Announcers: Phil Rizzuto

Maybe he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he would be an integral part of the Yankee experience for about 70 years.

As a player, Phil Rizzuto was an amazing defensive shortstop who gradually got better with the stick. He won an MVP award in 1950 and played in 5 All-Star Games. Rizzuto’s final release from the team is an interesting story and one that affected his broadcasting career. Late in the 1956 season, the Yankees brought him in the office and asked him to look over the roster. They asked him to explain what player or players were expendable, and one after another, the Yankees explained why they needed to keep the player. In the end, Rizzuto realized that it was him that the Yankees found expendable. George Stirnweiss, the Yankees owner, however, warned Rizzuto. If Rizzuto took to the media to complain, it would affect his non-playing career. Rizzuto didn’t complain, and he would later say that following Stirnweiss’ advice was the best thing he ever did. He was no longer a Yankee on August 25, 1956.

So what about his broadcasting career? Well, it was long (40 years) and interesting. When the Yankees released him, the Cardinals and Dodgers offered him contracts, but Rizzuto wasn’t interested in embarassing himself any longer on the field. Late in 1956, Giants announcer Frankie Frisch (where do you think I got the idea for this series?) had a heart attack, and Rizzuto slipped in as a replacement and earned positive reviews. Rizzuto liked the job so much that he sent an audition tape to the Baltimore Orioles, but it was a Yankees sponsor that he impressed. Balatine Beer suggested his name. Yankees General Manager George Weiss felt pressured to bring in Rizzuto, so he fired Jim Woods. He would say that it was the first time he had to fire someone for no reason.

Over the next 40 years, Rizzuto would call radio and television games for the Yankees. However, he wasn’t necessarily known for his sparkling and lucid analysis of what was going on in the game. He is infamously known for creating the scoring of “WW” for “Wasn’t Watching”, and he was known as a “homer”, one who cheers for the home team (or the paying team) even though the person is supposed to be unbiased.

Still, Rizzuto was around for some famous moments and conversations. He called Roger Maris’ 61st home run, George Brett’s “Pine Tar” home run, and Dave Righetti’s no-hitter. Known for his malapropisms and exclamations, Rizzuto had an … interesting … personality. He often said “Holy Cow!” when something amazing happened, which evidently happened a lot considering it was his catchphrase, and he called people “huckleberry” when they disagreed with him or did something he didn’t agree with. Some good quotes:

“Uh-oh, deep to left-center, nobody’s gonna get that one! Holy cow, somebody got it!”
“Bouncer to third, they’ll never get him! No, why don’t I just shut up!”
“All right! Stay fair! No, it won’t stay fair. Good thing it didn’t stay fair, or I think he would’ve caught it!”
“They’ve got so many Latin players we’re going to have to get a Latin instructor up here.”

He even famously introduced himself as his partner Bill White at the beginning of a few broadcasts. Rizzuto generally tried to keep his broadcasts up-beat, but it didn’t end that way.

When Mickey Mantle died in August of 1995, Rizzuto wanted to attend his funeral, but the Yankees refused to allow him to do such. In the middle of the broadcast, Rizzuto left, unable to go on. Soon after, he retired. The Yankees were able to bring him back for another season, and he called Derek Jeter’s first home run in 1996.

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