The oldest living Hall of Famer, Phil Rizzuto, died today in New Jersey at the age of 89. He had been ill for a long time. He was a Brooklyn-born shortstop who was on many championship Yankees teams, and was the AL MVP in 1950.
But he was best known to fans from the broadcast booth, where he started after his career concluded in 1956. He announced Yankees games for 40 years. I have to admit I was never a fan of his, as his Yankee homerism could be just too much to take. He endeared himself to Yankee fans everywhere, but if you weren't a fan of the team, his style was a bit too over the top. He'd go on about his barber, his butcher, his wife, and just about anything that didn't have anything to do with the game. But I always heard that he was a gentleman away from the booth, from regular people who met him. I do have a few memories of him from years ago.
I do remember one time Rizzuto was doing a game, and he was talking to Bobby Murcer about great fielding first basemen. Murcer asked him who he thought was the best he ever saw was. Rizzuto's answer, which wasn't a Yankee, actually surprised me, as well as my dad, who absolutely agreed. "I only played against him in All-Star Games and World Series, but Gil Hodges was the best first baseman I ever saw."
I also remember a funny Hodges tale that Rizzuto once told. He was in a bar with Pee Wee Reese one night in the early 1970s during spring training. They had both been enjoying some adult beverages, when Rizzuto insisted that Reese bounced the throw to Gil Hodges that ended the 1955 World Series, the only Brooklyn Dodgers championship. Reese insisted Gil caught it on the fly. So to settle the argument, they called Hodges, who was managing the Mets at the time. It was the middle of the night, and Gil was asleep. They explained their dilemma to the Mets manager, but all he did was groan and went back to sleep. (Film from the time seems to back up Pee Wee.)
I have a Rizzuto story regarding my family. My brother-in-law Jack is a rabid Yankee fan, and for my dad's birthday one year, he got what he thought was a gag gift for him. It was an autographed picture of Phil Rizzuto, from his playing days, which he got at one of those autograph shows. It was autographed: "To the Quinn family. Thanks for listening. Holy Cow! Phil Rizzuto." Everyone got a kick out of it. My dad went one step further. Instead of junking it or just putting it away, he framed it and put it in the basement along with his other Brooklyn Dodgers and Mets memorabilia.
As I write this, it's still there.
My sympathies to the family and friends of Phil Rizzuto.