Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Phil Rizzuto, 1917-2007

As a lifelong Yankees fan who watched many games on WPIX Channel 11 growing up, it was always a pleasure to hear Phil Rizzuto announce the games. And not only was he a great announcer over his 40-year announcing career (not just because of his "Holy Cow" interjections, by the way), he had some other claims to greatness:

He was a Hall of Fame shortstop. His career numbers of .273 and a mere 38 home runs may not seem like much, but he was a 5-time all star and AL MVP in 1950, in large part due to his great defensive skills. He never struck out more than 42 times in a season—and he played nearly every game. He won seven World Series rings in 13 seasons. His #10 was retired by the Yankees. He was only 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds—is anybody in the majors that diminutive in size now? (Thanks to the Yankees website for the stats, and the picture)

Elias says that Rizzuto's Yankees teams won 62.7% of the games during his career, what they call his "personal winning percentage." While that may not sound like much, it is the highest of ANY active player with even as few as 200 career games. Derek Jeter, shortstop on some quite successful Yankees teams? "Only" 60.3%.

Unlike most athletes today, he saw fit to serve his country by taking a 3-year leave of absence from professional baseball to serve in the Navy during WWII.

He leaves behind 4 children, 2 grandchildren, and his wife of 64 years. Sixty-four years. How rare is that today?

He wrote a very interesting book (for us Yankees fans), The October Twelve, about the twelve players (he was one of them) who played on all five Yankees teams from 1949-53...the only MLB team ever to win five consecutive championships.

According to every account I've ever heard, he was just an all-around friendly guy. Everybody liked him. In all those hours of listening to Yankees games in my youth, I am not surprised. Some people exude friendliness. He was one of them.

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