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Rizzuto embodied Yankees hustle08/19/2003 11:51 PM ET
By Jonathan Lehman / MLB.com
All-Time Greats: Rizzuto
Rizzuto's career stats
A fixture at shortstop for 13 seasons, Phil Rizzuto's contributions helped the Yankees to nine pennants and seven World Series championships during his time in pinstripes. A great contact hitter and a superb fielder, Rizzuto always supplied the necessary ingredients for victory.
Standing only 5 feet 6 inches tall, Rizzuto nevertheless covered more than his fair share of ground on the left side of the infield for the Yankees, earning the nickname "Scooter" and many accolades for his outstanding work in the field.
Defense is a key component to any championship team, and Rizzuto anchored the Yankees up the middle from 1941-56, minus the 1942-44 World War II yearsw. The Yankee shortstop led the American League three times in double plays, twice each in fielding and putouts, and once in assists.
Said an appreciative (Yankees pitcher) Vic Raschi, "My best pitch is anything the batter grounds, lines, or pops in the direction of [Phil] Rizzuto."
Rizzuto broke into the big leagues in 1941 at an opportune moment for himself and the Yankees. His predecessor at shortstop, Frank Crosetti, had slumped badly the previous season, so the Yankees inserted the young Brooklyn native in as his replacement.
The Scooter hit .304 his rookie season, second on the team to Joe DiMaggio, adding nine triples and 14 stolen bases. The following year he was voted in as an All-Star for the first of five times, posting a strong .284 average and a career-high 68 RBIs.
Rizzuto would continue to occupy the shortstop position for more than a decade, interrupted only by military service. In fact, a promising minor league shortstop named Mickey Mantle was forced to switch positions to the outfield rather than unseat the reliable Rizzuto.
Offensively, Rizzuto excelled among many things, including bunting. He led the league four times in sacrifices, setting the table for the great run producers who trailed him in the lineup. Rizzuto also possessed great bat control, never striking out more than 42 times in a season though he continually racked up over 500 at-bats at the top of the Yankee order. These attributes suited him for the leadoff role, a job he assumed with a hot streak in 1949.
He flourished after the change, scoring 110 runs, smacking seven triples and swiping 18 bases. Rizzuto's invaluable contributions did not go overlooked, as he finished second in the league MVP voting.
Rizzuto's finest season came the following year when he was named the American League's MVP for 1950. He hit .324 that season, a career high that ranked sixth in the league. He was also among the league leaders in hits (second), stolen bases (second), runs (second), doubles (third), on-base percentage (seventh) and bases on balls (ninth). All told, he reached base an astounding 299 times.
The postseason is where Rizzuto and his Yankee teammates made their most lasting impressions. Rizzuto participated in the Fall Classic nine times, and as a result is among the all-time leaders in many offensive World Series categories, including walks, hits, stolen bases and runs scored.
In 1951, Rizzuto was involved in one of the more infamous plays in World Series history. Covering second base on a close play with Eddie Stanky of the New York Giants, Rizzuto had the ball kicked out of his glove after applying a successful tag. The move led to a Giants victory, but inspired Rizzuto and the Yankees to take three straight and win the series in six.
Such was the pattern during Scooter's time in pinstripes: as went Rizzuto's fortunes, so did the Yankees as a whole. After capturing their record fifth straight championship in 1953, the Yankees did not win another crown until 1956. Coincidentally, beginning in 1954, in the twilight of his career at age 36, Scooter began to struggle.
Though he spent the final years of his big-league tenure serving mostly as a defensive substitute and key pinch-hitter off the bench, Rizzuto remained a clubhouse presence and a team leader. The Yankee legend hung up his spikes for good on August 25, 1956 having played for the same team for all 13 of his professional seasons.
His playing days complete, Rizzuto was invited by Yankees management to join the broadcast team and be a part of game from the radio and television booths. It was there that Yankees fans, already familiar with his playing acumen, truly got to know their beloved Scooter as he worked behind the microphone for 39 years.
On the air, Rizzuto's charm and sense of humor prevailed, calling such memorable moments as Roger Maris' 61st home run and consistently offering his trademark phrase "Holy Cow!" in exclamation and incredulity.
Rizzuto kept the tone light on Yankee broadcasts, offering up such asides as, "They've got so many Latin players we're going to have to get a Latin instructor up here."
The Yankees retired his number 10 on Phil Rizzuto Day at the Stadium in 1985. In was a memorable event in more ways than one, because later that day, Tom Seaver picked up his 300th career win in the game against the Yankees.
The legendary Yankee shortstop was selected at long last for the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1994. Despite his efforts to conceal his eagerness to join his Yankee teammates and other baseball immortals in Cooperstown, Rizzuto said prior to induction, "I'll take anyway to get into the Hall of Fame. If they want a batboy, I'll go in as a batboy."
Though small in stature, Rizzuto was larger than life as a charismatic Yankee leader and New York personality. The fan favorite was the first mystery guest to appear on the popular television program "What's My Line." In his capacity as long-time Yankee broadcaster, Rizzuto remained a household name long after his playing days had passed him by.
Rizzuto, in his retirement, has maintained his connections with the Yankees, frequently participating in club events and festivities. Although a respected and honored member of the Yankees past, Rizzuto stays in touch with the Yankee present. Poised to throw out the first pitch before a playoff game in 2001, Rizzuto instead carried the ball and jogged to the right-field line, flipping the ball to the catcher in homage to current All-Star Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter.
Penciled in to the Yankee lineup at shortstop every day for more than a decade, Phil Rizzuto was a valuable cog and respected leader. On and off the field, he embodied the feisty championship spirit of his nine pennant-winning Yankee teams, and therefore remains an adored figure in New York baseball history.
Jonathan Lehman is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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