Holy Cow: Phil Rizzuto
The news that the "Scooter" is going to
unload his vast collection of memorabilia has made a few headlines.
Now 88, the legendary former Yankee shortstop is still capable of
Hearing the news reminded me of an anecdote in the autobiography
"Red on Red" which I co-authored with legendary New York
Knickerbocker basketball coach Red Holzman. He tells the story of
Phil Rizzuto coming over for dinner.
"Selma, my wife, was excited that a baseball celebrity would be our
guest. So she went about planning a menu that she thought would
appeal to him.
"Phil arrived. We had drinks. We settled down at the table. Selma
served her appetizer tomato juice. 'This stuff is thirst quenching,'
Selma said, 'it's a good way to start a meal.'
"Phil agreed and then went along as he was served a Spanish omelette
stuffed with tomatoes and then tomato soup. "
Rizzuto good naturedly ate everything up - his only complaint: "I
just hope you don't have tomato pie for dessert."
Red Holzman never revealed to me whet the dessert that day was, but
he had did have many kind things to say about Phil Rizzuto - as
everyone else has. He was always a mench, but he had his odd ways,
As a minor leaguer, he was knocked down a couple of times by
lightning, triggering some of his fears and superstitions which
included closing his eyes when passing a cemetery to insure getting
a hit that day, keeping a large wad of gum on the top of his cap to
keep a winning streak going.
Ed Barrow said of Phil Rizzuto: "His signing cost me fifteen cents,
ten cents for postage and five cents for a cup of coffee we gave him
the day he worked out at the Stadium."
"Being from New York, it meant a lot for me to play in my hometown,"
Rizzuto said. "I knew every nook and cranny there, and we had the
fans behind us. Back then, you had the monuments in the outfield and
that was unbelievable."
The first American Leaguer to wear a batting helmet, he was also
among the first to bring his glove into the dugout between innings
but that created problems for him. He was afraid of things that
crawled, and a lot of those things somehow wound up in his glove, by
chance and otherwise.
Ty Cobb referred to the likable little guy as "one of the best
bunters of all time." Casey Stengel went even further. "He's the
greatest shortstop I've ever seen. Honus Wagner was a better hitter,
but I've seen this kid make plays Wagner never did." He is in the
top-20 Yankee list for games played, stolen bases, doubles, triples,
at bats and runs scored.
But at the start there were doubts as he was rejected by both the
Brooklyn Dodgers, and the New York Giants. Too small was the rap on
In 1941, Philip Francis Rizzuto replaced Frank Crosetti at shortstop
for the Yankees and hit .307. The following season he was an All
Star, the first of five times.
He may have been a bit of a nervous wreck - always stepping out of
bed on the same side, always avoiding stepping on the baselines,
always on the lookout for insects - but Phil Rizzuto was a durable,
driven, an outstanding shortstop, a highly skilled bunter with a
.273 lifetime batting average, the anchor of those teams who won
nine pennants and seven World Series during his 13 Yankee seasons.
From 1949 to 1952, Rizzuto led the league in double plays and total
chances three times, fielding and put-outs two times, assists one
time and sacrifice hits all those years - an all time record.
The little shortstop's best years were 1949-1950, a time
where he was moved from down in the batting order to the leadoff
slot. Scoring 110 runs, batting .275, walking 72 times, Rizzuto
finished second in the MVP voting behind Ted Williams.
In 1950, a year he was the first mystery guest on the television
program "What's My Line", he won the MVP, had a career-high 200 hits
and .324 average was third in the league in doubles and second in
runs scored. In 1951, Rizzuto was the World Series MVP.
After his brilliant playing career ended, Rizzuto spent 40 years as
a Yankee broadcaster (1957-96). In his later years Rizzuto would
only call the first 6 innings, and before the 7th inning stretch he
was heading home over the George Washington Bridge.
On August 4, 1985, on Phil Rizzuto Day, his uniform number 10 was
At long last after 28 years of eligibility and much frustration -
-("I'll go in even as a bat boy") - -Phil Rizzuto was finally
elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
Harvey Frommer is now in his 32nd. consecutive year of writing
sports books. He is the author of 38 sports books, including the
classics: "New York City Baseball," "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime
Baseball," "Rickey and Robinson," "A Yankee Century," and Red Sox
Vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry" (with Frederic J. Frommer). Frommer
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
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"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
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