Actually, 2 Yankee stars are born on this day. John Franklin Sain is born in Havana, Arkansas. Johnny Sain went on to pitch for the Boston Braves, was a 3-time All-Star, and was the 1st man to throw a regular-season major league pitch to Jackie Robinson. Had there been a Cy Young Award in 1948, he probably would have won it, going 24-15 and helping the Braves win their last Pennant in Boston.
He then helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1951, 1952 and 1953, and retired with a career record of 139-116. He became one of baseball's greatest pitching coaches, winning Pennants with the Yankees in 1961, 1962 and 1963; the Minnesota Twins in 1965; and the Detroit Tigers in 1968. He nearly helped the Chicago White Sox get into the postseason in 1972, and returned to the Braves, where his last major league job was in 1986. He died in 2006, at the age of 89.
But he's not the biggest Yankee born on this day. The tallest, but not the biggest.
The son of a trolley motorman, Phil Rizzuto graduated from Richmond Hill High School in Queens. Other alumni include his eventual Yankee teammate Marius Russo, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, and singer Cyndi Lauper. Despite being only 5-foot-5 and maybe 140 pounds, he was the quarterback on their football team.
His dream was to play shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He went to them for a tryout, but the manager told him he was too small: "Go get a shoreline kit, kid." Phil never forgave that manager. His name was Casey Stengel.
So he took his revenge by going to the Dodgers' arch-rivals, the New York Giants. With considerably more tact, their manager, Bill Terry, also turned him down. Then he went to the New York Yankees. In 1937, they signed him.
In the minor leagues, a teammate named Billy Hitchcock, who went on to play for several major league teams and manage 3, saw the way he moved around the infield, and gave him the nickname "Scooter."
After hearing him curse after making an error, his manager told him an umpire could throw him out of a game if he heard that, so he should come up with something clean to say when he got upset. So he went back to saying what he used to say in such situations: "Holy cow!"
For the record: Harry Caray was saying, "Holy cow!" on the radio when Phil was still playing; but Phil was saying it before anybody ever heard of Harry. So neither stole it from the other.
In 1940, helping the Kansas City Blues win the American Association Pennant, Phil was named Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News. He was called up, and made his major league debut on April 14, 1941. In front of an Opening Day crowd at Griffith Stadium in Washington, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he led off, played shortstop, wore Number 10, and went 0-for-4, but the Yankees beat the Washington Senators 3-1, as a Joe DiMaggio triple backed up Russo against Dutch Leonard.
The Yankees won the American League Pennant that year, as Phil's .307 batting average, alert baserunning and slick fielding contributed. Had there been a Rookie of the Year award at the time, he surely would have won it.
They faced the Dodgers in the World Series. By this point, Stengel was managing the Boston Braves. Ironically, the Dodgers had traded for not one, but two fine shortstops. First, they got Leo Durocher, and even made him their manager. Then, as Leo's skills declined, they got Harold "Pee Wee" Reese.
Grantland Rice, the greatest American sportswriter of that time, predicted a Yankee victory, and included this reason:
Billy Herman and Pee Wee Reese around the highly important keystone spot don't measure up, over a season anyway, with Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto, a pair of light-footed, quick-handed operatives who can turn seeming base hits into double plays often enough to save many a close scrap.
The Yankees won in 5 games. They won the Pennant again in 1942, as Phil made his 1st of 5 All-Star Games. Phil then entered the U.S. Navy for the duration of World War II. Shortly before his entry, he met Cora Anne Ellenborn. He married her in his Navy dress uniform, and they remained together 'til death did they part. They had a son, Phil Jr., and 3 daughters, Cindy, Patricia and Penny.
Like several other Yankees, Phil had trouble getting his swing back after returning from The War in 1946. But he helped them get back into the World Series in 1947, and he started a double play to get the Series' last 2 outs.
In 1949, the Yankees hired a new manager: Casey Stengel. Some of them, so used to the way Joe McCarthy managed them, never took to Stengel. Two, in particular, hated him, the men who, by this point, were the 2 most important players in the team: Rizzuto and DiMaggio.
The Scooter hadn't forgotten how the Ol' Perfesser cruelly dismissed him in Brooklyn 12 years earlier. But Stengel knew he'd made a mistake, saying, "If I were a retired gentleman, I would come to Yankee Stadium just to watch Rizzuto play."
The Yankees overcame a slew of injuries in 1949, needing to beat the Boston Red Sox in the last 2 games to win the Pennant. Not only did the Sox have Ted Williams, but Phil's minors teammate Billy Hitchcock, and were managed by McCarthy.
Still, the Yankees won, beginning a string of 5 straight World Championships, which, as Phil's teammate Yogi Berra later said of Din Larsen's perfect game, "It's never been done before, and it still hasn't."
Phil would later write The October Twelve, about the 12 players, including himself and Yogi, who were in the World Series roster all 5 times. The book also included reminiscences of DiMaggio, who retired after the 1951 season; Mickey Mantle, who arrived that year; and Whitey Ford, who arrived in 1950, missed the next 2 years serving in the U.S. Army for the Korean War, and returned for the 1953 title.
In spite of the 1949 title, Phil finished 2nd to Williams in the voting for the AL Most Valuable Player award. But in 1950, he overcame a terrible start to win it, batting .324 - with a bat borrowed from one of the biggest and best hitters of the era, a man known as the Big Cat:
I started out hitting 0-for-12. Couldn't buy a base hit! Then, Johnny Mize said, "Phil, why don't you use my bat?" It was 36 inches, 36 ounces. It was almost as big as I was!
First time up, I tried to duck away from the pitch, and the ball hit the bat and went over the infield for a base hit! And I ended up getting 200 hits with that bat!
As with most players then, Phil needed an off-season job. He worked at a clothing store with some other local ballplayers. Then, he and Yogi went halfsies on owning a bowling alley, which they sold for a tidy profit. In 1950, Phil was the mystery guest in the 1st episode of the CBS game show What's My Line?
The Yankees won another Pennant in 1955, but late in the 1956 season, with Phil in decline and about to turn 39, they released him. Let's just say the fact they used was closer to Stengel's in 1937 than to Terry's.
There were no Gold Gloves then, although once Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians retired, Phil would have had a better chance. He retired with a .273 batting average, 9 Pennants and 7 World Championships.
But Phil's baseball career was far from done. The Giants took him on as a broadcaster for the remainder of the season. That got the attention of WPIX-Channel 11, and they hired him for the Yankees' broadcasts. He stayed on them for 40 seasons.
His broadcast partners included:
* Mel Allen, 1957-64, and again 1982-86
* Red Barber, 1957-66
* Jerry Coleman, 1963-69
* Joe Garagiola, 1965-67
* Frank Messer, 1968-84
* Whitey Ford, 1969-71
* Bob Gamere, 1970
* Bill White, 1971-88
* Fran Healy, 1982-83
* Bobby Murcer, 1983-96
* Spencer Ross, 1985-87
* Mickey Mantle, 1985-88
* Billy Martin, 1986-87
* Jim Kaat, 1986, and again 1995-96
* Ken Harrelson, 1987-88
* Lou Piniella, 1989
* Tommy Hutton, 1989
* George Grande, 1989-90
* Tom Seaver, 1989-93
* Al Trautwig, 1990-96
* Dewayne Staats, 1990-94
* Tony Kubek, 1990-94
* Paul Olden, 1994-95
* Dave Cohen, 1995-96
* Rick Cerone, 1996
Coleman, Ford, Mantle and Martin were former Yankee teammates. Healy, Murcer, Kaat, Piniella, Hutton, Cerone and Kubek (who ended up replacing him as Yankee shortstop) also played for the Yankees.
Phil Rizzuto and Bill White, 1986
Several teams have a former player who became a beloved broadcaster. The Philadelphia Phillies had Richie Ashburn. The Cleveland Indians had Herb Score. The Cincinnati Reds have Joe Nuxhall. Among those still living: The Boston Red Sox have Jerry Remy, the Pittsburgh Pirates have Steve Blass, the Minnesota Twins have Bert Blyleven, the San Francisco Giants have Mike Krukow, the Houston Astros have Larry Dierker, and the Seattle Mariners have ex-Yankee Mike Blowers. The St. Louis Cardinals had the now-retired Mike Shannon, and now they have Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky. And the Mets? Who does their guy think he is? "I'm Keith Hernandez!"
(The late Ernie Johnson Sr. pitched for the Braves in Milwaukee, but broadcast for them in Atlanta, so he doesn't count. For the same reason, nor does F.P. Santangelo: He broadcasts for the Washington Nationals, and did play for that franchise, but while it was still the Montreal Expos.)
Some people got upset that he usually called Bill White, a former National League 1st baseman who was the 1st black man to be a regular announcer for any MLB team, by his last name: "I tell ya, White, these Yankees... " It wasn't a racial thing. They didn't get that he called his other broadcast partners by their last names, too: "Messer," "Murcer," "Seaver," and so on. Sometimes, he used both names, particularly "Frank Messer" and "Bill White."
Phil Rizzuto did "shout-outs" before anybody thought to call them that. He would wish people Happy Birthday, Congratulations on graduation, or Get Well. He would wish couples Happy Anniversary, or Congratulations on the birth of a baby. He would plug restaurants he liked, usually Italian ones. There would always be food, often cannoli, in the booth, when the Scooter was in the booth.
If he was in the booth. He would sometimes wander off. It wasn't due to advancing age: He did it when he was younger, and his mind was just as sharp at the end as it always was, however sharp you think that was. Sometimes, he'd say, "I'll be home soon, Cora!" Every now and then, an aerial shot of the George Washington Bridge would be shown, and he'd think about going home to Cora in Hillside, and say, "I gotta get over that bridge!"
Cora and Phil Rizzuto.
He was right: "She's a doll!"
He would go into stories that seemed not at all connected to the game at hand. His mind would drift so much that, one time, White saw a notation on his scorecard, and asked him what "W.W." meant. It meant "Wasn't Watching." As a result, one of the more popular Yankee-themed blogs is known as Was Watching.
Phil made a mistake that Mel Allen made, which John Sterling makes today: He watches the ball as it flies toward the outfield. Red Barber pointed out that you should watch the outfielder: If you know whether he thinks he can catch the ball, you'll know if it's going to be caught. Many times, the Scooter would say, "That's gone! No, it's not!"
Yeah, he made a lot of mistakes. He liked to say, "I like radio better than television, because if you make a mistake on radio, they don't know. You can make up anything on the radio."
And, in his homerism, he might yell, "Stay fair!" One time, around 1985 or so, Mike Pagliarulo hit a drive down the right field line, and Phil said, "All right! Stay fair! No, it won't stay fair. Good thing it didn't stay fair, I think he woulda caught it."
Oh, was he ever a homer! "Ooh, these Yankees can get the clutch hits, Murcer! I might have to go home early! I just got a cramp in my leg!" He never did explain why a cramp in his leg was going to affect his broadcasting.
Yes, he was a homer. And Yankee Fans loved him for it. For cumulative total, he might have been the most beloved figure in Yankee history. More than Babe Ruth. More than Mickey Mantle. More than Derek Jeter. Yes, Michael Kay, even more than Don Mattingly.
There were many Scooterisms. Everyone remembers "Holy cow!" He used it twice when describing Roger Maris' 61st home run of the 1961 season:
Here's the windup, fastball, hit deep to right, this could be it! Way back there! Holy cow, he did it! Sixty-one for Maris! And look at the fight for that ball out there! Holy cow, what a shot! Another standing ovation for Maris, and they're still fighting for that ball out there, climbing over each other's backs. One of the greatest sights I've ever seen here at Yankee Stadium!
And he used it twice when describing the home run that Chris Chambliss hit to win the 1976 Pennant, off Mark Littell of the Kansas City Royals, after there had already been a delay to pick trash thrown by the fans off the field:
He hits one deep to right-center! That ball is out of here! The Yankees win the Pennant! Holy cow, Chris Chambliss on one swing!"
(After a momentary pause, as fans poured onto the field, tearing it up for souvenirs) And the Yankees win the American League Pennant. Unbelievable, what a finish! As dramatic a finish as you'd ever want to see! With all that delay, we told you, Littell had to be a little upset. And, holy cow, Chambliss hits one over the fence, he is being mobbed by the fans, and this field will never be the same, but the Yankees have won it in the bottom of the 9th, seven to six!
White had the call when one of Phil's successors as Yankee shortstop, Bucky Dent, hit the home run that turned the 1978 Playoff with the Boston Red Sox around. A couple of batters later, Phil walked back into the booth. White asked him what he thought. "I was in the Red Sox press room, I let out three holy cows, and I thought Frank Malzone was gonna bite me on the ankle!" After the game, Phil was on the field, got the interview with Bucky, and said, with the biggest grin his tiny body could muster, "You gotta have a shortstop!"
October 2, 1978. Bucky and the Scooter.
* "Did you see that?"
* "How do ya like that?"
* "I tell ya, (broadcast partner's name)... "
* A player hitting a home run was "really stroking that potato!"
* And, of course, when somebody did something inappropriate, "You huckleberry!"
One of my favorite moments was when the camera focused on the Con Ed Kids in the left-center field bleachers. Consolidated Edison, New York's electric company, sponsored a program to bring inner-city kids to the game for free. Willie Randolph, later a Yankee 2nd baseman and coach (and a Met manager), was a counselor for the Con Ed Kids as a teenager.
And Rizzuto said, "White, you were deprived as a child, you didn't have the Con Ed Kids."
And White, who grew up in Cleveland, said, "Well, we had Ohio Edison. They took us to Indians games."
And Rizzuto said, "Oh. Well, I guess that's all right."
In 1977, Phil was asked to narrate a baseball scene for "Paradise By the Dashboard Light," a song written by Jim Steinman for Marvin Aday, a.k.a. Meat Loaf. It was designed to illustrate Meat's character "getting to first base" with his girlfriend, "getting to second base," "getting to third base," and, finally, trying to "score," before she tells him to "Stop right there!"
He asked Steinman, "Do I have to be high to understand this song?" He was told he didn't. I have no idea what would have happened if he had been told that he did.
He also did commercials for Miller Lite beer and lenders The Money Store. In 1998, he "broadcast" a Claymation ad for Lipton Brisk Iced Tea, which also featured figures of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, and Reggie Jackson doing his own voice. Joe Grifasi played him in Billy Crystal's Yankee tribute film 61*, and actual recordings of his broadcasts were used in the film about the 1977 Yankees, The Bronx Is Burning (in which Grifasi played Yogi).
In 1994, after he was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Phil was named one of the honorary captains at the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, along with Buck Leonard, the Negro League star who played for teams in that city. Meat Loaf sang the National Anthem.
Yankee broadcasters would occasionally have to come back from commercials on Channel 11, and plug shows the station was showing. When it began showing Seinfeld reruns, Phil said, "I love Seinfeld. That Kramer, he cracks me up. I tell ya, I haven't had this much fun in bed since my honeymoon!"
Rizzuto was a good Catholic. Most of the time. He became friends with Ed Lucas, a student at St. Joseph's School for the Blind, and when Ed became a sportswriter and broadcaster despite his handicapped, he and Phil became fundraisers for Ed's former school. But when the announcement came over the wire on August 6, 1978 that Pope Paul VI had died, Phil said, "Well, that kind of puts a damper on even a Yankee win."
The Vatican didn't hold it against Phil: When he finally got into the Hall of Fame, one of the gifts he received from Yankee management was a free trip to Italy and a meeting with Pope John Paul II for himself and Cora.
Phil also introduced Ed Lucas to his 2nd wife, who was legally blind. They became the only couple ever married on the field at the old Yankee Stadium.
In 1984, Pee Wee Reese and Luis Aparicio were elected to the Hall of Fame. Pee Wee was Scooter's contemporary, his fellow New York City shortstop. Aparicio was also a shortstop, albeit in the generation after. Both were deserving inductees. But fans began the old game of, "If Player A is in the Hall of Fame, and Player B is similar, why isn't Player B in?"
Phil was every bit as good of an all-around player as either Reese or Aparicio, and more accomplished than either. Each won only 1 World Series (Reese with the 1955 Dodgers, Aparicio with the 1966 Baltimore Orioles, although he's mainly remembered with the Chicago White Sox), while Phil won 7 (1941, '47, '49, '50, '51, '52 and '53).
Surely, if playing and broadcasting could be combined into a single category, Phil would have been in -- and so would Ashburn (more about whom in a moment), Score, Nuxhall, and perhaps others. But baseball doesn't work that way. Nor do they combine playing and managing, to the detriment of Gil Hodges and, until his great managing career was complete, Joe Torre. Phil could be elected as a player or as a broadcaster. Or, theoretically, in each category. (In the big 4 North American sports, only 2 men have ever been so honored: Football's Frank Gifford and Len Dawson.) But not for his playing and his broadcasting combined.
On August 4, 1985, the Yankees held Phil Rizzuto Day. I was there. They retired his Number 10, and dedicated a Plaque in his honor, calling him the greatest Yankee shortstop. (At the time, it was a completely fair statement.) Mickey Mantle came out, and gave him some golf clubs. (This was the 1st time I got to see The Mick in person. Both men loved golf.)
And he was given a cow with a cardboard halo. A "holy cow." It was named Huckleberry. It was to be donated in his name to a local petting zoo. And it head-butted him, knocking him over. Phil was approaching his 68th birthday, and we all worried that he'd gotten hurt. He wasn't.
And in his speech, he said, "This means more to me than being elected to the Hall of Fame ever could." Huge ovation.
He was lying. He knew it. We all knew it.
On July 27, 1991, the Yankees held Old-Timers Day. The theme was the 50th Anniversary of DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, and the World Series win that resulted. There were 8 living members of the 1941 Yankees. Bill Dickey was too ill to come, and Frank Crosetti never returned for Old-Timers' Day. The other 6 came: Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Russo, and 2 guys who aren't usually remembered as Yankees, Johnny Sturm (it was the 1st baseman's only season in the major leagues) and Stanley "Frenchy" Bordagaray (a 3rd baseman better known for playing elsewhere).
Joe said, "Nobody had a better view than I did of Phil playing shortstop." He gave a few details, and said, "And, Phil, I just want you to know that you're my Hall-of-Famer. And I mean that." That statement got a bigger ovation than either of them, or Mickey, or Whitey, or Reggie Jackson got on their introductions. (Yogi was feuding with George Steinbrenner at the time, and refused all invitations between 1985 and 1998.)
Vic Raschi, a member of Phil's "October Twelve," once said, "My best pitch is anything the batter grounds, lines, or pops in the direction of Rizzuto."
Paul Richards, a decent catcher who became one of the game's best scouts and executives, said, "Among those shortstops whom I have had the good fortune to see in action, it's got to be Rizzuto on top for career achievement. For a five-year period, I would have to take Lou Boudreau... But, year after year, season after season, Rizzuto was a standout."
And poet Ogden Nash, who called himself "an all-time incurable fan" of the New York Giants, called Phil "this dandiest of shortstops."
My grandmother, Grace Golden, was a fan of Nash. And a fan of Rizzuto. She was with me on his Day, as were my parents. Grandma was a Dodger fan, and later a Met fan. She hated the Yankees. Hated Mickey Mantle. Hated Yogi Berra. How can anyone hate Yogi Berra? She did. She really hated Casey Stengel. And hated Billy Martin more than anybody.
But she loved 2 Yankees: Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. She loved the Scooter because he was a little guy who made it big. And she loved the Chairman of the Board because he was so cool under pressure, unlike Martin, whom she called a "hothead." There was nothing, except maybe errors and bases on balls, she hated more than a hothead. But she loved Phil and Whitey. The fact that, like her, they were from Queens may have had something to do with it.
But it did bother him that he was passed over, over and over again. In public, he said things like, "I never thought I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is for the big guys, pitchers with 100 mph fastballs and hitters who sock homers and drive in a lot of runs. That's the way it always has been, and the way it should be." But, in private, he said things like, "I'll take anyway to get into the Hall of Fame. If they want a batboy, I'll go in as a batboy."
The Baseball Writers Association of America, which votes on recently retired players, never let him get close. The Hall of Fame Committee on Veterans, which elected Reese, passed him over repeatedly as well.
In 1993, 2 members of the Veterans Committee died, both Hall-of-Famers themselves: Charlie Gehringer and Roy Campanella. Neither voted for Phil, despite Campy having seen him up close in 4 World Series.
Ted Williams was on the Committee as well, and when Ted wanted to make a point, he could talk your ear off. He told anyone who would listen that Phil belonged. In what could have been taken as a slight to his teammate Johnny Pesky, Ted liked to say, "If we'd had Phil Rizzuto at shortstop all those years, we would have won all those Pennants, not the Yankees."
Yogi and Whitey were appointed to the Committee to replace Gehringer and Campanella. On February 25, 1994, a call was placed from Montclair, New Jersey to nearby Hillside. It was Yogi, calling Phil. No need for Yogi to get cute with one of his sayings: He simply said, "Congratulations: You're in."
It was like the weight of the world had been lifted from his little shoulders. I went to his induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York. (By the way: If you haven't been to Cooperstown, don't go on Induction Weekend. Trust me on this one. It's next to impossible to get a hotel room, and a town that is home to 2,500 people simply isn't equipped to handle 100,000 visitors at once. Go any other time.) And, interrupted a few times by flies (it was hot), he gave a long, rambling speech that was alternately hilarious and touching.
During the 2001 American League Championship Series, Jeter escorted him to the pitcher's mound for a first ball ceremony. At first, Phil seemed to be wandering back to the dugout, and we wondered if the 84-year-old Scooter was losing it. Nope, he knew exactly what he was doing: He got to the point on the field where, in Oakland a few days earlier, Jeter had done "The Flip," and threw the ball to Jorge Posada behind the plate the exact same way, and the fans, getting the joke, erupted.
As part of the celebrations around his Hall election, Channel 11 showed him taking the tour of the Hall's museum that all new inductees get. Included was a scale model of Yankee Stadium before its 1973-76 renovation. He said, "It would be a shame if they ever tore it down."
By 2005, it was no longer a matter of "if," but "when." That year, he showed up for Old-Timers' Day, but, for the 1st time since he was elected, didn't make the trip to Cooperstown for Induction Weekend. In 2006, with the groundbreaking for the new Yankee Stadium a few weeks away, he didn't show up for Old-Timers' Day. It was soon announced that he was in a nursing home in West Orange, New Jersey. Although his mind and memory were intact, he was too frail to leave the house anymore.
On August 13, 2007, 12 years to the day after Mickey Mantle died, Phil Rizzuto passed away, a few weeks short of his 90th birthday. The Yankees put black 10s on their left sleeves for the remainder of the season.
Today would have been Phil Rizzuto's 100th Birthday, his Centennial. Holy cow, I loved that huckleberry.