Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Phil Rizzuto: The Accidental Poet

The Passing of The Scooter at age 89 (or was it 90?) Truly the End of a Broadcasting Era

Whatever you thought of Phil Rizzuto as a broadcaster (as a player his bona fides are undisputed), he was unforgettable. And funny. And maddening. And never boring.
So much of what he said would have been regarded as apocryphal had it come from anyone else. After hearing that Pope Paul VI died, Rizzuto remarked. "Well, that puts a damper on even a Yankee win."
Rizzuto started in 1957, back when it was still OK for ex-jocks who ventured up to the broadcast booth to learn on the job.
There was no polish, no panache, to his delivery. But there was passion. Even if the game was really boring.
But that's when things could get really interesting, as he'd launch into some baffling yet compelling digressions. Their essence was deftly captured by Hart Seely and Tom Peyer in O Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto," in which they turned some of Rizzuto's ramblings and free associations into poetry.
Keats and Frost had nothing to worry about. But for Yankee fans, they are golden words. A few nibbles:

Two balls and a strike. You know what they had on TV today, White? "Bridge on the River Kwai." Everybody should have gotten an Academy Award for that movie. I don't know how many times I've seen it. About forty times. Alec Guinness! William Holden! Three and one the count. I just heard somebody whistle. You know that song? That's what they whistle. Nobody out. And he pops it up.

Or this classic:

And he hits one in the hole They're gonna have to hurry. THEY'LL NEVER GET HIM! They got him. How do you like that. Holy cow. I changed my mind before he got there. So that doesn't count as an error.
And somehow it really didn't.
Howard Cosell told Rizzuto his broadcasting career would be short. "You look like George Burns and you sound like Groucho Marx," he intoned.
True, maybe, but he lasted 40 years in the booth nonetheless.
If you never heard him do a Yankee game, you can get a good taste of who Rizzuto was as a man and broadcaster, and the esteem in which he was held by generations of fans, by listening to the speech at his too-belated induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. The half-hour address sounded more like one of his game calls minus the balls and strikes.
He told the Cooperstown hordes what happened after he incurred the wrath of a captain while serving in the Navy during World War II.
"They put me off the ship. But unfortunately, it was in New Guinea. I thought I'd see a lot of Italians there."
Cannolis just won't taste the same now. Go in peace, you huckleberry.

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