Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A salute to The Scooter

Where have you gone Phil Rizzuto?

The Hall of Fame shortstop for the Yankees in the 40s and 50s was one of two Yankees who penetrated my unnatural aversion to pinstripes - Don Mattingly is the other - to become one of my baseball heros.

I'm not old enough to have seen him play but I know I would have loved his leave-it-all-out there, team-first style of play.
Teams he played for won seven of the nine World Series they were in, and The Scooter played a key role in most of those series. He was an AL MVP and played in five All-Star games.
(For more on his career check out this video from WCBS-TV in New York. You have to sit through an ad first, unfortunately.)
But it wasn't his playing days that made Rizzuto a hero to me.
When I moved to New York in 1984 I knew very little about him. But for more than a dozen years I had the pleasure of listening to the Scooter's Yankee broadcasts. His easy, jovial manner. His love for the game. His obvious care and concern for everyone around him. And his persona as a bit of a bumbler behind the mic.

By 1984 Rizzuto had already moved from the radio booth (where he called Roger Maris' historic 61st home run) to the TV side. He worked with several other announcers in the booth, but his schtick went best with the deadpan of Bill White and the country boy charm of Bobby Mercer.

I can recall Rizzuto opening one broadcast saying "Welcome to New York Yankees baseball. I'm Bill White. Um ......."

In his later years he had a reputation of not keeping his eye on the ball at all times in the booth, talking about pretty much anything but the game. But his banter was so entertaining you didn't really care.

One of his partners (I think Bill White) once asked Rizzuto what the "WW" stood for in his scorebook. In a very matter of fact way, Rizzuto replied "wasn't watching."

It may be that I liked Rizzuto so much because he reminded me a bit of my late father-in-law. Both were Brooklyn gentlemen, and gentle men from Brooklyn.

Or it may be that Rizzuto kept alive the spirit of our one-time national pastime into the '90s, while others were busy doping, primping and counting their money.

As a kid in the '60s and '70s, with the Tribe out of the race by mid-June, I would turn my radio dial to Ernie Harwell out of WJR in Detroit. Or on a good night I could pick up a game out of St. Louis and listen to Jack Buck, who's pipsqueak of son, now heard on FOX, couldn't carry his dad's microphone chord. I'd also tune in on Harry Caray in Chicago when the wind blew just right. And Harry Calas in Philadelphia or Bob Prince in Pittsburgh.

Cleveland also had some top-shelf broadcasters in Jimmy Dudley, Bob Neal and - - in an almost Rizzuto-like way -- Herb Score.

Phil Rizzuto could hold his own with all of them.

Holy cow Phil! What will we do without you.


moose said...

well said - A fine tribute to a fine man - never heard him announce much only know the stories

I will defer any comments about the latest indian melt down against the tigers until our fearless leader - if he still dares - to comment. It is a broken record

just one thing - do you think eric wedge is on the kenny lofton christmas card list - how many times has he been pinch hit for - let alone by jason micheals ? where is the lofton "leadership"

Ron Vallo said...

As you say, there's nothing new to say. The same tired story day after day.

How can a team strike out so frequently on such a regular basis? 14 of them Tuesday night. Tonight they see a double-A pitcher they've never seen before, a sure sign of more trouble.

I could talk about the lineup change, but did it make any difference? I will say this though, Casey Blake should never hit second, yet he's there every night.

The only thing I can see to do is to let Gomez replace the 2b,SS and 3B, on a rotating basis while he is hitting. Although after he gets to a full week on this team he'll probably stop hitting as well.

I'll just let The Scooter have the top of the page a little while longer.

TG said...

Nice tribute Ron.

What makes us feel so strongly about announcers?

I have many fond memories of listening to Kalas and Ashburn on AM1210 as they reviewed the day's action on our drive home from the Vet.

On the other hand, I also grew to hate McCarver when he was the regular announcer for the Mets, though my hatred of the team may have boosted my distaste.

I still can't stand McCarver and don't get me started on Joe Morgan.