Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Scooter

Phil 'Scooter' Rizzuto
The first time I saw Phil Rizzuto play I was nine years old and it was 1940 (remember that year?) and it was at a ballpark in Queens and the name of it was Dexter Park. A semi-pro team named the Bushwicks played there and they played other semi pro teams, teams from the Negro Leagues, as they were then called, and a mixture of minor and major league players. I saw the great Josh Gibson hit the longest home run I have ever seen and asked my Dad why isn't this guy playing for the Yankees. He said blacks are not allowed in the majors. What a shame.

Rizzuto was a prospect with the Yankees minor league affiliate in Kansas City. Years later when Kansas City joined the majors, skeptics still claimed that Kansas City was a Yankee farm team. Rizzuto and a slick fielding second baseman by the name of Jerry Priddy raised eyebrows and expectations in the Yankee camp. So there they were on the field at Dexter Park with the Minor League Allstars and fans kept rooting for a Bushwick to get on base so that the Rizzuto-Priddy combo could pull off a double play. I believe they pulled off three much to the delight of the capacity crowd. All Sunday games were doubleheaders, the old fashioned way. You payed one ticket price and you saw two games.

Dexter Park was a beautiful ballpark with decent dimensions. By today's standards they were huge. Right field down the line was 327, left field was 335 and center field was 425 to the spot that had the name of the park in beautiful white stones. Josh Gibson's shot was on a line directly over the name. I forget the name of the subway line but the stop was Elderts Lane and it was elevated when you reached the park. For a kid it was a beautiful site and I had to wait a few years later to see Yankee Stadium. Between games you were allowed to leave the park and go across the street where there was an assortment of bars serving all kinds of refreshments.

1941 was Rizzuto' first year and he hit .307 and dazzled the fans with his quickness and sure handed fielding. No shortshop could go out to the outfield the way the Scooter did for pop ups. There was no Jerry Priddy for Rizzuto at second base. However, he had Joe Gordon, a power hitting slick fielder who combined with Rizzuto became the number one DP combination in the majors. Rizzuto had such team mates as Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich, Red Rolfe, Red Ruffing and the great Joe DiMaggio who established the record of hitting in 56 straight games, a record that still stands. They beat the Dodgers in six games in the World Series which also was the start of the Rizzuto-Reese who is better arguments.

It took a while for Rizzuto to get into the Hall Of Fame. He never got enough votes to qualify for the Hall and then was turned over to the Old Timers Committee, which is all politics. When Pee Wee Reese got in and Rizzuto was left out there was despair with Yankee fans and Phil. In case you don't know it the Old Times Committee is like a Senate Committee, all politics. When Reese got in the committee was headed by NL Hall Of Famer Stan Musial and Roy Campenalla. They made sure they took care of many iffy NLers. Reese wasn't iffy, he deserved the Hall but so did Rizzuto. Years later when Ted Williams took over the committee Rizzuto with an assist from Joe DiMaggio, who was friendly with Williams, was elected and now he sits in the Hall.

As we all know Rizzuto became even more famous as a Yankee announcer working with such legends as Mel Allen, Red Barber, Bill White, Fran Healy, Jerry Coleman and just about every other announcer who was in New York. We will miss the Scooter but think about the life this beautiful man had. Almost 90 years on earth and most of it connected with baseball. Almost ninety years and I'll sign up for that right now. Don't get me wrong, no matter how old they are you never want to see them leave. My mother died at 96 but none of us wanted to see her go.

The Scooter had a great celebrated life and will leave many cherished memories which we all will relive as time goes on. They say that time heals all wounds but there are no wounds here only joy and happy reminders, which we all remember mostly with smiles. Deepest sympathy and condolences to Cora and the Rizzuto family. We will miss The Scooter but we should all celebrate his life, his wonderful life. God bless the Scooter. Holy Cow!

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  • Wayne said...

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to: navigation, search
    75th Street
    NYC Subway J service NYC Subway Z service

    New York City Subway station
    Station information
    Line BMT Jamaica Line
    Services J all except rush hours, peak direction (all except rush hours, peak direction)
    Z rush hours, peak direction (rush hours, peak direction)
    Platforms 2 side platforms
    Tracks 2
    Opened June 11, 1917
    Next north 85th Street–Forest Parkway: J all except rush hours, peak direction
    (Z rush hours, peak direction skips to Woodhaven Boulevard)
    Next south Cypress Hills: J all except rush hours, peak direction
    (Z rush hours, peak direction skips to Crescent Street)

    75th Street (originally 75th Street–Elderts Lane) is a skip-stop station on the New York City Subway's BMT Jamaica Line. This station is served by the Z train during rush hours and the J at all other times. There is room for another track in-between the two current ones. The north exit leads to 75th street and has a crossunder. The south exit, which leads to Elderts Lane, is now closed. This station is actually located in two boroughs; the north end is in Queens while the south end is in Brooklyn.

    I liked Reese better, but back then I liked the Giants and the National League better too.

  • mike said...

    wayne-Thanks for the MTA update. Buddy Kerr was the Giants SS then and he was pretty good too. Had to be rough being a NL fan in those Yankee heydays. Ever see Dexter Park?

  • The Dark Ranger said...

    mike,..thanks for the thoughtful and informative post on Scooter. Though, not a huge baseball nut - it was a good read.


  • mike said...

    the dark ranger-I grew up as a baseball and hockey nut at the same time. It was close as to what was my favorite then. Now its hockey.