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One and only Scooter

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  August 15, 2007 10:13 AM

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Phil Rizzuto the player, you can read about.

He was a very good player who may or may not belong in the Hall of Fame. It was, in fact, a very controversial selection by the veterans committee. After he was passed over by the writers, it took a long, long time for the veterans to accede to tremendous pressure from the New York media and vote him in. The year was 1994, and 'tis said one of his biggest patrons on the committee was Ted Williams, who had long ago famously declared that had Rizzuto been the Red Sox shortstop in the 1940s and ‘50s, a lot of those pennants would have been hanging in Boston.

Phil Rizzuto was forcibly retired by the Yankees in 1956. That's a great enough story in and of itself and it has been well-chronicled during the last 24 hours. Yankees GM George Weiss called The Scooter in to seek his counsel about which player should be released in order to make way for Enos Slaughter, whom the Yankees were about to pick up on waivers from the Cardinals.

"Not him, not him, not him." That was Weiss each time Scooter pointed to a name. Then Rizzuto realized that the correct answer was him, The Scooter. Thus did the man who was then, without doubt, the best Yankees shortstop of all-time (I think we all realize there is a new candidate) discover that he was about to be released.

Crazy story. It might even be true.

Like so many players of his generation, Phil Rizzuto lost three precious years from his career to a higher calling -- saving Western Civilization as we know it. He was 24 when he went into the Navy (I believe) following the 1942 season. He finished with 1,588 hits, which means he would easily have accumulated the needed 402 required to join the 2000-hit club. That would have made his final resume look a little meatier, stat-wise.

But with a guy like him, do the stats matter? His game was defense, baserunning and bunting. He goes down in history as one of the most accomplished bunters who ever played the game. I mean, his contemporaries spoke of his ability to manipulate the bat in very reverential terms. He was also one of only three players I can recall who were famous for their ability to prolong, or even extricate themselves from run-downs. The other two were Jackie Robinson and, believe it or not, Mark Belanger.

His career year was 1950 when he hit .324, had his only 200-hit season and was named the American League MVP.

But the playing talent alone wasn't the reason his obituary began on page A1 of the Aug. 15 New York Times, or why the Daily News had him on Page 1 with eight full pages of coverage and the Post had him on Page 1 with six pages of Scooter coverage.
This is the reason:

Oh man,
You talk about having fun broadcasting games.
That year, I mean there were home runs every day.
There was nothing but a lot of runs.
Makes it a lot easier.
All right!
Here's Lovullo.
Torey Luvollo.
I've been calling him "Tony."
And he pops it up.

Or this:

When I was forced to leave the game after six innings,
You now.
I almost came back in the 13th inning.
I want you to know I was thinking of Murcer and Seaver there.


I woke up.
And it was like,
Like a nightmare.
I said,
"Could the game still be going on?"
And sure enough.
I started to get dressed.
And then the 14th inning came.
If it had gone another inning,
I'd have been there.

Or this:

All right
A big hubbub right in back of the Yankee dugout,
Dead center.
Telly Savalas!
We might have to ask him to put a hat on his head,
It's shining up here,
Some glare.
But that's the thing lately,
They say being bald is very sexy.
All right,
I tell ya.
Just about everybody you want to name
Will be here tonight.
Cary Grant hasn't missed a game
Here at Yankee Stadium at the playoffs.
Frank Sinatra has been here.
And we're ready.

Or this:

Two balls and a strike.
You know what they had on TV today, White?
Bridge On The Rover Kwai.
Everybody should have gotten an Academy Award for that movie.
I don't know how many times I've seen it.
About forty times.
Alec Guinness!
William Holden!
Three and one count.
I just heard somebody whistle.
You know that song?
That's what they whistle.
Nobody out.
And he pops it up.

Or this:

One ball, one strike,
Two out, two on.
The Yankees trail four to one
In the bottom of the seventh.
Michelle wants to say
"Happy Birthday to T-Bone."
That's his name: T-Bone.
The runner is leading away...

Or this:

Everything is named Walden up there.
Great poet.
Great, great poet...
I gotta think of another one up the ---
It really is beautiful country.
I could very easily move up there.
I was thinking of Greenwich.
But I don't have enough money to move to Greenwich.
So I might move to Concord.

Or this:

What kind is it?
Holy Cow!
What happened?
Base hit!
A little disconcerting.
Smelling that pizza.
And trying
To do a ballgame.

Or this:

My heart.
My heart won't take it any more.
I'm tellin' ya'.
Are we on the air?
We're on the?

Those are real transcript excerpts from real Phil Rizzuto Yankee radio and television performances during his 40-year career in the broadcast booth. They come from a priceless book that came into my possession in 1993. The book is entitled "O Holy Cow!" and is sub-titled "The selected verse of Phil Rizzuto."

Editors Tom Hart and Hart Seely have taken classic Rizzuto outbursts and musings and arranged them in free verse. The book, published by the Ecco Press in Hopewell, N.J. is laugh-out-loud funny. Let's hope Amazon, or somebody, has a few lying around. I shouldn't be having all the fun.

These excerpts give you a feel for a true American Original. He did a stream-of-consciousness broadcast, unlike any other. He never, ever referred to colleagues such as Bill White, Fran Healy, Bobby Murcer, Tom Seaver, Frank Musser or Al Trautwig by anything other than their last names. He forever acknowledged birthdays, favorite restaurants and anything else that struck his fancy. He was famous for leaving early to beat the traffic across the George Washington Bridge and he also was famous for such scorecard entries as "WW," which stood for "Wasn't Watching."

As time went on he became far more noted for his broadcasting than his distinguished playing. He was simply The Scooter, and he represented the Yankee experience to generations of Yankee fans. He was as much a part of a New York/New Jersey/Connecticut summer as your air conditioner.

There was, as my mother (a Scooter fan), liked to say, only one.

How about one more Scooter riff for the road?

Hey White
You know where your loyalties are?
Right here.
The old pinsripes.
You never wore them.
So you have a right to sing the blues.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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