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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 making  headlines.

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, too.

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 him.    

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 retired.

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 sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in excess of 750,000 and appears on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

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 books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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