Tuesday, August 14, 2007

R.I.P. "Scooter" (1917 - 2007)

This morning, a life-long Yankee legend passed away at the age of 89. He had been the oldest living Hall of Famer, as he was inducted into Cooperstown by a Veterans Committee vote in 1994.

"I guess heaven must have needed a shortstop," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "Phil Rizzuto's contributions to the Yankees and the sport of baseball were immense for a period of over 50 years. He was one of the greatest Yankees of all time and a dear, close friend of mine whose loss is enormous to me and to the entire Yankee family."

"Scooter" was the AL MVP runner-up in 1949, only to follow that campaign up by winning the AL MVP in 1950 (ironically, the years in which the Yankees finally moved him into the leadoff spot). Rizzuto was noted for strong defense, "small ball" skills, and clutch hitting, which helped the Yankees capture 7 World Series.

Rizzuto's 1953 Topps baseball card read in part: "Ty Cobb named the 'Scooter' as one of the few modern ball players who could hold his own among old timers."

Ted Williams claimed that his Red Sox would have won most of the Yankees' 1940s and 1950s pennants if they had had Rizzuto at shortstop.

Following Rizzuto's retirement, he broadcasted Yankees games on radio and television for the next 40 years. Rizzuto became known for his catchphrases, such as "Unbelievable!", "Holy Cow!", or "Did you see that?" to describe a great play, and would call somebody a "huckleberry" if he did something Rizzuto didn't like.

In Rizzuto's later years as a broadcaster, he would announce the first 6 innings of Yankee games. Often times, the TV director would puckishly show a shot of the bridge after Rizzuto had departed. Rizzuto was also very phobic about lightning, and would leave games with violent thunderclaps. Even still, "Scooter" ranked 27th in Curt Smith's Voices of Summer, which ranked baseball's greatest 101 announcers (in this book, Vin Scully holds the top spot).

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!"

The Yankees retired Rizzuto's number 10 in a ceremony at Yankee Stadium on August 4, 1985. During this ceremony, he was honored with a plaque out in Yankee 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."

Most baseball observers, including Rizzuto himself, would later decide that Derek Jeter had surpassed him as the greatest shortstop in New York 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 ALDS triumph vs. Oakland.

** (It should be pointed out that after this year, Jeter will only be 2 rings short of Rizzuto's 7!) COWBOY UP....


derek jeter said...

i wish phil could suck as good a dick as chieftain!

Chieftain said...

And, for the record, Lytedogg (in regards to your Omar Vizquel argument)...

The ONLY reason Rizzuto is in the Hall is b/c of his 7 rings. And, it still took him nearly 40 years to get in.

Without all the title, there is NO WAY Rizzuto gets into Cooperstown (even when considering that Rizzuto lost 3 of his prime years by way of the war). And even still, his HoF honor remains questionable. And, this is coming from a diehard.

Carolina Red Sox said...

R.I.P. Scooter. A true Italian-American ball player... I'll pour out a little cream from my canole this weekend for you. (See, we Sox fans have soft spots for "real" Yankees).