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Phil Rizzuto, the Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop during the 1940s and ’50s who had a long second career as a broadcaster, died in his sleep Tuesday of pneumonia at a nursing home in West Orange, N.J. He was 89.
Rizzuto was a fixture on New York television from 1957, the year after he was cut from the team, until 1995, when he quit after broadcasting a Yankees-Red Sox game instead of attending the funeral of teammate Mickey Mantle. He was known for several expressions — most notably “Holy cow!” — and often wished viewers birthday or other greetings on the air.
His stream-of-consciousness broadcasting style endeared him to many fans and infuriated a few others, as he often turned from what was going on in the field to talk about golf or Italian food or how he was planning to beat the game traffic over the George Washington Bridge on his way home to New Jersey. Former Yankees player and broadcaster Bobby Murcer said he remembered all the food — cannoli, salami and cheese — that was in the broadcast booth thanks to Rizzuto.
“He entertained people, he gave them baseball, he was a Hall of Fame player from New York,” Murcer said Tuesday. “He was the total package. He was an institution.”
Rizzuto was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
“The Scooter,” as he was known for his 5-foot-6 stature, was born Sept. 25, 1916, in Brooklyn. He grew up in the nearby borough of Queens and became famous in the Bronx and beyond as the New York Yankees’ shortstop from 1941-55, though he served three years in the Navy during World War II. He won seven World Series titles, won the 1950 American League Most Valuable Player Award and played in five All-Star Games.
But his career as a Yankee ended quickly after a subpar season in 1955; he was released the next year.
But ever the quintessential Yankee, Rizzuto returned to the Bronx as a broadcaster when the sponsor urged the Yankees to hire him. Rizzuto worked calling games on Channel 11, and taking part in Old Timers Day, for four decades afterward and worked with some of the best broadcasters in the business including Mel Allen, Red Barber and Jerry Coleman. He gradually became known for his unabashed rooting for the Yankees.
He was known to New York audiences, even ones who didn’t watch baseball, as the pitchman for the Money Store and Yoo-Hoo drinks. He appeared on “What’s My Line?” in the 1950s and also “The Ed Sullivan Show,” among others. He also is known to rock ‘n’ roll fans as the baseball announcer in Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” from 1977’s “Bat Out of Hell,” one of the 30 best-selling albums of all time.
The YES Network, which didn’t exist when Rizzuto left the broadcast booth, scheduled a day and night of tributes to the Scooter. It included coverage of Rizzuto’s life and career before the Yankees as well as multiple airings of YES’ award-winning “Yankeeography” on Rizzuto. Wednesday’s “Yankees Magazine” also will include a tribute.
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