RIP, Phil Rizzuto.

The Scooter has moved on to that big Yankee Stadium in the sky. (Not the one I wrote about in terza rima for an 11th-grade English assignment inspired by Dante’s Inferno, in which George Steinbrenner is condemned to an eternal home game in which the Yankees flub every possible play—under the management of the then-recently-late Billy Martin—and George is perpetually prevented from firing anyone by the divine intervention of baseballs that fly out of nowhere and down his throat every time he opens his mouth. No, I’m certain Phil is chillin’ at the game further upstairs.) From the NYTimes obit:

Phil Rizzuto, the sure-handed Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop nicknamed The Scooter, who punctuated his extended Yankee life as a broadcaster with birthday wishes to nuns and exclamations of “Holy cow!” died today. He was 89.

He was a 5-foot-6-inch, 150-pound sparkplug who did the little things right, from turning the pivot on a double play to laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt. He left the slugging to powerful teammates like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Yogi Berra.

“I hustled and got on base and made the double play,” he said of his role. “That’s all the Yankees needed in those days.”

His career statistics were not spectacular: a batting average of .273, 38 home runs and 562 runs batted in. But in his best season, 1950, when he hit a career-high .324 and drove in 66 runs, he won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award.

Rizzuto was frequently compared with other shortstops of his era, among them Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Marty Marion of the St. Louis Cardinals. But to DiMaggio, his teammate for eight seasons — each man lost three seasons to military service during World War II — Rizzuto was the best.

“The little guy in front of me,” said DiMaggio, one of the game’s great centerfielders. “He made my job easy. I didn’t have to pick up so many ground balls.”

Though he may have been the “little guy” on the field, Rizzuto towered over other commentators in the great game of Divergent Baseball Announcement. Quoth the NYT: “Rizzuto’s ramblings and pro-Yankee sentiments maddened detractors, who felt he paid too little attention to the game. But fans adored Rizzuto as they would a delightful uncle, and colleagues were fond of recalling his scorecard notation of ‘W.W.,’ for ‘Wasn’t Watching.’”

If you’ve never read O Holy Cow!, a collection of found poems based on Rizzuto’s broadcasts, now would be the moment to do so. A sample (courtesy of the Comic Baseball Association, which has considerately posted a few of the pieces online so I don’t have to run home and dig out my copy of the book and come back and transcribe—they’ve got more over there, so pay a visit):

Chess

I.

A lot of money in that chess.
I’ll tell you that.
It’s gotta be..
Can’t be…
Not a good game for television.

II.

I’m not knocking it.
But it’s not a spectator sport.

[September 4, 1992
Texas at New York
Rich Monteleone pitching to Rafael Palmeiro
Seventh inning, no outs, bases empty
Yankees lead 6-3]

Hall and Nokes

So second time around
Mel Hall and Matt Nokes
Solve Tapani’s pitch
Heh Heh
That’s right
John Moore’s on the ball.
It does sound like a good rock group.
Hall and Nokes.
Oh?
Hall and Oates?
Oh yeah?
That’s one I missed.
I’ll have to go out
And buy some of their records tonight.

[June 11, 1991
New York at Minnesota
Kevin Tapani pitching to Alvaro Espinoza
Fifth inning, two outs, two base runners
Twins lead 1-0]

Reversal of Opinion

And he hits one in the hole
They’re gonna have to hurry.
THEY’LL NEVER GET HIM!
They got him.
How do you like that.
Holy cow.
I changed my mind before he got there.
So that doesn’t count as an error.

[July 10, 1992
Seattle at New York
Dave Fleming pitching to Andy Stankiewicz
First inning, no outs, bases empty
Mariners lead 1-0]

And finally, in memoriam:

Prayer for the Captain

There’s a little prayer I always say
Whenever I think of my family or when I’m flying,
When I’m afraid, and I am afraid of flying.
It’s just a little one. You can say it no matter what,
Whether you’re Catholic or Jewish or Protestant or
whatever.
And I’ve probably said it a thousand times
Since I heard the news on Thurman Munson.

It’s not trying to be maudlin or anything.
His Eminence, Cardinal Cooke, is going to come out
And say a little prayer for Thurman Munson.
But this is just a little one I say time and time again,
It’s just: Angel of God, Thurman’s guardian dear,
To whom his love commits him here there or everywhere,
Ever this night and day be at his side,
To light and guard, to rule and guide.

For some reason it makes me feel like I’m talking to
Thurman,
Or whoever’s name you put in there,
Whether it be my wife or any of my children, my parents
or anything.
It’s just something to keep you really from going bananas.
Because if you let this,
If you keep thinking about what happened, and you can’t
understand it,
That’s what really drives you to despair.

Faith. You gotta have faith.
You know, they say time heals all wounds,
And I don’t quite agree with that a hundred percent.
It gets you to cope with wounds.
You carry them the rest of your life.

[August 3, 1979
Baltimore at New York
Pregame show]

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