By Steve Svetovich
October and the World Series go hand in hand, and the late Phil Rizzuto played in 10 of the fall classics and broadcast two more.
Affectionately known by all as “The Scooter,” the Hall of Fame New York Yankees shortstop and broadcaster was synonymous with October and the World Series.
And “The Scooter” had a few Dunmore ties.
Dunmore’s Jimmy Brozzetti and Dr. Joseph Morelli, Ph.D, a Dunmore native, were instrumental in bringing Rizzuto to Lackawanna Junior College in 1993. “The Scooter” mingled with fans, shook hands, signed autographs and posed for photos at no cost during his Scranton visit.
Brozzetti was a friend of Rizzuto for many years. “The Scooter” occasionally visited with his friends in Dunmore.
He passed away August 13, 2007 just one month shy of his 90th birthday.
A Yankee legend, he was a character of sorts and beloved by everyone. He was easily accessible by fans who he often sent birthday or get well wishes to on his broadcasts on WPIX.
“Holy Cow,” was his trademark expression on New York Yankees TV broadcasts for WPIX. Rizzuto spent 13 years as a shortstop with the Yankees and followed that with a 40-year broadcasting career with the team.
His final New York Yankees broadcast came in the summer of 1996, the same year he called rookie Derek Jeter’s first home run. His most famous home run call came in 1961 when he called the Roger Maris 61st homer that broke Babe Ruth’s single season record.
Rizzuto announced his retirement from broadcasting shortly after Mickey Mantle’s death August 13, 1995. His broadcasting partner Bobby Murcer had left for Mantle’s funeral and “The Scooter” thought he was going to be freed from his TV broadcasting duties to attend. However, he was told he had to do play by play for the Yankees TV broadcast. Rizzuto did the game through the sixth inning, but could not compose himself to go on and excused himself. Shortly after, he announced his retirement.
He was coaxed back to broadcast Yankees games in 1996, but retired for good towards the end of New York’s championship season under new manager Joe Torre. He complimented the shortstop play of rookie Jeter during his TV broadcasts that year.
Rizzuto was so appealing to the public that he made his numerous WPIX ads for “The Money Store” almost as famous as Yankees baseball.
During his broadcasts he always referred to his broadcasting partners by their last names. Thus his partners were White, Messer, Seaver, Murcer…
He spoke often of his love for Italian restaurants, recipes, cannolis and his fear of lightning. The Scooter would often leave the broadcast booth when lightning struck. He despised heavy traffic and was often allowed to depart Yankees broadcasts in the seventh inning so he could beat the traffic on the George Washington Bridge.
And he often mentioned his beloved wife Cora, who died in 2010, on Yankees broadcasts. Of course, he praised her Italian cooking and pastries. He was often presented with cannolis in the booth during Yankee broadcasts. And, of course, he sampled them during the broadcasts.
In his high pitched voice, he often playfully called ball players, managers, umpires, broadcast partners or even fans, “a huckleberry,” another one of his trademark expressions. “What a huckleberry. Unbelievable.”
When Rizzuto’s No. 10 was retired after his Hall of Fame election, the team held a ceremony for him at Yankee Stadium. The Scooter, in his mid 80’s at the time, tripped over a real cow which was presented to him. “Holy Cow. What a huckleberry!”
The Scooter made Yankees baseball more than fun.
Rizzuto, from Brooklyn, NY, loved the little guy. He was 5-6, 150-pounds during his playing days and thereafter. He was always personable and approachable to his many fans.
This scribe first met him at the Lackawanna College event in 1993. However, it was a surprise personal letter from him that forever connected me to “The Scooter.”
Rizzuto mailed me a personal hand-written letter in April 1994 only one month after this scribe wrote a column about his election into the National Hall of Fame in the March 10, 1994 issue of The Dunmorean.
His hand-written name and Hillside, New Jersey address was scrolled on the envelope.
“Holy Cow, a letter from The Scooter,” were my words while opening the enclosed letter.
The contents of the letter were as follows: “Hi, Steve. Thanks for that wonderful column you wrote. I really enjoyed it. Nice and light and informative. When I come up to visit Jim Brozzetti in Dunmore again I’ll be sure to get in touch with you.”
This scribe’s only regret following the hand-written letter was not to write back and arrange a personal meeting at some point in Dunmore. But the letter, itself, is a treasure.
He personally signed the letter, “Holy Cow,” Phil “The Scooter” Rizzuto.
The letter showed a cartoon photo of Rizzuto holding a WPIX microphone.
Rizzuto received a copy of the March 10, 1994 issue of The Dunmorean column through the publishers of a book entitled, “O, Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto.” He read the column and responded via personal letter he mailed directly to my home address.
The Scooter had a .273 career batting average in his 13 years as a player from 1941 through 1953. The best bunter of his era, he batted .307 in his rookie season and .324 in 1950 when he was the American League MVP. His Yankee teams won seven of the 10 World Series he played in.
The premier American League shortstop of his era, he finished his career second all time in both fielding percentage and double plays for a shortstop.
The diminutive Rizzuto struck out only 398 times in 5,816 big league at bats.
And this was the scrawny kid late Yankees manager Casey Stengel sent away during a tryout camp telling him to go home and shine shoes in Brooklyn.
Stengel later managed him.
When he broke into broadcasting in the mid to late 1950’s, the late Howard Cosell said Rizzuto would never make it. “He talks like Groucho Marx and looks like George Burns.”
The Scooter made it as a ball player, broadcaster and as a human. Not just a Hall of Famer in baseball, but in life.
Late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner put it best following the passing of “The Scooter” in August of 2007: “God must have needed a shortstop in Heaven.”