Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Farewell to one of the great voices of my youth, the Yankees broadcaster Phil "The Scooter" Rizzuto, who died in his sleep Monday night. (Non-sports-fans might know him as the old short Italian guy from the Money Store commercials or as the voice of the baseball call on "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights", the Meatloaf song.) I grew up watching the games on WPIX Channel 11, with Phil calling the games alongside "White, Murcer, Seaver", and others. Oh and he was a Hall of Fame shortstop with the Yankees before that. But I'll remember him most as the crazy, endearing, spaceshot "huckleberry" who used to have no depth perception in his ability to determine whether a ball was a pop up behind second or a home run. "HOLY COW, that ball is outta here! ... nope. wait. Steve Sax has got it in shallow right. Geez, I coulda sworn that ball was gone...". He would also announce the birthdays of every woman from the five boroughs over the age of 60, comment on the smell of food wafting in from the stadium, eat cannolis, fruitcakes, and Italian dishes sent to him by fans in the stadium - while on the air, call players "huckleberries" when they didn't make a play, and according to his colleagues, his scorecards were always littered with "WW" entries, which stood for "wasn't watching". Listening to him call the games was always entertaining beyond what was happening on the field (which often was not good in the 80's). In Yankee Stadium in the 80's and early 90's, there was always at least one or two people walking around with petitions to get The Scooter into the Hall of Fame. Following a classy announcement of his death at Fenway last night, 30,000 Yankee-hating members of Red Sox Nation went even classier by unanimously observing a moment of silence. It was a touching testament to the Scooter that you could hear a pin drop in Fenway Park during a moment of silence for him.
From the Times' article:
When the Yankees celebrated Rizzuto with a day in his honor in 1985, retiring his uniform No. 10, the team presented him with a cow wearing a halo, which promptly stepped on his foot and knocked him over.
Rizzuto often diverged from actual game-calling, pausing to extend birthday, anniversary and confirmation congratulations. He never used the first names of his partners at WPIX-TV — they were “Coleman,” “Murcer,” “White,” “Messer,” “Seaver” or “Cerone,” never Jerry, Bobby, Bill, Frank, Tom or Rick. Listeners heard about Rizzuto’s wife, Cora (he called her “my bride”), an employment appeal for their son, Philip Jr. (known as Scooter Jr.), reports of his golf game or exultations about a new Italian dish...
Rizzuto abruptly resigned from WPIX in August 1995, distraught that he had remained to broadcast a game at Fenway Park rather than join former teammates at Mickey Mantle’s funeral in Dallas. He watched the services on television from the booth.
“I took it hard and knew I made a big mistake,” he said later. “I got more upset as the game went on and left in the fifth. They tried to drag me back, but I wouldn’t.” He returned in 1996 for a final season, persuaded by fans, Mantle’s sons and George Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner. The pull of his cherished team was too strong. He was, after all, someone who practically saw the world filtered through Yankee pinstripes.
When the news came in 1978 that Pope Paul VI had died, Rizzuto said on the air, “Well, that kind of puts the damper on even a Yankee win.”