimes puckishly show a shot of the bridge (which can be seen from the top of Yankee Stadium) after Rizzuto had departed. Rizzuto was also very phobic about lightning, and sometimes left the booth following violent thunderclaps.

Rizzuto's broadcast partners included Mel Allen (1957–1964), Red Barber (1957–66), Joe Garagiola (1965–67), Jerry Coleman (1963–69), Bob Gamere (1970), Frank Messer (1968–85), Bill White (1971–88), former Yankee catcher Fran Healy (1978–81), John Gordon (1982–84), former Yankee slugger Bobby Murcer (1983–84, 1991–96), Spencer Ross (1985), Jim Kaat (1986), Billy Martin (1986–87, in between his third and fourth stints as Yankee manager), George Grande (1989–90), Tom Seaver (1989–93), Paul Olden (1994–95), and Rick Cerone (1996). Allen, Barber, Garagiola and Coleman have all been honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame as broadcasters, and Seaver has been inducted as a player. Coleman and Martin had been double play partners of Rizzuto as second basemen for the Yankees.

Rizzuto was twice assigned to broadcast the World Series while with the Yankees. He worked the 1964 series on radio with Joe Garagiola when the Yankees faced the Cardinals. The next time the Yankees made it into the series, in 1976, Rizzuto joined Garagiola and Tony Kubek as part of the series coverage on NBC-TV. The 1976 World Series was the last to have a local voice from each of the two teams as part of its announcing team. WPIX and its usual Rizzuto-Messer-White broadcast trifecta carried the ALCS in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1981, providing New York viewers a local alternative to the nationally-broadcast telecasts.

Rizzuto would typically refer to his broadcast partners by their last names, calling them "White", "Murcer" and "Seaver" instead of "Bill", "Bobby" or "Tom." Reportedly, he did the same with teammates during his playing days. Rizzuto developed a reputation as a "homer," an announcer who would sometimes lapse into rooting for the home team. As an announcer, Rizzuto devised the unique scoring notation "WW" for his scorecard; it stood for "Wasn't Watching."

Rizzuto's most significant moments as a broadcaster included the new single-season home run record set by Roger Maris on October 1, 1961, which he called on WCBS radio:

  • "Here's the windup, fastball, hit deep to right, this could be it! Way back there! Holy cow, he did it! Sixty-one for Maris! And look at the fight for that ball out there! Holy cow, what a shot! Another standing ovation for Maris, and they're still fighting for that ball out there, climbing over each other's backs. One of the greatest sights I've ever seen here at Yankee Stadium!"[8]

Rizzuto also called the pennant-winning home run hit by Chris Chambliss in the American League Championship Series on October 14, 1976, on WPIX-TV:

  • "He hits one deep to right-center! That ball is out of here! The Yankees win the pennant! Holy cow, Chris Chambliss on one swing!" [As fans poured onto the field, tearing it up for souvenirs] "And the Yankees win the American League pennant. Unbelievable, what a finish! As dramatic a finish as you'd ever want to see! With all that delay, we told you Littell (Mark Littell, the Royals' reliever who gave up the homer) had to be a little upset. And holy cow, Chambliss hits one over the fence, he is being mobbed by the fans, and this field will never be the same, but the Yankees have won it in the bottom of the 9th, seven to six!"

Rizzuto was also on the mic for the one-game playoff that decided the dramatic 1978 AL East race between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, the Pine Tar game involving George Brett on July 24, 1983, and Phil Niekro’s 300th career win in 1985.

Malapropisms and stream-of-consciousness commentary were fairly common for Rizzuto, which annoyed his critics but amused his fans:

  • "Uh-oh, deep to left-center, nobody's gonna get that one! Holy cow, somebody got it!"
  • "Bouncer to third, they'll never get him! No, why don't I just shut up!"
  • "All right! Stay fair! No, it won't stay fair. Good thing it didn't stay fair, or I think he would've caught it!"
  • "Oh, these Yankees can get the clutch hits, Murcer. I might have to go home early, I just got a cramp in my leg."
  • "Well, that kind of puts the damper on even a Yankee win." (He was still on the air, just after a game, when he heard that Pope Paul VI had just died. Esquire magazine called that the "Holiest Cow of 1978.")

As Dave Righetti hurled his no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox on July 4, 1983 at Yankee Stadium, Rizzuto—broadcasting on WABC radio—described the video of a close play as if his listeners could see it. Partner Frank Messer gently jogged the Scooter's memory by quipping "Which side of the radio are we looking at?" (To be fair, Rizzuto and Messer alternated that day between WABC radio, TV's SportsChannel (now MSG Plus) and the Fan Appreciation giveaways on the field.)

During the openings to two separate telecasts, Rizzuto began by reading off a teleprompter, "Welcome to New York Yankee Baseball. I'm Bill White... wait a minute." Both times, this caused White, standing to Scooter's left, to burst out in laughter. On another occasion, Rizzuto introduced the team as "Bill Rizzuto" and "Phil White."

Rizzuto's relationships with White and Healy (the latter first worked with Rizzuto on radio) produced some good-humored exchanges, including one with White during the WPIX telecast of the American League Eastern Division title game on October 2, 1978. Red Sox batter Bob (Beetle) Bailey, who had gained a little weight, had just stepped into the batter's box:

  • RIZZUTO: "Looks a little out of shape, doesn't he, Bill?"
  • WHITE: (chuckles) "Well, Beetle's been around a while..."
  • RIZZUTO: "Yeah."
  • WHITE: "Got a lot of money -- from the Pirates. Put it all in California real estate. That's why he's got that big...uh..."
  • RIZZUTO (chuckles): "Big WHAT?"
  • WHITE: "Well, big BANK account." (Both men laugh.)

On another occasion, Healy impishly introduced Rizzuto's return to the broadcast booth by saying, "Here's Scooter, back from the men's room," leading to the following exchange:

  • RIZZUTO: "Healy, you huckleberry, you're not supposed to tell people that. Tell them I went to see Bill Veeck (the Chicago White Sox president). Besides, Healy, I've been drinking coffee all day. You know what happens when you drink coffee all day?"
  • HEALY: "What's that, Scooter?"
  • RIZZUTO: "You go see Bill Veeck."

Not all of Rizzuto's broadcasting experiences were jovial. On the evening of the funeral of former teammate Mickey Mantle (August 15, 1995 in Dallas, Texas), the Yankees were set to play a road game against the Boston Red Sox. Rizzuto naturally assumed that he would be allowed to miss the game to attend the funeral with former teammates, but was scheduled to call the game. WPIX and/or the Yankees refused to let him go, citing that "someone needed to do the color commentary." Rizzuto eventually gave into emotion and abruptly left the booth in the middle of the telecast saying he could not go on. Rizzuto announced his retirement from announcing soon afterwards, which many attributed to the incident.

He was eventually persuaded to return for one more season in 1996[9] where he called another Yankee shortstop protégé, Derek Jeter's first home run. When he retired that season, he had spent parts of seven decades—virtually all of his adult life—in the Yankee organization as a minor league player, major league player and broadcaster. Although Mel Allen is to this day identified as "The Voice of the Yankees," Rizzuto was a Yankee broadcaster for 40 years to Allen's 29.

Rizzuto had played alongside Bobby Brown and announced alongside Bill White; Brown and White would later serve concurrently as presidents of the American and National Leagues, respectively, between 1989 and 1994. Rizzuto placed 27th in Curt Smith's book Voices of The Game, which ranked baseball's 101 all-time best announcers.

Additional media career

Rizzuto was the longtime celebrity spokesman in TV ads for The Money Store. He was their spokesman for nearly 20 years, from the 1970s into the 1990s. He also served for a number of years as the commercial spokesperson for Yoo-Hoo chocolate beverages. Rizzuto did a 5-minute weekday evening sports show ("It's Sports Time with Phil Rizzuto") from 1957 to 1977.

On February 2, 1950, Rizzuto was the very first mystery guest on the long-running 1950–67 Goodson-Todman Productions game show What's My Line? hosted by John Charles Daly. Rizzuto made four more appearances on the program, three as a guest panelist in the 1956-1957 season following his retirement, and one in 1970 as the Mystery Guest on a later incarnation of the quiz show. Rizzuto also made various television appearances on programs such as CBS's The Ed Sullivan Show, To Tell The Truth, and The Phil Silvers Show.

Rizzuto is also the announcer who provides the play-by-play commentary during the long spoken bridge in Meat Loaf's 1977 song "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Ostensibly an account of a baseball sequence, it actually describes the singer's step-by-step efforts to lose his virginity. Rizzuto was reportedly unaware of the suggestive double entendre nature of his spoken contribution, and claimed to be annoyed by the song's success after he began receiving disapproving letters from clergymen. However, by the time he was given a gold record for the album, the mini-controversy had been smoothed over. "Phil was no dummy," said singer Meat Loaf. "He knew exactly what was going on, and he told me such. He was just getting some heat from a priest and felt like he had to do something. I totally understood."[10]

Rizzuto's cultural status was further elevated in 1993 when editors Tom Peyer and Hart Seely published O Holy Cow!: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto, a collection of Rizzuto's on-air calls and disjointed anecdotes, transcribed and reformatted as found poetry. Rizzuto donated his royalties from the book, which contained more than 90 "poems," to a variety of children's charities. Examples of Rizzuto the Poet include:

  • Legs
The legs are so important.
In golf, they're very,
People don't realize
How important legs are in golf,
Or in baseball,
And football, definitely.
Track.
O, in track.
All-important.
Jumping.
Soccer.
Is there anything, what?
Is there anything where the legs
Are not the most important?
  • This Planet Warm and Human (excerpt)
Terrible.
Terrible what's happening in that situation.
And with all that going on down in Florida.
Boy.
They're still showing those pictures on TV
Of the damage down in Florida
By the way,
Are we going to Florida today,
Moore?
O that's in for a base hit!
Two runs will score!
No they won't.

Many other examples of Rizzuto "poetry" are available online.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

Honors

The Yankees retired Rizzuto's number 10 in a ceremony at Yankee Stadium on August 4, 1985. During this ceremony, he was also given a plaque to be placed in the stadium's Monument Park. The plaque makes reference to the fact that he "has enjoyed two outstanding careers, all-time Yankee shortstop, one of the great Yankee broadcasters." Joe DiMaggio was on hand, stating that "Rizzuto is my Hall of Famer." Humorously, Rizzuto was accidentally bumped to the ground during his own ceremony, by a live cow wearing a halo (that is, a "holy cow"); both honoree and cow were unhurt. Rizzuto later described the encounter: "That big thing stepped right on my shoe and pushed me backwards, like a karate move." In that day's game, future broadcast partner Tom Seaver recorded his 300th career victory.

Most baseball observers, including Rizzuto himself, came to believe that Derek Jeter had surpassed him as the greatest shortstop in Yankees history. The Scooter paid tribute to his heir apparent during the 2001 postseason at Yankee Stadium; jogging back to the Yankee dugout, he flipped the ceremonial baseball backhand, imitating Jeter's celebrated game-saving throw to home plate that had just occurred during the Yankees' 2001 American League Division Series triumph. ESPN reported that the photo of Jeter and Rizzuto taken that evening is one of Jeter's most prized possessions.

In the spring of 1957, following Rizzuto's release, Baltimore Orioles manager Paul Richards said, "Among those shortstops whom I have had the good fortune to see in action, it's got to be Rizzuto on top for career achievement. For a five-year period, I would have to take Lou Boudreau. ... But, year after year, season after season, Rizzuto was a standout." Sportswriter Dan Daniel wrote at the time, "It seems to me that Rizzuto must be included among the few players of the past five years who may look forward to ultimate election to the Hall of Fame." [4] However, Daniel's assessment did not come to pass for over 35 years.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame along with Leo Durocher (who was selected posthumously), in 1994 by the Veterans Committee, following a long campaign for Rizzuto's election by Yankee fans who were frustrated that he had not received the honor. Some of Rizzuto's peers supported his candidacy, including Boston's Ted Williams. The push for Rizzuto became especially acute after 1984, when the committee elected Pee Wee Reese, the similarly-regarded shortstop of the crosstown Brooklyn Dodgers.

Bill James later used Rizzuto's long candidacy as a recurring focus in his book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, devoting several chapters to the shortstop's career and comparisons with similar players. James assessed Rizzuto's career statistics as historically substandard by Hall of Fame standards, although he acknowledged that credit must be given for the years he missed in WWII, and criticized many of the public arguments both for and against his selection; but despite noting that Rizzuto was a great defensive player and a good hitter he stated that he could not endorse his candidacy, as there were too many similar players with virtually identical accomplishments.[17] The book's final paragraph noted Rizzuto's election to the Hall in February 1994. James, however, did point out that there were numerous players in the Hall who were inferior to Rizzuto, and in 2001 he selected Rizzuto as the 16th greatest shortstop of all time,[18] ahead of eight other Hall of Famers.

Rizzuto was modest about his achievements, saying, "I never thought I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is for the big guys, pitchers with 100 mph fastballs and hitters who sock homers and drive in a lot of runs. That’s the way it always has been, and the way it should be."[19]

Rizzuto gave a memorably discombobulated induction speech at Cooperstown, in which he repeatedly complained about the buzzing flies that were pestering him. Rizzuto's "inimitable and wondrous digressions and ramblings" were mimicked by New York Times columnist Ira Berkow:

  • Anyway, somewhere in the speech (Rizzuto) told about leaving home in Brooklyn for the first time when he was 19 years old and going to play shortstop in the minor league town of Bassett, Va., and he was on a train with no sleeper and when he got his first taste of Southern fried chicken and it was great and it was also the first time that he ever ate -- "Hey, White, what's that stuff that looks like oatmeal?" -- and Bill White, his onetime announcing partner on Yankee broadcasts, and, like all his partners, never seemed to learn their first names, though he knew the first and last names of a lot of the birthdays he forever is announcing and the owners of his favorite restaurants even though as he admits he often talks about the score or the game, but after 38 years of announcing games and after a 13-year playing career with championship Yankee teams few seem to care about this either, well, White was in the audience and stood up and said "Grits."

In 1999, the minor league Staten Island Yankees named their mascot "Scooter the Holy Cow," after Rizzuto.[20]

He is a 2009 inductee of the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[21]

There is a park named after him in Union, New Jersey directly across from Kean University.

Death

Rizzuto died in his sleep on August 13, 2007, three days short of the 51st anniversary of his last game as a Yankee. He had been in declining health for several years and was living at a nursing home in West Orange, New Jersey for the last months of his life.[22][23]

When Rizzuto did not attend the annual Cooperstown reunion in 2005 and the annual New York Yankees Old Timers Day in 2006, questions were raised about his health. His last public appearance came early in 2006; visibly frail, he announced that he was putting much of his memorabilia on the market. In September 2006, Rizzuto's 1950 MVP plaque fetched $175,000, three of his World Series rings sold for $84,825, and a Yankee cap with a wad of chewing gum on it went for $8,190. The majority of the proceeds went to Phil's longtime charity of choice, Jersey City's St. Joseph's School for the Blind.[24]

On September 12, 2006, the New York Post revealed that Rizzuto was currently in a "private rehab facility, trying to overcome muscle atrophy and problems with his esophagus."[24] During his last extensive interview, on WFAN in late 2005, Rizzuto revealed that he had an operation where much of his stomach was removed and that he was being treated with medical steroids, a subject he joked about at the time in light of baseball's performance-enhancing drugs scandal. At the time of his death, Rizzuto was the oldest living member of Baseball's Hall of Fame, at 89.

Rizzuto is survived by his wife, Cora, daughters Cindy Rizzuto, Patricia Rizzuto and Penny Rizzuto Yetto, son Phil Rizzuto Jr., and two granddaughters.[25]

Rizzuto in popular culture

  • In a scene from the 1995 movie Billy Madison, Adam Sandler's character Billy is showing off his cursive writing to the third graders when his teacher asks him to spell "Rizzuto." Not knowing how to write Z's, he writes "Rirruto"
Veronica Vaughn: Rirruto?
Billy Madison: Those're Z's.
Veronica Vaughn: They look like R's to me.
Billy Madison: That's not fair, Rizzuto is not a word, he's a baseball player, you're CHEATING!
  • The Seinfeld episode "The Pothole" features a Phil Rizzuto key chain that says "Holy Cow!" whenever its head is squeezed. George, who received one as a Yankees employee, promptly loses it, and it is sealed under asphalt in a pothole. Kramer erroneously proclaims it a "talking Nixon."
  • Phil Rizzuto's commentary is heard in "The Letter" episode of Seinfeld describing a struggle between Elaine Benes and security guards in the owner's box behind home plate at Yankee Stadium. Elaine refused to remove her Oriole hat and the stadium staff were trying to eject her.
  • In the 1989 film The Dream Team one of the main characters, Albert (played by Stephen Furst), is a catatonic who is obsessed with watching New York Yankee games announced by Rizzuto. In the film's opening minutes, Albert even repeats Rizzuto's declaration: "Holy cow...what a great day for a game!" He is markedly disappointed when one of his fellow patients comes to get him for group therapy. Throughout the film, Albert makes baseball-related statements based on Rizzuto's broadcasts that help his fellow mental patients decipher the secret information he knows about their doctor's disappearance. In fact, earlier in the film when their psychiatrist says that at least Albert is now listening, Billy (played by Michael Keaton) says snidely, "Yeah, to Phil Rizzuto."
  • Pro wrestler and New York native Mick Foley wrote a baseball-themed novel entitled Scooter in which the main character Scooter Reilly is named after Rizzuto.
  • In the opening scene of the 1989 movie Sea of Love, Al Pacino plays a police detective who goes undercover as Phil Rizzuto. A "New York Yankees rally" is really an undercover sting operation for dozens of wanted felons who show up in response to an "invitation" to meet and greet their favorite Yankee players at a breakfast. Before the ruse is revealed, Pacino is serving orange juice while wearing a Yankees windbreaker. One of the felons asks Pacino when the Yankees are due to arrive, and Pacino responds with, "What...you don't recognize me?... Holy Cow!" The felon smiles broadly in recognition, saying, "Yeah, yeah...that IS you!"
  • Rizzuto was played by Joe Grifasi in HBO's film 61*. In ESPN's film The Bronx Is Burning, Grifasi played Yogi Berra, and while Rizzuto is not shown, some of his actual 1977 broadcasts are played.
  • In the "Triple Play" episode of The Golden Girls, Sophia makes a reference to Phil Rizzuto; she makes another such reference in the episode "Foreign Exchange," in which she mocks Rizzuto's fondness of the phrase "holy cow!" [4]

See also

References

  1. ^ SABR :|| SABR-Zine | From a Researcher's Notebook
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b Rizzuto's Secret of Youth Lasted for Years
  4. ^ a b Daniel, Dan (1957-03-06). "How Good Was Scooter? No. 1 Shortstop". The Sporting News: p. 3.  
  5. ^ Bodley, Hal. "N.Y. Yankees Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto dies", USA Today, August 14, 2007. Accessed August 14, 2007. "Rizzuto was still in Richmond Hill High School in 1935 when he said in a New York Times interview he was driven to Ebbets Field in 'Uncle Mike's car — one of those old cars, with the balloon tires' — for a tryout with his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers."
  6. ^ James, Bill (1994). The Politics of Glory: How Baseball's Hall of Fame Really Works. New York: Macmillan. pp. 138. ISBN 0-02-510774-7.  
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ Phil Rizzuto calls Roger Maris' 61st home run
  9. ^ Richard Sandomir (2006-09-14). "50 Years in Game Is Enough for Kaat". The New York Times: p. D-3. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/14/sports/baseball/14sandomir.html?_r=1&oref=slogin.  
  10. ^ Pearlman, Jeff (August 29, 2007). "Phil and Meat Loaf will always have "Paradise"". ESPN. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=pearlman/070816. Retrieved 2009-08-28.  
  11. ^ Review of Phil Rizzuto's O Holy Cow! : The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto - BrothersJudd.com
  12. ^ Phil Rizzuto, Hart Seely, Tom Peyer - O Holy Cow!: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto
  13. ^ COSMIC BASEBALL ASSOCIATION- 1999 B'Stormers Roster
  14. ^ Poet in Pinstripes - New York Times
  15. ^ Be The Media: O Holy Cow! The selected verse of Phil Rizzuto
  16. ^ Baseball legend Phil Rizzuto goes home - Baseball Players - Helium - by Joseph Bednar
  17. ^ James, pp. 433-434.
  18. ^ James, Bill (2001). The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York: Free Press. pp. 603–04. ISBN 0-684-80697-5.  
  19. ^ [3]
  20. ^ Scooter the Holy Cow
  21. ^ New Jersey to Bon Jovi: You Give Us a Good Name Yahoo News, February 2, 2009
  22. ^ Statements on the passing of Phil Rizzuto, MLB.com
  23. ^ Yankees Hall Of Famer Phil Rizzuto Dies - Sports News Story - WNBC | New York
  24. ^ a b Kernan, Kevin (2006-09-12). "RIZZUTO FIGHTS ON IN LATEST BATTLE". New York Post.  
  25. ^ 1010 WINS - On-Air, Online, On Demand - Yankees Great Phil Rizzuto Dies at 89

External links

Preceded by
Ted Williams
American League Most Valuable Player
1950
Succeeded by
Yogi Berra
Preceded by
Inaugural winner
Hickok Belt Winner
1950
Succeeded by
Allie Reynolds
Preceded by
Jerry Coleman
Babe Ruth Award
1951
Succeeded by
Johnny Mize







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