Remembering a Yankee legend. A look back at Chaunce Hayden’s interview with Phil Rizzuto.
Baseball is back and while we have lost our beloved Phil Rizzuto (does he need an introduction?) I’d like to start the
2018 MLB season with a real icon who loved the game while he played for the Yankees and for his legendary play by
play broadcasts. Phil was and still is Yankee baseball.
So allow me to bring him back from the eternal bench and listen to what he has to say about America’s game.
Fifty-six years ago, famed baseball manager, Casey Stengel
unmercilessly said he was too small to ever make it in
the big leagues and recommended he shine shoes instead.
With that kind of heartbreaking advice, most would have
given up, yet, nine World Series and 1,588 hits later former
All-Star Yankee shortstop, Phil Rizzuto enjoys the last laugh
as a spiritual resident of Cooperstown, New York where he
is immortalized alongside Stengel, Ruth, DiMaggio and other
baseball legends in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A native of Brooklyn, Phil Rizzuto, as a young boy, dreamed
of playing professional baseball. However, that dream,
despite his obvious athletic ability, could never come true
he was told, due to his undersized physique. Despite the
odds, Rizzuto never gave up and it wasn’t long before Yankee
scout Paul Krichell saw Phil play a semi-pro
game and was so impressed that he invited
him to Yankee Stadium for a tryout. Several
anxious days later, he was signed.
Thus was the beginning of a relationship
between Rizzuto and the Yankees
that has lasted for over half a
century and continues to this day.
Nicknamed “Scooter” because
of his small stature and amazing
quickness, Rizzuto didn’t waste
time proving he belonged in the
big leagues. As a rookie in 1941, Phil
was named what was then called,
“Rookie of the League.” He also won
the Catholic Youth Organization’s “Most
Popular Yankee” award and in 1950 the
baseball writers selected him as the MVP of the
American League, while that same year The Sporting
News picked him as the “Major League Player of the Year”
as well as naming him to their ML All-Star team five times
during his career. Then in 1981 the popular former player
was given the prestigious “Pride of the Yankees” award.
But despite all of his success, Rizzuto’s greatest honor to
date has been his rightful and long overdue place in the
Baseball Hall of Fame.
Few would question that Rizzuto, now 79 years old, was
the greatest shortstop in New York Yankee history. Before
his departure in 1955 (expect for his years of naval military
service), he remained the Yankees’ regular shortstop from
1941 through 1954. During this time history would credit
Rizzuto as the backbone of those unforgettable Yankee
teams, providing the spark that led to nine World Series.
But to play in the Major Leagues, Rizzuto had to not only
overcome his size he also had to overcome many personal
fears that plagued him through out his career, including a
fear of flying and playing during an electrical storm. Much
to his teammates’ pleasure, Rizzuto was also frightened of
snakes or, for that matter, anything that happened to crawl.
His fear was so apparent that teammates were unable to
control their temptations. In fact, Rizzuto found so many unpleasant things tucked in his glove that he was one of
the first players to bring his glove to the dugout between
innings. Yet, in spit of all his quirk, Scooter always remained
a fearless inspiration on the field.
In 1957, shortly after his retirement from baseball, Rizzuto
was hired as a Yankee TV-Radio broadcaster, joining Mel
Allen and Red Barber, and held the job until just one year
ago. Providing entertaining and honest insight into a game
whose reputation has suffered over the recent years, Rizzuto
won the hearts of fans and players alike.
To many baseball has become nothing more then a corporate
structured billion dollar business, but to Phil “Scooter”
Rizzuto, baseball will forever remain the game it was only
intended to be…A kids game.
Chaunce Hayden: It took a long time but at last
you’ve finally made it into the Baseball Hall of
Fame. How does it feel?
It feels wonderful! because, number one,
I never expected to get into the Hall of
Fame. I’m just happy that I’m still here
and able to cherish it, unlike Leo Durocher,
who u unfortunately missed
being able to accept the award in person
by a year. I know that he was very
upset and I didn’t blame him after all
he had done for baseball.
Most Know you as “Scooter.” How did
you get the name?
An old teammate of mine named Billy Hitchcock told
me that with my short legs and quick steps that I wasn’t running,
I was scootin’. And from scootin’ I got scooter, which
made me glad because I hated scootin’.
Is it true that legendary Casey Stengel once told you that
you were too small to play in the big leagues?
How did that make you feel?
I felt terrible! And I reminded him of it when he came up
to manage the Yankees. He wasn’t too happy that I had
reminded him of what he had said. But Stengel had really
hurt me when I was a kid. He told me I should get a shoeshine
You must have been devastated.
Yeah, I was.
Former Yankee GM Ed Barrow once said of your signing,
“Rizzuto cost me 15 cents; ten for postage and five for a cup of coffee we gave him the last day he worked out
at the Stadium.” That’s kind of funny when you consider
that today’s players are getting five million a year.
Actually it was a glass of milk that I got, not a cup of coffee,
because in those days I wasn’t drinking coffee. But that’s
exactly what happened.
Baseball historians consider you the greatest shortstop
in Yankee history. Do you agree with that title?
When they say that I’m great and that I should be in the
Hall of Fame, I’m embarrassed by it. I think it’s just because
I’ve been around so long that everybody knows me. I mean
having played all those years, then having broadcast three
times longer than I played.
Although you weren’t known for your home run hitting,
you did hit 38 dingers during your career. Is there one in
particular that stands out in your memory?
Yeah. I think the first one I hit , because it was here at Yankee
Stadium off Lefty Gomez and it won the game. In 1941
they only played day games and I remember they were going
to call the game after our turn at bat. I think it was the
ten or eleventh inning, because it was really getting dark
and I hit the ball just inside the foul line.
How vivid do you remember that moment?
I remember everything so well that as I rounded second
base and headed for third some kid came out of the box
seat and grabbed my hat but I didn’t care. However, the
next day (then Yankee GM) Ed Barrow made me pay for
Sounds like something George Steinbrenner would do.
No, no, no…in those days it was really tough.
You played with a lot of great ballplayers during your career.
Who do you feel was the greatest?
Joe DiMaggio…Mickey Mantle right behind him and then
Of course, players make quite a bit more money today than
they did when you played the game. Have you noticed a
decline in the skill level of some of these high priced players
compared to those who played the game 50 years ago?
I really have. They say we old timers don’t know what we’re
talking about but the thing is the kids today are bigger,
stronger and faster but they’re not near as smart.
Why do you think that is?
Because today these kids make tremendous amounts of
money and they have security. When we played we never
had security. We had to fight for our next year’s contract.
Today’s players get a 3, 4 or 5 year contract so they don’t
have to put out every day.
You were one of baseball’s greatest bunters. Does it frustrate
you when you see the lack of fundamentals some of
today’s million dollar players display when trying to bunt
Yes, very much so. But they don’t want to learn. It’s one of
the few things that you can learn and really help yourself.
Anybody can learn to bunt but today’s players just don’t
want to learn.
How do you feel about the new league changes and playoff
Personally, I don’t like it but I think the owners will love it
because it will mean more money and the fans will love it
because it will give more teams a chance to get into the
Were you bitter that toward the end of your final season
in baseball, the Yankees let you go in August, right before
Oh I was really mad, not bitter, but I as mad. The thing that
saved me from blasting everybody on the Yankees, including
the front office, was that (former Yankee) George Sternweiss
happened to be at the game and George had gone
through that several years prior. Well, right before the start
of the game Gerorge saw me and I was practically in tears
because they had just told me, and I was heading out to the
bullpen when George said, “Look don’t even get dressed,
just get your clothes, leave your car here and come with
me. And whatever you do, don’t say anything that you’ll regret.”
It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened.
I cooled off and right away all the offers starting coming in
the TV shows and not long after, I got the broadcast job
with the Yankees. So if I would have said something, I might
never have got this job.
Which brings me to my next question. After retiring, you
were hired as a Yankee TV and radio broadcaster, joining
Mel Allen and Red Barber.
How would you describe the experience of being in the
broadcast booth after all these years?
That’s another thing! I feel like I’ve fooled them into thinking
I was actually a broadcaster. I just love the game and I talked
about it just like you and I are talking now. It was so easy.
What’s your opinion of controversial Yankee owner
Certain writers and fans don’t like him but all he wants to do
is win. And he pays the highest money so I don’t know why
these ball players complain about him, I really don’t.
When you see the young players today, do you think of
yourself when you were in their shoes and what it would
be like playing today?
Sure, and I would be crazy if I didn’t. I don’t know how I
would have reacted getting all this money so easily but I
would have liked to have played at least one year so I could
A hundred years from now, how would you like the baseball
world to remember Phil Rizzuto?
Just as somebody who hustled all the time and tried to get
the most our of being a mediocre player because to stay in
the big leagues you’ve got to produce and there were certain
things that I could do that nobody else could, like bunt
and go back on fly balls in short left field and just help the
team make good defensive plays and just get on base once
in a while so somebody could knock ya in. Remember me
as a guy who hustled all the time until it was over.