One of the great legends of baseball and broadcasting passed away late Monday night. Phil Rizzuto. He was 89, the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame. Even though I've always hated the Yankees I've always loved "the Scooter". And no one in baseball could make me laugh harder. Rarely on purpose but still!
A former All-Star and MVP player, Rizzuto never really made the transition to broadcaster. And that was his charm. If there was a player’s name he couldn’t pronounce he’d just call him “Huckleberry”. He could never remember my name during the years I was a colleague so he always just called me “Mash”. When scoring a game he would often write WW following a player’s at bat. That meant “wasn’t watching”.
There are many great Phil Rizzuto stories. I'm sure over the next few days newspapers and blogs will be full of them. Here are my two favorites.
The Yankees were playing at Tiger Stadium one night. It was easy to hit home runs down the left field line. It was just a 340 foot chip shot. On the left field wall was a digital clock. A Yankee hit a home run and Rizzuto almost came out of his seat, saying on the air, “Holy cow, what a poke! He had that over the 808 sign!”
And then there was the day where his post game show was interrupted with the bulletin that Pope John Paul I had died after only a month of service. When he got back on the air, the first thing Rizzuto said was, “Wow. News like that could dampen even a Yankee win.”
For me, news of the Scooter's death dampens everything. One of his many quirks was that he would leave ballgames early. Now he's done that in life too. And yes, 89 is too early.