View Full Version : The Scooter Passes On

August 14th, 2007, 01:46 PM
August 14, 2007

Phil Rizzuto, Yankees Shortstop, Dies at 89

Phil Rizzuto tips his cap during the 2004 Old-Timers’ Day ceremonies at Yankee Stadium.


Phil Rizzuto, the sure-handed Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop nicknamed The Scooter, who punctuated his extended Yankee life as a broadcaster with birthday wishes to nuns and exclamations of “Holy cow!” died today. He was 89. His death was confirmed by the Yankees. Rizzuto played for the Yankees from 1941 to 1956. His departure was abrupt. No longer willing to carry an aging, seldom-used infielder, the team cut him on Old-Timers’ Day. Soon after, he began calling Yankee games for WPIX-TV/Channel 11 and did not leave that role until 1996.

Rizzuto played an integral role on the dynastic Yankees before and after World War II. He was a masterly bunter and defensive specialist for teams that steamrolled to 10 American League pennants and nine World Series championships. He was one of 12 Yankees on teams that swept to five consecutive World Series triumphs, from 1949 to 1953.

He was a 5-foot-6-inch, 150-pound sparkplug who did the little things right, from turning the pivot on a double play to laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt. He left the slugging to powerful teammates like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Yogi Berra.

“I hustled and got on base and made the double play,” he said of his role. “That’s all the Yankees needed in those days.”

His career statistics were not spectacular: a batting average of .273, 38 home runs and 562 runs batted in. But in his best season, 1950, when he hit a career-high .324 and drove in 66 runs, he won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award.

Rizzuto was frequently compared with other shortstops of his era, among them Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Marty Marion of the St. Louis Cardinals. But to DiMaggio, his teammate for eight seasons — each man lost three seasons to military service during World War II — Rizzuto was the best.

“The little guy in front of me,” said DiMaggio, one of the game’s great centerfielders. “He made my job easy. I didn’t have to pick up so many ground balls.”

A major league career was not foreordained. One of five children of Rose and Philip Rizzuto Sr., a construction foreman and trolley motorman, Fiero Francis Rizzuto was born and grew up in Brooklyn and later in the Glendale neighborhood of Queens, where the family moved when he was 12.

While attending Richmond Hill High School, he tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the team’s manager, Casey Stengel, told him he was too small. The New York Giants told him to get lost. But Stengel’s rejection — “Go get a shoeshine box,” the manager told him — was the most vivid.

“When he became the Yankee manager in 1949, I reminded him of that, but he pretended he didn’t remember,” Rizzuto said of Stengel. “By ’49, I didn’t need a shoebox, anyway. The clubhouse boy at the Stadium shined my Yankee spikes every day.”

The Yankees signed him in 1937 and sent him to their Class D minor league team in Bassett, Va. Stopping for a meal in Richmond, Rizzuto was served grits for the first time.

“I didn’t know what to do with them, so I put them in my pocket,” he said in the hyperbolic style that would later make the New York Post sportswriter Milton Gross describe him as “a storyteller of Munchausen proportions.”

A mistreated left leg injury during his stint in Virginia — he had stepped in a gopher hole — nearly led to amputation; or maybe it didn’t, depending on how Rizzuto told the tale. “They had to cut part of the muscle out of my leg because it was infested with gangrene,” he said, “and actually that was a break for me because I used to be so fast when I was a kid, I’d run by the ground balls, and this slowed me just enough so that I could make the ball.”

His appearance at spring training with the Yankees in 1941 made the pitcher Lefty Gomez wonder why the team had summoned a “Lilliputian,” but Rizzuto established himself after a rocky start, replaced the veteran Frank Crosetti and hit .307 in his rookie season.

In addition to becoming a bulwark of the Yankees’ infield, forming superior double-play combinations with second basemen Gerry Priddy, Joe Gordon and Jerry Coleman (who in the 1960’s would join Rizzuto in the broadcast booth), Rizzuto developed into an eccentric — funny, superstitious, afraid of thunder and the target of pranks.

When the tradition was for fielders to leave their gloves in the field when they came in to bat, Rizzuto would often return to the field to find a mouse, a snake or a rat wedged in the glove fingers.

Two plays in 1951 came to symbolize Rizzuto’s career.

In the first, Rizzuto was at bat against Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians. With DiMaggio on third base, Rizzuto took Lemon’s first pitch and argued the called strike 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. With Joltin’ Joe bearing down on him, Rizzuto laid down a bunt on a pitch that Lemon threw at his head.

“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, and Lemon angrily hurled the ball at the press box. Stengel called it “the greatest play I ever saw.”

Later that year, an incident during Game 3 of the World Series against the New York Giants provided Rizzuto with an enemy he could fulminate about for the rest of his life.

With one out in the fifth inning, the Giants’ Eddie Stanky drew a walk against the Yankees’ pitcher, Vic Raschi. The next batter was Alvin Dark, and the Yankees intercepted a hit-and-run sign to him. Berra, the catcher, signaled a pitchout, and his throw to Rizzuto at second base beat Stanky by 10 feet. But as Rizzuto waited with the ball in his glove, Stanky slid and kicked the ball into center field with his right foot. He ran to third. Rizzuto was charged with an error, and the Giants scored five unearned runs.

“I was nonchalanting it,” Rizzuto admitted sheepishly. “I was looking at the TV camera.”

Rizzuto was shocked when the Yankees released him in 1956 to sign the outfielder Enos Slaughter. But he soon accepted a job in the Yankee radio and TV booth with Mel Allen and Red Barber, two towering figures in sportscasting. “You’ll never last,” Howard Cosell, then a radio sportscaster, told him. “You look like George Burns and you sound like Groucho Marx.”

Three days into his new career, Rizzuto told his wife, Cora, that he wanted to quit — but he stayed, despite periodic threats to resign, until 1996. To those who heard him exclaim “Holy cow!” for a play (or a cannoli) that excited him, or chide a player as a “huckleberry” for committing an error, Rizzuto was a beloved, idiosyncratic voice despite his lack of professional credentials.

Rizzuto met Cora Ellenborg in 1942, after substituting for DiMaggio as a speaker at a communion breakfast in Newark. He had been invited to her home afterward for coffee and cake by her father, a Newark fire chief. “I fell in love so hard I didn’t go home,” Rizzuto recalled. He rented a hotel room nearby for a month to be near her.

Mrs. Rizzuto survives him, as do their daughters, Patricia, Cynthia and Penny; a son, Phil Jr., and two grandchildren.

Over four decades in the Yankee announcing booth, he transformed himself from a conventional announcer with a distinctly New York voice into a comic presence whose broadcasts often diverged from actual game-calling.

The first thing he asked Mel Allen was whether he could use the phrase “Holy cow!” Years later, Harry Caray, another singular baseball announcer, asked Rizzuto to stop using the expression. Rizzuto refused, saying he had adopted it in high school at his baseball coach’s suggestion to replace profanity with cleaner words.

When the Yankees celebrated him with a day in his honor in 1985, retiring his uniform No. 10, the team presented him with a cow, which promptly stepped on his foot.

Rizzuto’s game commentary vied for time with anniversary wishes and confirmation congratulations. He never used the first names of his partners at WPIX-TV — they were “Coleman,” “Murcer,” “White,” “Messer,” “Seaver,” or “Cerone,” never Jerry, Bobby, Bill, Frank, Tom or Rick. Listeners heard about his wife (he called her “my bride”), an employment appeal for his son, Scooter Jr., reports about his golf game or exultations about a new Italian dish.

Rizzuto’s ramblings and pro-Yankee sentiments maddened detractors, who felt he paid too little attention to the game. But fans adored Rizzuto as they would a delightful uncle, and colleagues were fond of recalling his scorecard notation of “W.W.,” for “Wasn’t Watching.”

Rizzuto often left a game at Yankee Stadium before its conclusion to beat the traffic over the George Washington Bridge. As one game headed into extra innings, he asked Messer, “Want a cup of coffee?” Messer nodded. But Rizzuto was gone, to his home in New Jersey. As he entered the broadcast booth the next day, Rizzuto tapped Messer on the shoulder and said, “Here’s your coffee.”

Rizzuto’s playing credentials failed to get him elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for many years. “I’ll take any way to get in,” he joked. “If they want a batboy, I’ll go in as a batboy.”

But in 1994, he was voted in by the Hall’s Veterans Committee, which reconsiders candidates rejected by writers. Friends like Yogi Berra, Bill White and Pee Wee Reese sat on the committee.

Rizzuto resigned from Channel 11 abruptly in August 1995, distraught that he had remained to broadcast a game at Fenway Park rather than join former teammates at Mickey Mantle’s funeral in Dallas. Watching the services on television from the booth, he said: “I took it hard and knew I made a big mistake. I got more upset as the game went on and left in the fifth. They tried to drag me back, but I wouldn’t.”

But he returned in 1996 for a final season, persuaded by fans, Mantle’s sons and George M. Steinbrenner III, the principal owner of the Yankees.

Through his final season, Rizzuto remained true to his style. Discussing a late-night rerun of “Seinfeld,” he called it “the first time since my honeymoon that I’ve gone to sleep with a smile on my face.” At his Hall of Fame induction, he explained the anatomical roots for his brand of commentary.“My bride again told me that the reason I got in so much trouble: ‘When you get a thought, it’s supposed to travel through your brain. You got a little trap door back here and then you say, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” O.K., and you drop the thing.’

“She says my trap door is open constantly, so whatever I say could come out before I can think about it.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

August 14th, 2007, 03:02 PM
he will be missed, Holy Cow!!!!

August 14th, 2007, 03:38 PM
I just remember him doing ads on channel 11 for the Money Store.

His voice is certainly unforgettable.

I hope he was happy with what he did, I hate to say this, but I hope he was feeling good when he passed (I hope you know what I mean)....

For a second there, I thought Zip was talking about Libby! :D

August 14th, 2007, 03:59 PM
I am 48 years old (OK soon to be 49) and began watching the yankees in 1966/67. I was a strong fan, watched every televised game, and listened to the radio broadcasts of the others. I remember the Scooter teaming up with a litnay of partners... from Joe Garigiola, to Jerry Coleman, Frank Messer, Bill White, etc etc...

The Yankees were not the powerhouse in the mid to late 60's they are today or were previously. It was sometimes tough for a 7 year old whose whole world revolved around the Yankees and the Jets (American Football team) to deal with. But the Scooter was always there for us, through bad times as well as the good. In an odd way, he has been a part of my life for longer than any non-family member.

I loved the guy... got a real kick out of him. Thinking about him always reminds me of all the innocence and hope of childhood and all the brightness of a sunny day day. It evokes being home from school over the summer, playing ball all day long with my friends, rushing out to finish cutting the lawn with my mitt hanging from the handle of the lawnmower, so I could run down the street to play ball when I was finished. Only to rush home at night to watch the game.

I will always consider him the truest of all Yankees.havng stayed connected with the oranization in one form or another for 50 years and never waivering in his love for them. Honestly, the experience of following he Yankees has not been the same since he stopped broadcasting in 1996. His demise marks the end of an era in Yankee history and in an odd way a milestone in my life.

Rest in Peace.

August 14th, 2007, 05:54 PM
Yeah, this is just sad. I heard about this on WFAN, and it just sad to hear about someone as good as Rizzuto passing on. Especially, with the state baseball is in. Phil was one of the good guys.

August 15th, 2007, 12:24 PM
I was at Riis Park yesterday morning. Stopped for gas about noon. Back in the car, WAXQ was playing

Paradise by the Dashboard Light.

I was thinking, haven't heard this in a while.

Ok, here we go.
We got a real pressure cooker going here,
two down, nobody on,
no score, bottom of the ninth...
There's the windup, and there it is,
a line shot up the middle, look at him go.
This boy can really fly!
He's rounding first and really turning it on now,
he's not letting up at all, he's gonna try for second;
the ball is bobbled out in center,
and here comes the throw, and what a throw!
He's gonna slide in head first,
here he comes, he's out!
No, wait, safe, safe at second base.
This kid really makes things happen out there.
Batter steps up to the plate here's the pitch,
he's going, and what a jump he's got,
he's trying for third, here's the throw,
its in the dirt, safe at third!
Holy cow, stolen base!
He's taking a pretty big lead out there,
almost daring him to try and pick him off.
The pitcher glances over, winds up, and it bunted,
bunted down the third base line,
the suicide squeeze is on!
Here he comes, squeeze play,
it's gonna be close, here's the throw,
here's the play at the plate,
Holy cow, I think he's gonna make it!

Switched to WFAN, a caller was relating a Scooter story. i heard the Scooter was dead.

I had to smile. By the time I came along, he was already an established broadcaster on WPIX. But he had this former career, played when Joe D had his 56 game streak in 1941, on the same field as a young Mickey. Athlete turned broadcasters were a rarity back then - most were pros from radio, like Red Barber and Mel Allen.

He took us through the Dark Times of the late 60s - early 70s, when it was hard to watch, and the stadium was half empty. Bill White & The Scooter were like Abbott & Costello.

1955 World Series


August 15th, 2007, 06:03 PM
From the baseball-almanac.com


Here comes Roger Maris (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=marisro01), they're standing up, waiting to see if Roger is going to hit number sixty-one, here's the windup, the pitch to Roger, WAY outside, ball one. The fans are starting to boo, low, ball two. That one was in the dirt and the boos get louder. Two balls, no strikes on Roger Maris, here's the windup, fastball, HIT DEEP TO RIGHT, THIS COULD BE IT, WAYYYY BACK THERE, HOLY COW HE DID IT, SIXTY-ONE HOME RUNS!" Source: TV Broadcast (October 1, 1961)

"Holy cow" Source: Countless Radio Broadcasts

"I like radio better than television because if you make a mistake on radio, they don't know. You can make up anything on the radio."

"I'll never forget September sixth nineteen-fifty. I got a letter threatening me, Hank Bauer (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=bauerha01), Yogi Berra (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=berrayo01) and Johnny Mize (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=mizejo01). It said if I showed up in uniform against the Red Sox I'd be shot. I turned the letter over to the FBI and told my manager Casey Stengel (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=stengca01) about it. You know what Casey did? He gave me a different uniform and gave mine to Billy Martin (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=martibi02). Can you imagine that! Guess Casey thought it'd be better if Billy got shot." Source: Sport Magazine (December 1961)

"I'll take anyway to get into the Hall of Fame. If they want a batboy, I'll go in as a batboy."

"There was an aura about him (Joe DiMaggio (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=dimagjo01)). He walked like no one else walked. He did things so easily. He was immaculate in everything he did. Kings of State wanted to meet him and be with him. He carried himself so well. He could fit in any place in the world."

"They've got so many Latin players we're going to have to get a Latin instructor up here." Source: The Sporting News (April 24, 1989)

"Those huckleberries in the National League didn't want to do anything (DH in Series) that the American League want to do." Source: TV Broadcast (September 25, 1977)

"Well that (Pope Paul VI passing away) kind of puts the damper on even a Yankee win." Source: TV Broadcast (August 6, 1978)

Quotes About Phil Rizzuto
"If you ever worked with (Phil) Rizzuto (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=rizzuph01) you'd know my motivation. How would you like to work eighteen years with a guy who still doesn't know your first name?" - Former Player / Broadcaster / National League President Bill White (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=whitebi03)

"I heard the doctors revived a man after being dead for four-and-a-half minutes. When they asked what it was like being dead, he said it was like listening to New York Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=rizzuph01) during a rain delay." - Late Night host David Letterman

"Kid, is your mother in the stands? (Rizzuto (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=rizzuph01) replied yes) Well, stay here and talk to me a little and she'll think you're giving advice to the great Lefty Gomez (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=gomezle01)." - Hall of Fame Pitcher Lefty Gomez (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=gomezle01)

"Kid, you're too small. You ought to go out and shine shoes." - Manager Casey Stengel (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=stengca01) (1936)

"My best pitch is anything the batter grounds, lines, or pops in the direction of (Phil) Rizzuto (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=rizzuph01)." - Pitcher Vic Raschi (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=raschvi01)

The Diamond Dude by Ogden Nash
In the life of this dandiest of shortstops
Fashion starts the moment sports stops.
Since he works for the Newark American Shop
Of which Mac Stresin is the Prop,
The wardrobe acquired by Phil Rizzuto (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=rizzuph01)
Is as tasty as melon and prosciutto.
Thirty-five suits and twenty-odd jackets
Proclaim he's a man in the upper brackets.
There are fifteen overcoats hung in line,
And twenty-five pairs of shoes to shine,
And as for shirts and ties and socks,
Philip has more than Maine has rocks.
The suits are neat and unostentatious,
But as for sports clothes, goodness gracious!
No similar sight is to be had
This side of Gary Crosby's dad.
Does this make Mrs. Rizzuto ecstatic?
No. She has to hang her clothes in the attic.