Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Scooter

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.


Anonymous said...

What's worse than a nitpicker? A Catholic nitpicker. The pope in question was Pope Paul VI, not John Paul I. July 1978.

from bloomberg:
"In 1978, he was criticized by some media outlets for saying on the air, after learning that Pope Paul VI had died, 'Well, that kind of puts a damper on even a Yankee win.' Yankee fans, though, knew their beloved Scooter meant no disrespect...."

Unknown said...

During a game in Toronto, I believe Scooter asked his broadcast partners if the sun sets in the west in Canada like it does in the US.

Rob said...

Hmm, I googled it and found that Phil was talking about Pope John Paul the I, who also died in 1978. It probably would have been more newsworthy than the one before him.

Sadly, I identify Phil more with The Money Store ads and Meatloaf.

Anonymous said...

That delivery...

"This is Phil Rizzuto for The Money Store..."

Must have made an impression on me, I still hear him saying it all these years later.

By Ken Levine said...

It was John Paul I. Holy cow!!

User said...

what's worse than a Catholic nitpicker? A wrong Catholic nitpicker!

Anonymous said...

I am a "lapsed" Yankees fan who hasn't watched much since I was a kid back in the late 70s but have become quite nostalgic of late. I have been forcing my kids and husband (all Mets fans) to watch "The Bronx is Burning" and they're actually enjoying it.

So losing Scooter now -- just when I'm beginning to reconnect with my Yankees -- truly hurts.

Having watched countless games between 1977- 1982, I will always associate his voice (and "Holy Cows") with my childhood love of the game.

Steven said...

I was at Yankee Stadium for last night's game. There were a couple of nice tributes to Rizzuto: a moment of silence before the game (not too silent, because everybody applauded instead) and then a video tribute during a break between innings. It occurred to me that Bob Sheppard, the stadium announcer, had been the stadium announcer when Rizzuto was still playing! (He started in 1951.)

VP81955 said...

Two Phil Rizzuto memories stand out for me:

* In 1980, Fred Patek, a shortstop who was even smaller than Rizzuto, hit three home runs in a game in Boston one night. When giving the out-of-town scoreboard during the game, the other Yankee announcers ribbed Rizzuto about it all evening.

* In June 1982, I was stringing a Yankees-Red Sox series at Fenway Park for a daily newspaper in New Jersey I once worked for. The day of the series opener, Satchel Paige passed away, and I ran into Phil outside the Fenway press box (this was an interim facility on the roof, before a new one was installed) and asked him for his recollections of Satch. Rizzuto recalled his pre-Yankee days with the fabled Bushwicks semipro team of Brooklyn, where he regularly faced Satch in barnstorming games, then added that when Paige finally reached the American League, Phil frequently bunted for base hits off Satch, who by then was in his forties (at least) and had lost a step -- but added he always felt a bit guilty about it.

Well, I'm sure now that heaven's baseball team is now receiving some fine bunting instruction from both Rizzuto and Rich Ashburn.

Anonymous said...

crutnacker may have googled it, but google is not infallible. it merely finds information, both wrong and right. You have to evaluate your source of information and make a sound judgment.

The Pope in question was Pope Paul VI. If the Bloomberg article isn't a solid enough source, see the official Yankees web site obit on Rizzuto.

Plus--I'm telling you I remember it when it happened. It was a Sunday afternoon Aug. 6, and I was playing softball and heard in the car on the way home that the pope had died and the next day there was an item in one of the papers making fun of Rizzuto for his cluelessly Yankeecentric utterance. The Yankees had a dead-pope-dampened victory that day; doubters will point out that they also won on Sept. 28, when JP-One died after only 33 days of poping, but those clinging to the second-pope theory need to provide better evidence.

And, by the way, Holy Cow belongs to Harry Caray--Rizzuto stole it.

VP81955 said...

And, by the way, Holy Cow belongs to Harry Caray -- Rizzuto stole it.

I've also heard the phrase actually originated with neither Rizzuto nor Caray, but longtime Twin Cities sportscaster Halsey Hall, who did minor league games for years and joined the Twins' broadcast crew when the franchise arrived in 1961.

Anonymous said...

The 808 sign! HA!

Anonymous said...

I was just reading some of your articles (particularily about show running)...Thank you for sharing your creative insight...As writer (with AIDS) in the business it is information like this that keeps us encouraged and 'wise'

Keep Shining...You're wonderful

Mystery Mike Hennessey

www.OneCan.org (a charity I started on sets recently)

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it Pope Ringo?

Anonymous said...

Back in 1965-66 -- the years when the Yankees' mid-century dynasty crumbled, aside from Red Barber, the rest of the broadcast team was made up of Rizzuto, Jerry Coleman and Joe Garagiola. It was like the Hall of Fame of mangling the English language, but for those years, it was the most enjoyable part about the games.