'Scooter' Rizzuto dies at 89
Hall of Famer was Yankees All-Star shortstop, broadcaster
Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto, who overcame his diminutive size to become a key contributor to numerous New York Yankees championships and followed his playing career with a lengthy and entertaining stint in the team's broadcast booth, died Tuesday. He was 89.Rizzuto's playing and broadcasting careers were in contrast with each other. As a player, Rizzuto had the reputation for being an alert, heads-up competitor with keen baseball instincts that eventually earned him a place in the Hall of Fame. Behind the microphone, he was at times oblivious to the events on the field; nevertheless, his lack of polish as an announcer was ignored by generations of Yankees fans who accepted his eccentricities the way family members do an amusing relative. In many ways, the Yankees were Rizzuto's family. Except for a three-year stretch in the United States Navy (1943-45) during World War II, Rizzuto was the Yankees' regular shortstop from 1941 into the 1956 season, when he retired under somewhat disagreeable circumstances. The next year, he began a broadcasting career that would run 40 seasons through 1996, the first year of the Yankees' most recent stretch of success under manager Joe Torre. In retirement, Rizzuto frequently returned to Yankee Stadium to throw out ceremonial first pitches on special occasions. After Derek Jeter's famous shuttle toss home in the 2001 American League Championship Series, Rizzuto mimicked the play, in tribute to the current Yankees shortstop, rather than throwing from the mound, to the delight of the Stadium crowd. Rizzuto was part of the Yankees' dynastic years of the 1940s and '50s that included a record five straight World Series championships from 1949 through 1953. It was during that period that Rizzuto was an American League Most Valuable Player, in 1950, a year after he finished second in the voting to Ted Williams. In his 13 seasons with the Yankees, Rizzuto played in nine World Series and was on the winning side seven times. He was a rookie on the Yankees' 1941 championship team that beat the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first of five times in the Series before losing to their Flatbush rivals in 1955, Rizzuto's last postseason appearance. Among the highest compliments paid Rizzuto came from Williams, who frequently said the Boston Red Sox might have been in all those World Series had Rizzuto been on their side. As a member of the Hall's Veterans Committee, Williams lobbied hard for Rizzuto's enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., which became reality in 1994. Rizzuto had been the oldest living Hall of Famer. That distinction now belongs to former American League president Lee MacPhail, with former second baseman Bobby Doerr the oldest living Hall of Fame player. Friends said that Rizzuto felt a personal wound 10 years earlier when his Dodgers counterpart, Pee Wee Reese, who was also a good friend, was elected by the Veterans Committee to the Hall, believing that they should have gone in together. Rizzuto simply refused to talk about the Hall after than until the day of his induction, when no one could shut him up -- thankfully. Rizzuto's speech was a delightful ramble without a shred of pretense, filled with recollections of his well-known superstitions and phobias, all the while fanning the air with his hands to shoo away annoying flies.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.