Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Philip Francis Rizzuto-"The Scooter"

“Scooter” Rizzuto would have celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday, September 25th. He passed away last August, and was remembered at Yankee Stadium last Sunday.

The Yankees let New Yorkers know about the event by placing full page ads in The Post and The Times. They also outlined a few of the Scooter’s accomplishments in those ads.

He was the Number One minor league player of the year in 1940, and signed on for the princely salary of $ 40 per month. He played for the Yankees in 1941 and 1942, then enlisted in the Navy and served in the Second World War. He returned to the Yankees in 1946. In 1942, he tied the Major League record of five double plays as a shortstop in one game. He orchestrated 1,217 double plays in his career.

He was the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1950, batting .324. He won seven World Series with the Bronx Bombers in 13 seasons, enjoying his playing days with Mantle, Berra, Ford, Dimaggio, and a host of other Yankee greats.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994, and was described in his citation as a “durable and deft shortstop, skilled bunter and enthusiastic base runner.”

He went on to spend 50 years behind the microphone on the Yankees payroll. Many of us fondly remember his banter during the games. He talked about wonderful Italian food, great New York restaurants, the moon, his wife Cora’s cooking, birthdays of friends and family, and occasionally mentioned something about baseball.

Most of the broadcasts were shared with Bill White and Bobby Murcer, with Mel Allen and all of the other great Yankee voices. White and Murcer shared centre stage with Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson during the ceremonies last Sunday. Master of Ceremonies, and long time Yankees announcer John Sterling shared tales from Rizzuto’s past.

Although Yogi did not speak on Sunday, Sterling recalled the time when the Yankees played a pre season game in Venezuela. Rizzuto was all of five foot six, and a fresh-faced rookie. Yogi noticed that Rizzuto had not entered the ball park with the other players, and went out to look for him. He found the Scooter arguing with the security guards, trying to explain that he was a player. They just refused to let the little fellow into the ball park. Yogi convinced them to allow Rizzuto to join the team.

Murcer’s message to the fans: “Scooter is now sitting at a round table in heaven with all of the other Yankee greats---discussing baseball. Mantle is there, with Ruth, Gehrig, Billy Martin, and Dimag. They are munching on canollis with plenty of fine Italian meats and cheese. Scooter would most certainly say: “Holy Cow, those huckleberry Yankees are in the playoffs again this year.”

In fact, the words “Holy Cow” became one of the Scooter’s trademarks years ago. I had lunch with him in Detroit in the mid 1990s, and he signed a book for me with the words: “Holy Cow! Phil Rizzuto.”

I spoke with Bobby Murcer briefly after the ceremony. He looked great following a tough battle with cancer. He remembers his trips to Ontario fondly, but spends little time fishing our lakes and rivers, as do many athletes and coaches. “No patience for that,” he told me.

Scooter spent the past year convalescing, and was visited every Wednesday by his best friend Yogi Berra. During the memorial ceremony Sunday, the Yankees donated $ 25 000 to the Berra Museum, in the Scooter’s honour.

The guests of honour, along with the Rizzuto family, then went to the monument area behind the left field wall at the Stadium to lay a wreath at Rizzuto’s monument. His number 10 is listed on the wall, along with the other Yankee greats.

It is understandable that the Scooter would seek out Derek Jeter whenever he went to the park following his broadcasting career. They both play between second and third, at the shortstop position. Rizzuto was the announcer when Jeter hit his first home run on Opening Day in Cleveland in 1996 off Dennis Martinez.

Jeter is not much of a memorabilia collector, but he treasures a photograph of himself and Rizzuto, inscribed with a message from the Scooter.

All Yankees have worn the number 10 on the sleeve of their uniforms since Rizzuto’s death in August.

A fine tribute to one of the truly greats of the game.

James Hurst

Just checking in here. Great column!

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