"Heaven must have needed a shortstop," said New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. And one of the last remnants on those great Yankee teams of the 1950's-'60's passed away after years of ill health while living in West Orange, New Jersey.
Rizzuto, known as "The Scooter," was the oldest living Hall of Famer. He played for the Yankees throughout the 1940s and '50s, won seven World Series titles, was an AL MVP and played in five All-Star games.
I only know him from his broadcasts in the 80's and 90's where his "Holy Cow" and "there's another huckleberry" puncuated broadcasts. I never saw him in those Old Timer's games, but I did get to see him in the Stadium once. And I do have those Yankee DVD's where the Scooter, Yogi Berra, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Roger Maris, and so many others come alive for me.
Born in Brooklyn, Rizzuto tried out with the Dodgers and New York Giants when he was 16, but because of his size was dismissed by Dodgers manager Casey Stengel, who told him to "Go get a shoeshine box." He went on to become one of Stengel's most dependable players.
A Rizzuto bunt, a steal and a DiMaggio hit made up the scoring trademark of the Yankees' golden era, and he played errorless ball in 21 consecutive World Series games. DiMaggio said the shortstop "held the team together."
Rizzuto came to the Yankees in 1941 and batted .307 as a rookie. After the war, he returned in 1946 and became the American League MVP in 1950. He batted .324 that season with a slugging percentage of .439 and 200 hits, second most in the league. He also went 58 games without an error, making 288 straight plays.
He led all AL shortstops in double plays three times and had a career batting average of .273 with at least a .930 fielding percentage. He played in five All-Star games.
Rizzuto remembered Aug. 25, 1956, as a day he thought was the "end of the world," the day Stengel released him to make room for clutch-hitting Enos Slaughter in the pennant drive.
Rizzuto then began a second career as a broadcaster, one for which he became at least equally well known. His voice dripped with his native Brooklyn.
Get some rest, Mr. Rizzuto. You're gonna be playing baseball up there soon.
Forever a fan.