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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

 

The Scooter

I'll still owe musings readers a better post, but I really couldn't let tonight get away without a comment on the passing of a New York/New Jersey icon, Phil Rizzuto.

The Scooter played shortstop, a key position, on a dominant team for 13 seasons. Though not a great hitter, he was better than average for his position, and he was a productive offensive player though he lacked power. He was perhaps the best bunter ever, an aggressive baserunner who rarely made a mistake, and a team player who always made the most productive outs. If he came up with a runner on second and no one out, you knew that even if he made an out, he would at least get that runner to third.

Defensively, Rizzuto was a prototype shortstop for his era. Small of stature but quick, he got to everything on the relatively slow grass fields of that era, threw accurately if not powerfully, and anchored infields that usually outplayed the opposition. In fact, the Yankees of the 40's and 50's, though known for their offense, won games day in and day out with their defense and pitching.

Phil finished his career as an almost sure Hall of Famer based on his all around performance, but as the years faded, and he was not immediately voted in, his statistics, which outlived the memory of his performance, seemed to be borderline. Ultimately, it was his old friends on the veterans committee who voted him in, correcting a clear error by the sportswriters.

After his career, Phil moved to the broadcast booth joining Mel Allen and Red Barber, and later working with Frank Messer, Bill White, Tom Seaver, and most notoriously, Fran Healy. By any objective standard, Phil was a perfectly awful play by play man, basically reacting to plays like a fan instead of describing them. So a typical call by Phil would be "there's a line drive, oh would you look at that play," or "what was that!", or simply "Holy cow!." On TV, this was one thing, but on radio, a listener would have no idea what was going on. Typically, Phil did 3 innings on radio, three on TV, and then he was on his way home to New Jersey, listening to the end of the game in his car. If the game went to extra innings, well all the extra work would fall on his two announcing partners, since Phil was home!

Despite these foibles, or maybe because of them, and his Hall of Fame personality, Phil was one of the best loved baseball announcers in New York. The stories he told about his teammates and opponents, umpires and mangers from his playing days, were usually hilarious and always of interest. Funniest of all was the mindless banter with Seaver and especially with Healy. He and Healy would trade non-sequitors with such alacrity and innocence that one could easily forget how horrible the Yankees were then and how boring the actual game was. They would hop from comments about the game to Italian food, to fans in the stands, to politics, the news, anything without any transition between subjects. By the way, Phil always called former player announcers by their last name only - it was always White, or Seaver or Healy. The whole atmosphere was as if these old players were with you in the den, watching the game over a few beers.

Even when Phil campaigned openly for Hall of Fame election, the fans were in support. Maybe they realized that other former player announcers had campaigned more quietly but successfully for election, including Duke Snider and Richie Ashburn. Of course, they all deserved to be in.

Anyway, no one who loves baseball can be anything but sad to see Phil pass on though he lived a full and fulfilling life of mostly great fortune. He survived a world war in which he saw combat, had a great athletic career, won world championships, made the Hall of Fame, had a great family and earned a very comfortable living doing what he loved. Not bad for a little shrimp from Brooklyn.

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On Monday, I bought 100 shares of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) at 34.38. Go ethanol! This market really stinks. I am still well above 20% cash, no sales coming up soon.

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