Doin’ Dunmore: Thoughts of The Scooter Entwined with His Dunmore Ties

Doin Dunmore - RizzutoBy 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.

Doin Dunmore Rizzuto plaqueRizzuto 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.”

Trolley Rides to the Ballpark Schedule

trollety

The Electric City Trolley Museum is once again taking a page out of the area’s rich railroad history by offering excursion runs to PNC Field this spring and summer for Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders ballgames.  Select games through August,will offer fans an opportunity to “take the trolley” to the park at a very reasonable rate. This hassle-free service will also provide the riders with a picturesque snapshot of our community’s natural beauty.

The price of the excursion is $20 per person and includes the trolley fare, game ticket and a $2 voucher for either the concession stand or team store.  If you have game tickets and just want to ride the trolley, the cost is $11. Reservations for both packages are required.

Game dates are: June 10; July 1, 15 & 29; and Aug. 5 & 19.  “First pitch” is at 1:05 p.m. The “Sunday Baseball Special” departs the Trolley Museum at 12:15 p.m. For more information and/or to make reservations, please contact the Museum at 570-963-6590.   

Doin’ Dunmore: October 2017

Doin Dunmore pic

Paul Nardozzi, left, is shown with Gene “Stick” Michael at the Aug. 3, Railriders game. At right is Teresa McLaine, Paul’s fiancee.

By Steve Svetovich

Gene “Stick” Michael served as a player, coach, scout, manager, front office executive, advisor and general manager during his long career with the New York Yankees.

He helped build the Yankees dynasty that lasted from the mid 90s to 2009.

He was responsible for the Yankees drafting of the core four: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte.

And Stick showed patience as he kept George Steinbrenner from trading Bernie Williams, also drafted by the Yankees and a major part of the dynasty.

Stick was a people person and made many trips from his Florida home to PNC Field to scout and analyze the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Stick worked for the Yankees front office in that capacity.

One of the many friends he made over the years was Dunmore’s Paul Nardozzi. Nardozzi, formerly a Dunmore councilman, is a Democrat running on the Republican ticket this November as he seeks to regain his council seat.

Nardozzi has about a 10-year history with Stick Michael. He spent time with him at PNC Field this past August 3, about a month before the Stick suddenly died of a heart attack in Florida this past September 7.

The passing of Stick Michael leaves a tremendous void in the Yankees organization.

Michael came up with the Pirates where he played his rookie season in 1966. He was traded to the Dodgers with Bob Bailey for Maury Wills in 1967.

The Stick, who had a slender frame, was traded to the Yankees in 1968. He played for the Yankees from 1968 through 1974. Only a .229 career hitter, he was a slick fielder, master of the hidden ball trick and spent most of those years as the Yankees starting shortstop.

He retired as a player during the 1976 season after the Boston Red Sox released him in May without even playing him in a game.

The Stick joined the Yankees organization as a coach, scout and became the team’s Triple-A manager in 1979. He was promoted to general manager of the Yankees in 1980 before taking over as manager of the club for part of the 1980 season and 1981.

A few spats with Steinbrenner led to him being fired after the 1981 season.

He managed the Chicago Cubs in 1986 and 1987. Michael had a 206-200 career record as a manager.

Michael then rejoined the Yankees organization as a coach before being named general manager in 1990 and holding that position through 1995. He drafted Jeter and built up a team that won four World Series in five years and again in 2009. He made the trade bringing Paul O’Neill to the Yankees in a swap for Roberto Kelly. O’Neill. known as “the Warrior” to Steinbrenner, became a major part of four title teams. However, the Stick was let go as general manager after the 1995 season, one year before the first of the five titles.

Still, Steinbrenner re-hired Michael in 1996 and kept him in the organization in various front office, advisory and lead scouting positions. The Stick, popular with the fans, was still working for the Yankees at the time of his death at 79.

Nardozzi met the Stick in 2008 when Dunmore’s Jimmy Brozetti introduced them.

“Jimmy was close to him and introduced me to Stick at PNC Field. He was very friendly and knowledgeable about baseball. He talked a lot of baseball.

“I remember when he played in the 60s and 70s. He was one of my favorite Yankees. I remember sitting in my dad’s car and listening to Yankee games on the radio back then. Stick was the shortstop and his name was often mentioned.”

Nardozzi had subsequent more encounters with Michael at PNC Field, would sit with him in the club area and would sometimes dine with him at Chick’s Diner.

“I eventually got to know him a lot better. He loved Chick’s Diner. He went there often and liked to order the breakfast food. I had the pleasure of joining him at Chick’s on several occasions. The funny thing about it is that no one knew who he was there. And we didn’t want to blow his cover.”

Nardozzi had another connection to Michael. His fiancé, Teresa McLaine, Dunmore, is the niece of the late Al Widmar, a former big leaguer who was pitching coach for the A’s, Brewers and Phillies. Well, Widmar and Michael were friends.

“Gene talked a lot about Widmar. They were very good friends.”

Eventually, Teresa came to meet the Stick. “Teresa would gawk at the Stick’s 2009 World Series ring. Then the Stick would say, ‘Teresa, you can take it off and wear it.'”

Nardozzi and his fiancé spent time with Michael at the club at PNC Field last August 3. “He looked healthy,” Nardozzi said. “He always looked healthy, even at 79. He looked to be in good shape. He was a stickler for details and scouted every pitch. We were sitting with him.

“Stick liked to talk about the prospects who he called. ‘the kids.’ He told me to especially watch out for three he was very high on. Those three are Billy McKinney, Jake Cave and Clint Frazier. He said they would all be up soon. Frazier is up right now.

“At one point, McKinney smacked a home run. Stick looked at me and said,  “See, I told you. ‘”

Nardozzi said Michael usually drove a white Escolade to PNC Field, but recently purchased a black one.

Nardozzi is one of many who feel the Yankees should honor Stick Michael with a monument at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. “He did everything for the organization. He was a player, coach, scout, manager and general manager. He drafted Jeter and was responsible for the core four. He loved the core four. He went berserk when there was talk of trading Bernie Williams. He even stopped Steinbrenner from trading Jeter at one point. He took his job seriously and started the Yankees mini dynasty. Of course there should be a monument for him.”

The Yankees are currently wearing black arm bands in tribute to the passing of Stick

Michael.

“He was a true Yankee,” Nardozzi said. “He was really a Yankees legend for all that he did.”