I had two favorite records as a little kid. One was a collection of Sousa tunes played by the Army marching band. The other was a bright red 45 rpm instructional record on bunting narrated by Phil Rizzuto. I’m not sure I learned anything from that record, but I sure did love to play it. Like most kids my age from the city, I loved the Yankees, and that meant loving the very lovable Scooter. At summer camp, we’d argue with our Dodger-fan friends from LA about who was better: Scully or Rizzuto. Of course they thought the Scooter was something of a buffoon, and sometimes he was. But he was our buffoon, and we’d go to the mats for him in any debate. And though we now think of him primarily as the beloved and barmy uncle of the broadcast booth, he was not in fact without merits as an announcer. When the moment called for it—and if he happened to be watching—that nasally twang captured the sheer excitement of the game, in all its innocence. His call of Maris’s 61st is a classic. And of course he was a great story teller, a real huckelberry.
The great Yankee tradition, we have been schooled to think, is defined by a buttoned down, pinstriped, corporate, hard-noded attitude. Of course there are Yankees that exemplify these characterics: Gehrig, DiMaggio, Ford, Mattingly, Jeter. It’s easy to forget the team has always had it’s jovial characters, its men of the people: Ruth, Berra, Mantle, Wells. Rizzuto was of that later character. Nevermind the qualifications, has there ever been another player elected to the Hall simply because he was so damn beloved?
Holy Cow, we’re going to miss him.