Phil Rizzuto was One of A Kind
New York baseball in the mid and late 1970's was a one star show. The Yankees were on top and the Mets had a productive season if they avoided the 100-loss mark. But there was something special about both teams that made it interesting to tune in on the television, and in those days, the radio, too. The broadcast booth was like a revolving door with the announcers doing part of the game on one and then switching to the other. There were some great names that called the games for our two ballclubs, but there was one that stood out. And that was none other than 'The Scooter,' Phil Rizzuto, who passed away in August at the age of 89.
Taking nothing away from the Mets' original three-man booth of Lindsay Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy, the Yankees' team of Frank Messer, Bill White and Rizzuto had a special way of reaching the average fan sitting on the sofa at home. The reason was The Scooter. His interaction with his broadcast partners was something out of a live slapstick comedy show, with his calling them by their last names and making them break out in unplanned laughter during the game.
The legend of Rizzuto started long before his days in the WPIX-11 booth. The Brooklyn-born shortstop had two unsuccessful tryouts with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, being told that he would never be a big leaguer because of his diminutive (5'6", 150-pound) frame. He was spotted playing sandlot ball in Floral Park by Yankees scout Paul Krichell, who gave him another shot to make an impression. That he did, and the Dodger fan growing up was now a Yankee.
After two stops in Virginia and another in Kansas City playing in the bush leagues, Rizzuto made it to Yankee Stadium in 1941 and promptly hit .307 in his rookie season. He married his beloved wife Cora two years later and also spent two years away from her and baseball when he served his country in the military during World War 2.
During a 13-year career, Rizzuto played on a Yankees team that won eight World Series championships and 11 American League pennants. A .273 career hitter, Rizzuto was best known for his bunting and base stealing abilities and parlayed that into five All-Star appearances and one AL MVP in 1950.
His playing days came to an end in August of 1956 when the Yankees released him and Rizzuto made the transition to the broadcast booth alongside two legends in Mel Allen and Red Barber. The Scooter's style was vastly different than the two polished veterans of the microphone and eventually became the favorite amongst New Yorkers.
Tuning in to a Yankee game with The Scooter calling the action was an experience in itself. Possibly the most-enthusiastic 'homer' of all time, Rizzuto did not attempt to hide his allegiance to the Yankees. Birthdays and anniversaries of his friends, family and listeners were a regular part of his calls, as was his preference for Italian pastries, especially cannolis. Two Scooter sayings that will go down in history are "Holy Cow!" and "huckleberry."
Rizzuto spent four decades as a broadcaster before calling his last game in 1996. One of the main reasons why he left when he did was WPIX not allowing him the day off to attend close friend and former teammate Mickey Mantle's funeral, having him work the game that same day. That was one of Rizzuto's biggest regrets in life and he never had the heart to work again.
After being denied so many times, Rizzuto finally received his just due when the Veteran's Committee elected him into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. The long wait was finally worth it and Rizzutto thoroughly entertained during his 38-minute induction speech, summing it all up with "Life has been wonderful for me."
Having you for as long as we did, Phil, our lives have been wonderful to us.