Former Yankee shortstop and long time television announcer Phil Rizzuto passed away this morning at the age of 89.
Phil put on the pinstripes from 1941 to 1956 and was teammates with such Yankee greats as Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. During his reign as the Yankee shortstop he helped the team win 10 American League pennants and nine World Series championships including five straight from 1949 to 1953.
While his playing days ended long before I was born, my fondness for “The Scooter” comes mostly from his days as the television voice of the team. Many of my earliest Yankee memories consist of me struggling with the antenna on an old black and white television set at our summer home on Lake Ontario, just so I could get a clear enough picture to hear Phil do the play-by-play. I remember it like it was yesterday. Holy cow does time fly.
The New York Times published a nice piece about Rizzuto today on their website. Included was one of the best baseball stories I’ve ever heard.
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.”
It also included this description of Phil:
He was a 5-foot-6-inch, 150-pound sparkplug who did the little things right…
I want that inscribed on my gravestone.
Phil Rizzuto was an all-around good guy. Personable, friendly and enjoyable to watch and listen to. In a day when “good guys” seem harder to come by in professional sports, Rizzuto will be sorely missed. He’s a symbol of the great Yankee heritage and tradition that my father shared with me – starting with those summer nights on the lake – and that I’m now proud to share with my son.
We’ll miss ya Scooter.
Rizzuto’s call of Roger Maris’ 61st home run which broke Babe Ruth’s single season record: