Ode to Phil Rizzuto
Several months have passed since Yankee shortstop/turned announcer, Phil Rizzuto, passed away and I debated about posting a heartfelt ode to what seemed like an old friend of mine. The danger of creating such a post is dating myself, and worse, setting this site aside as a team blog. I've always kept the site team neutral, but there is not a way to share my feelings about Rizzuto without revealing a childhood filled with all things Yankees.
There is so much going for baseball fans today. We used to have to wait a week for team-by-team analysis in The Sporting News and at least a day, sometimes two, for box scores. Now we have them instantly along with highlight shows, daily columnists and everything that's out there. What a wonderful time to be a Fan.
Whether the cause is nostalgia or the truth, the one thing missing from today's game is the joy of owning a little hand-held transistor radio listening to a game unfold with only one's imagination fueled by radio announcers and their color analysts. Wherever we went, we had our radios for the daily games. Phil Rizzuto was the man who really brought that experience to an almost cathartic experience.
Rizzuto was certainly a "homer" as far as announcers go. His playing career encompassed the glory days of Yankee history and his early announcing career began in the power years of the 1950s and early 1960s. But by the time I became a serious fan, Mickey Mantle was in his last years and the team began the most dreadful period of its history.
That didn't matter to us as kids. We had our homemade scorecards, our radios and games on Channel 11 television out of New York City. We would put up with Frank Messer and Bill White, but it was Phil we wanted to hear. Messer wasn't that bad of an announcer, though he reminded me of that fellow who played Superman on early television. Bill White was okay too since he was honest in his opinions and didn't sugar-coat what he was reporting.
But there was something about Rizzuto. His voice drew you in and it was filled with confidence and humility at the same time. My mom's family were full-blooded Sicilians and having an Italian announcer with a name similar in rhythm with her family added to the familiarity. You didn't have to be of the same ancestry though to share that familiarity. I read several blogs after his death, and he touched so many people the same way. He was our uncle.
And he went everywhere we did. He was with us on the beach or at the lake. He was with us as we walked down the street or home after school. His humor, his self-deprecating fear of lightning and his excitement when something good happened or bad, everything about his time with us built and solidified this lifelong love affair for baseball.
We were never awed by Phil Rizzuto. We were just comforted, entertained and grateful. I miss him.