Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Scooter

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.”


Duffless said...

As a kid I only knew him from The Money Store, I had no idea he was a sports figure.

fuge said...

Growing up in Boston, I was happy because on our cable system WPIX and Channel 9 (wwor?) were part of the basic system and that would mean that I'd get to watch Three Different Baseball Teams. When they added tbs to our system, it became 4.

I think Channel 9 would show mets game on replays the following morning, so I'd watch mets games all the time, I'd also watch day games (there were a lot more back then) of whatever team was on, so basically, it worked out that I could sometimes watch 2 to 3 different ballgames a was great.

Phil's voice was the best, I for some reason remember one game where someone from the yankees hit a homerun to Right field (who it was escapes me, Steve Sax maybe?) and it hit the ledge of the upper deck, and Rizzuto yelled..."Off The Facade" I still to this day will do an impersonation of that any time I see a ball hit off of a facade, or anything similar to that, for instance I threw a rope up to a balcony the other day, and it hit off the railing and fell down to the ground, and I said..."Off The Facade!" My roommates thought I was crazy, but F' Them, I moved out anyway.

Also, Money Store commercials were quite prevalent on TV, especially during weekend mornings, which I thought was weird because I was watching bozo, and all of a sudden her comes Phil Rizzuto asking me to come on down to The Money a young'n I remember asking my older sister, why would anyone spend money on money? She laughed at me, but I'm pretty sure she didn't know what they did either.

So to wrap up, Phil will be missed. It's very strange for a player to become a great play by play man, but he did it. And he's quite a from this Red Sox fan, but more importantly a fan of baseball I say: good bye scooter...

Dan said...

Holy Cow, I can't understand these tax codes: