Phil Rizzuto, the sure-handed Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop nicknamed the Scooter who extended his Yankee life as a popular, even beloved, broadcaster, punctuating his game calls with birthday wishes to fans and exclamations of â€œHoly cow!â€ died Monday night. He was 89.
The cause was pneumonia, his daughter Patricia said yesterday. Rizzuto, who had been in declining health for several years, died at a residential facility in West Orange, N.J. He had lived in Hillside, N.J.
Monday was the 12th anniversary of the death of Rizzutoâ€™s teammate, Mickey Mantle.
Rizzuto joined the Yankees in 1941 and played 13 seasons (he missed three while in the Navy during World War II) until 1956. His departure was abrupt. No longer willing to carry an aging, seldom-used infielder, the Yankees cut him on Old-Timersâ€™ Day. Soon after, he began calling Yankee games for WPIX-TV Channel 11 and remained in that job until 1996.
Rizzuto played an integral role on the dynastic Yankees before and after World War II. He was a masterly bunter and defensive specialist for teams that steamrolled to 10 American League pennants and won 8 World Series championships, including 5 in a row from 1949 to 1953.
He was a 5-foot-6-inch, 150-pound spark plug who did the little things right, from turning a double play to laying down a sacrifice bunt. He left the slugging to powerful teammates like Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Yogi Berra.
â€œI hustled and got on base and made the double play,â€ Rizzuto said. â€œThatâ€™s all the Yankees needed in those days.â€
His career statistics were not spectacular: a batting average of .273, 38 home runs and 563 runs batted in. But he was named to five American League All-Star teams, and in his best season, 1950, he batted a career-high .324, drove in 66 runs and won the A.L.â€™s Most Valuable Player award.
In 1993, Tom Peyer and Hart Seely edited Phil Rizzutoâ€™s actual broadcast commentary into verse for a book called â€œO Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto.â€ Here is an excerpt.
What kind is it?
A little disconcerting,
Smelling that pizza,
To do a ballgame.
He will be missed.
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