||NEW YORK (Aug. 14) - Phil Rizzuto,
the Hall of Fame shortstop during the Yankees' dynasty years and beloved
by a generation of fans who delighted in hearing him exclaim "Holy cow!"
as a broadcaster, has died. He was 89.
Phil Rizzuto had pneumonia and died in his
sleep late Monday night, daughter Patricia Rizzuto said Tuesday. He had
been in declining health for several years and was living at a nursing
home in West Orange, N.J.
Known as "The Scooter," Rizzuto was the oldest living Hall of Famer. He
played for the Yankees throughout the 1940s and '50s, won seven World
Series titles, was an AL MVP and played in five All-Star games.
Rizzuto later announced Yankees games for four decades and his No. 10
was retired by baseball's most storied team.
"I guess heaven must have needed a shortstop," Yankees owner George
Steinbrenner said in a statement. "He epitomized the Yankee spirit -
gritty and hard charging - and he wore the pinstripes proudly."
At 5-foot-6, Rizzuto was a flashy player who could always be counted on
for a perfect bunt, a nice slide or a diving catch in a lineup better
known for its cornerstone sluggers. He played 13 seasons alongside the
likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in a career interrupted by Navy
service in World War II.
"Phil was a gem, one of the greatest people I ever knew - a dear friend
and great teammate," said Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who frequently
visited Rizzuto in his later years.
"When I first came up to the Yankees, he was like a big - actually,
small - brother to me. He's meant an awful lot to baseball and the
Yankees and has left us with a lot of wonderful memories," he said.
Rizzuto was equipped with a productive bat, sure hands and quick feet
that earned him his nickname and a mention on his Hall plaque that he
"overcame diminutive size."
A leadoff man, he was a superb bunter, used to good advantage by the
Yankees teams that won 11 pennants and nine World Series between 1941
"He was a Yankee all the way," Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller said.
"Phil could hit, he could run, he was good on the basepaths and he was a
great shortstop. He knew the fundamentals of the game and he got 100
percent out of his ability. He played it hard and he played it fair," he
Born in Brooklyn, Rizzuto tried out with the Dodgers and New York Giants
when he was 16, but because of his size was dismissed by Dodgers manager
Casey Stengel, who told him to "Go get a shoeshine box." Rizzuto went on
to become one of Stengel's most dependable players.
A Rizzuto bunt, a steal and a DiMaggio hit made up the scoring trademark
of the Yankees' golden era, and he played errorless ball in 21
consecutive World Series games. DiMaggio said the shortstop "held the
Rizzuto came to the Yankees in 1941 and batted .307 as a rookie. After
the war, he returned in 1946 and became the American League MVP in 1950.
He batted .324 that season with a slugging percentage of .439 and 200
hits, second most in the league. He also went 58 games without an error,
making 288 straight plays.
He led all AL shortstops in double plays three times and had a career
batting average of .273 with at least a .930 fielding percentage. He
played in five All-Star games.
Rizzuto remembered Aug. 25, 1956, as a day he thought was the "end of
the world," the day Stengel released him to make room for clutch-hitting
Enos Slaughter in the pennant drive.
Rizzuto then began a second career as a broadcaster, one for which he
became at least equally well known. His voice dripped with his native
In his decades on the radio and TV, Rizzuto's favorite phrase was "Holy
cow!" He trotted it out when calling Roger Maris' record-breaking 61st
home run in 1961 and the saying became so much a part of him, the team
presented him with a cow wearing a halo when they held a day in his
honor in 1985. The cow knocked Rizzuto over and, of course, he shouted,
"That thing really hurt," he said. "That big thing stepped right on my
shoe and pushed me backwards, like a karate move."
Yankee fans also loved his unusual commentary, often punctuated with the
phrase, "What a huckleberry!"
In an age of broadcasters who spout statistics and repeat the obvious,
Rizzuto loved to talk about things like his fear of lightning, the style
of an umpire's shoes or even the prospect of outfielder Dave Winfield as
a candidate for president.
He liked to acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries, read notes from
fans, praised the baked delicacies at his favorite restaurant and send
messages to old cronies. And if he missed a play, he would scribble "ww"
in his scorecard box score. That, he said, meant "wasn't watching."
His popularity was such that at a recent auction a Rizzuto cap embedded
with a wad of chewing gum sold for more than $8,000. In the New York
area, Rizzuto's antics became a staple for TV ads.
Despite his qualifications, Rizzuto was passed over for the Hall of Fame
15 times by the writers and 11 times by the Veterans Committee. Finally,
a persuasive speech by Ted Williams pushed Rizzuto into Cooperstown in
Williams, a member of the committee, argued that Rizzuto was the man who
made the difference between the Yankees and his Red Sox. He was fond of
saying, "If we'd had Rizzuto in Boston, we'd have won all those pennants
instead of New York."
As in his playing days, Rizzuto was overshadowed by the headliners,
teammates like DiMaggio, Mantle, Whitey Ford and Berra. All of them
reached the Hall of Fame before he did.
The flag at Cooperstown was lowered to half-staff and a laurel was
placed around his plaque, as is custom when all Hall of Famers die. With
Rizzuto's death, executive Lee MacPhail, 89, becomes the oldest living
"I never thought I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame," Rizzuto once
said. "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."
Rizzuto is survived by his wife, Cora, whom he married in 1943;
daughters Cindy Rizzuto, Patricia Rizzuto and Penny Rizzuto Yetto; son
Phil Rizzuto Jr.; and two granddaughters.
AP Sports Writer Hal Bock, AP Sports Writer
Tom Withers in Cleveland and Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Gold in
Hillside, N.J., contributed to this report.