R.I.P. "Scooter"

Sparks Of Insanity By Vinny "Bond" Marini Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Yes...a post about someone who played sports, but he was so much more than that...

HOLY COW! The NY Yankee family, and all of baseball lost one of the good guys Monday evening. Fiero (Philip) Francis Rizzuto, known the world over as “Scooter” passed away at the nursing home he has lived in for the last few years in West Orange, NJ.

Born on September 17th, 1917, Rizzuto might have been one of the first to do what is now a common practice for Latin ballplayers. For years, his birth year was listed as 1918 because he was told it would add a year to his career.

Mr. Rizzuto was born in Brooklyn, NY and played both football and baseball at Richmond Hill High School. Listed on rosters as 5’6” and 160 pounds, Mr. Rizzuto played like he was 8-feet tall.

As a 16-year old Mr. Rizzuto tried out for both the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. At that time, Casey Stengel was the manager of the Dodgers and he told Mr. Rizzuto, “Go get a shoebox” a reference to becoming a shoe-shine boy. In a twist of fate, Mr. Rizzuto was one of Mr. Stengel’s more reliable players when Casey managed the Yankees from 1949-1956!

The NY Yankees signed Mr. Rizzuto as an amateur free agent in 1937. His trip through the minor leagues brought him up to play his first major league game on April 14, 1941. He played 13-years in the majors, all for the Yankees except for the years 1943 – 1945 when he was in the US Navy during World War II. He played for the Navy’s team during those years.

Mr. Rizzuto’s career proved him to be a strong defensive player with clutch hitting skills and he is still considered to be one of the best bunters to ever play the game. In the field, he played almost his entire career at shortstop.

Mr. Rizzuto played his final game as a Yankee on August 16, 1956, when he was cut to allow the team to sign Enos Slaughter for the pennant drive. Mr. Rizzuto remembered that day as “the end of the world”, but it opened the door to a career that lasted over 40 years…as a broadcaster of NY Yankee games.

A year after he retired, Ballantine Beer, the major broadcasting sponsor of the Yankees, insisted the team hire Mr. Rizzuto as a broadcaster. The Yankees needed to fire Jim Woods, but could not afford to lose the sponsor, so Mr. Rizzuto joined the broadcasting team.

Harry Carey was known to use the phrase “Holy Cow” during his broadcasts out of Chicago, but Mr. Rizzuto always insisted he used the phrase his whole life instead of uttering a curse word. The phrase became his trademark over the years along with; “Unbelievable!” or “Did you see that!” to describe a great play. He was also famous for calling someone a “Huckleberry” if that person did something Mr. Rizzuto did not like.

His broadcasts also became a sort of “family gathering” as he would send birthday or anniversary wishes or send get-well greeting to fans during games. If Mr. Rizzuto liked a restaurant, he would tell you about it, even they were not a sponsor. He would also talk about the cannoli’s that fans would send to him and he would eat them between innings.

As the games wound down, you always listened for the infamous “I’ll be home soon Cora” message to his wife whom he married in 1943. Their marriage produced daughters Cindy Rizzuto, Patricia Rizzuto and Penny Rizzuto Yetto and son Phil Rizzuto Jr. He was the proud grandfather to two granddaughters.

When Mickey Mantle passed away, Mr. Rizzuto assumed he would be allowed to miss the game that evening and fly to Dallas for the funeral. Either WPIX, the TV network, or the Yankees refused to let him go, citing that “someone needed to do color commentary.” During that telecast, Mr. Rizzuto's emotions finally erupted and he walked out of the booth that night and announced his retirement a few days later. He was convinced to come back for one more season, did 30 games and then retired for good.

In the broadcast booth, the dialog between Mr. Rizzuto and his broadcast partner sometimes (OK, quite often!) strayed from the game, with them joking back and forth. Mr. Rizzuto always used their last names and never their first. Mr. Rizzuto was behind the microphone on WCBS Radio on October 1, 1961, the last game of the season, when Roger Maris stepped to the plate…his call:

"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!"

He was also the king of malaprops and stream-o-consciousness commentary. Critics used to rip him for it, but listening to Mr. Rizzuto was always an adventure we thoroughly enjoyed…Some examples we found include:

"Uh-oh, deep to left-center, nobody's gonna get that one! Holy cow, somebody got it!"
"Bouncer to third, they'll never get him! No, why don't I just shut up!"
"All right! Stay fair! No, it won't stay fair. Good thing it didn't stay fair, or I think he would've caught it!"
"Oh, these Yankees can get the clutch hits, Murcer. I might have to go home early, I just got a cramp in my leg."
"Well, that kind of puts the damper on even a Yankee win." (He was still on the air, just after a game, when he heard that Pope Paul VI had just died. Esquire Magazine called that the "Holiest Cow of 1978.")

And if Mr. Rizzuto missed a play, he would scribble "ww" in his scorecard box score. That, he said, meant "wasn't watching."

Mr. Rizzuto was behind the microphone once again during the infamous George Brett pine tar incident and though we can not find the exact transcript, believe us when we tell you this guy was hooting and hollering the whole time…you see, Mr. Rizzuto never hid the fact that he was a Yankee and his broadcasts, like those of Mr. Carey in Chicago and others was pure “Home team broadcasting”.

Mr. Rizzuto was also infamous for his TV commercials for “The Money Store” and YooHoo Chocolate Drink.

He was also the very first mystery guest on the game show “Whats My Line?” He was also a guest on "The Ed Sullivan" show a few times.

Ah…yes kiddies, we know - when do we get to one of his most famous appearances...

In 1977 he was asked to come into a recording studio and was given a script that appeared to be describing a series of baseball plays…never knowing that it was to be used as the spoken-word bridge on a song about a young man trying to lose his virginity…the truly wonderful “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” by Jim Steinman and performed by Meatloaf and Ellen Foley (Karla Devito was the singer on the video)…

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 wind-up 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, it's 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
glance over, winds up, and it's bunted, bunted down the third base line,
the suicide squeeze in on!
Here he comes, squeeze play,
it's gonna be close,
here's the throw, there's the play at the plate, holy cow,
I think he's gonna make it!

It is said that Mr. Rizzuto took a lot of grief from those in his church for recording such a filthy song, and he was initially annoyed by the song’s success, but over time came to see the humor in the situation.

On August 4th, 1985, the Yankees retired Mr. Rizzuto #10 and put a plaque in Monument Park in his honor. The plaque reads in part “(he) has enjoyed two outstanding careers, all-time Yankee shortstop, one of the great Yankee broadcasters” and ”A man’s size is measured by his heart.”

We were there that day in the stadium, and the Yankees had brought a live cow out onto the field which had a halo on it (not slightly kinked at all Anndi) the infamous “Holy Cow.” At one point Mr. Rizzuto was bumped by the cow and fell to the ground. The stadium gasped and then, when we saw he was unhurt, broke into laughter and applause as he waved and walked off the field.

THE COUCH NOTE: It was a game against the Chicago White Sox that day and their starting pitcher won his 300th game…his name…Tom Seaver, who later became Mr. Rizzuto's broadcast partner on Yankee games.

During a 2001 ceremony, Mr. Rizzuto paid homage to his heir apparent as the Yankee’s greatest shortstop, Derek Jeter. As he crossed the foul line along first base, he flipped the ceremonial ball back-handed, imitating Jeter’s incredible game-saving throw to home plate that helped the Yankees win the American League Division series against Oakland.

After years of being snubbed by the Hall Of Fame Baseball Writer's and then the Veteran’s Committee, Mr. Rizzuto was finally elected in 1994.

The man who pushed this through the Veteran’s Committee…Mr. Ted Williams. That year he made an impassioned plea to his fellow committee members claiming that the Red Sox would have won most of the Yankees’ 194o’s and 1950’s pennants if "Rizzuto would have been a Red Sox."

In usual fashion, Mr. Rizzuto said upon his induction, "I never thought I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is for the big guys, pitchers with 100 mph fastballs and hitters who sock homers and drive in a lot of runs. That's the way it always has been and the way it should be."

We would have loved to have been at Cooperstown that day as Mr. Rizzuto was “on his game” with a rambling speech…one part in particular still makes me smile to this day…

Mr. Rizzuto told about leaving home in Brooklyn for the first time when he was 19 years old and going to play shortstop in the minor league town of Bassett, Va., and he was on a train with no sleeper and when he got his first taste of Southern fried chicken and it was great and it was also the first time that he ever ate -- "Hey, White, what's that stuff that looks like oatmeal?" -- and Bill White, his onetime announcing partner on Yankee broadcasts, who was in the audience and stood up and said "Grits." Mr. Rizzuto then said, “I didn’t know what to do with them, so I put them in my pocket,”

One thing we did not realize is that Mr. Rizzuto was the oldest living Hall Of Famer, the honor now going to Lee McPhail, Jr.

Back in 1997, we took a trip to the Hall Of Fame and happened to be there the week before the Induction ceremony. During that week there is a town full of fans and Hall Of Famer's doing autograph signings.

Matt was 10 at the time and was in heaven being around all of these ball players. Matt’s materal grandfather was a friend of Yogi Berra’s and Mr. Berra was in town and we got to see him. But Matt’s face lit up when we got to see Mr. Rizzuto and we were going to take a picture. Normally you stood on one side of the table and the ball players were on the other. Mr. Rizzuto called Matt around to his side of the table to pose for him.

We will need to see if we can get those pictures and do a post on that trip someday.

A private, family funeral is planned. The family is working with the Yankees on a memorial to be held at Yankee Stadium, Patricia Rizzuto said.

The flag at Cooperstown was lowered to half-staff and a laurel was placed around his plaque, as is custom when Hall of Famers die.

Mr. Rizzuto, you were a class act, a wonderful family man, a great ballplayer, an enjoyable announcer and a truly funny man….

  • AL All-Star: 1942, 1950-1953
  • AL Most Valuable Player: 1950 (.325 BA, 92 walks 125 runs, 238 consecutive chances without an error – a record that still stands)
  • Babe Ruth Award: 1951 (Given to the player with the best World Series performance)
  • 1949-1952: Led the league in sacrifice hits each year
  • 1950: Led AL short stops in fielding .982
  • 1950: Led AL in singles (150)
  • 1950: Hickok Belt (awarded to top professional athlete)
  • Won 10 pennants and 8 World Series


George Steinbrenner: “I guess heaven must have needed a short stop. He epitomized the Yankee spirit – gritty and hard charging – and he wore the pinstripes proudly.”

Yogi Berra: “Phil was a gem, one of the greatest people I ever knew – a dear friend and great teammate. When I first came to the Yankees, he was like a big – actually, small – brother to me. He’s meant an awful lot to baseball and the Yankees and has left us with a lot of wonderful memories.”

Bob Feller (Indian’s HOF’er): "He was a Yankee all the way. Phil could hit, he could run, he was good on the basepathsand he was a great shortstop. He knew the fundamentals of the game and he got 100% out of his ability. He played it hard and he played it fair.”

Bud Selig
(Commissioner of Baseball): "Phil was a unique figure who exemplified the joy of our game to millions of fans,"

Derek Jeter: "Mr. Rizzuto serves as the ultimate reminder that physical stature has little bearing on the size of a person's heart. Nothing was ever given to Phil, and he used every ounce of his ability to become one of the greatest Yankees to ever wear this uniform."

Joe DiMaggio:
“The little guy in front of me, he made my job easy. “I didn’t have to pick up so many ground balls.”

In Mr. Rizzuto's honor, today we serve...


BlogTalk Radio Update

18 Of Your Sparks

  1. Travis Cody Says:
  2. I've been waiting for this tribute all day. I just knew you'd do Scooter proud.

    And what a moment to have shared with Matt...I hope you can find that picture.

  3. Julie Says:
  4. Good morning Vinny...i just glided over your blog...being that I don't care for much to do with sports but it's apparent that this was one special man. I liked the little cow anecdote.....oh and the cannoli too!!


  5. TRAVIS: I knew you would be expecting this tribute...and TY...I have to ask he or his mom to send me those pictures so I can scan then in...We have so many from that week.

    JULIE: DO not like sports? How can we be friends???? LOL Enjoy the cannolis.....

  6. Maggie Moo Says:
  7. I agree with Trav-wonderful, wonderful tribute to a great man.

    Yes, even a Red Sox fan can appreciate talent and honor. ;)

  8. Anndi Says:
  9. Baseball... you know I was pretty close to Cooperstown on our NY excursion.

    So he played back in the days where players weren't just out for the big bucks eh?

    Looks like he was a Danny Gallivan and a Toe Blake all wrapped up into one, loved his sport, loved his team, and made his mark in the hearts of fans.

    Lovely tribute.

  10. MAGS: TY TY TYVM - well if Ted thought he was cool a Sox fan should too! LOL enjoy the beach dear

    ANNDI: Ummm a few hours away, you should have gone! LOL surrrrre
    TY - glad you enjoyed it

  11. Excellent tribute!

  12. Sparky Duck Says:
  13. I knew you would come through, which is why I didn't touch it with a 20 foot pole.
    Scooter was Harry Kalas or Harry Caray to Yankee fans and even though I was a Red Sox fan growing up, to watch baseball in the days before basic cable you had to watch the Yankees on 11 and I just grew hearing his voice. Great stuff.

  14. RW Says:
  15. Nice tribute to Phil Bond! That was sad news great guy!

  16. Schmoop Says:
  17. Loved the Scooter as an announcer. I'm back and gave ya a shout out today Vinny. Cheers!!

  18. katherine. Says:
  19. really nice. I loved the Grits in the pocket...laughing. He was great...a long life well lived.

  20. cannolis??? yay bond. nice touch, thanks!

    smiles, bee

  21. I listened to the games on the Radio in the late 40's early 50's when these great men played baseball, scooter was every ones hero, RIP Scooter.....

  22. Angell Says:
  23. Even I knew who Scooter was.

    A wonderful tribute Bond baby, as always.

    That speech he gives during paradise - I am forever grateful, cuz when singing, it provides the perfect time to go get a drink.

    The world has indeed lost a legend.

  24. OH DEAR GOD! Canolli's! I would KILL...yes KILL for some canollis. There are none in portland or the surrounding area. I am ready to air mail some in =(

  25. Meribah Says:
  26. As you know, I'm not a sports fan, but I just could not stop reading this post! It was very interesting to read about "Scooter". Thanks! :)

  27. RW Says:
  28. Nice Tribute!!!

  29. SPARKY: Thanks...yes, channel 11...no Sports Center... ah we were sooo deprived!

    MATT-MAN: welcome back... the Scooter ruled - SHOUT OUT? RUNNING OVER...

    KATHERINE: TY and yes, he lived it well

    BEE: Knew you would enjoy the Cannolis

    SARGE: Thanks for the memories...

    ANGELL: Lovely statement...ty for posting

    STARRLIGHT: LOL just ask nicely dear....

    MERIBAH: As I said..he played sports, but this was a life of a wonderful man

    ROGER: TY sir...


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