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Remembering Baseball Broadcaster Phil Rizzuto


Phil Rizzuto had the great fortune to work with immortals. As a ball player, he was a scrappy, skinny slap hitter who batted leadoff for New York Yankee juggernauts of the 1940s and '50s, teams that boasted all-time greats like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.

Amid all those sluggers, The Scooter played well enough to win a Most Valuable Player award one season, and Ted Williams, maybe the greatest of them all, paid him the ultimate compliment. If Rizzuto had been in Boston, he said, we'd have won all those pennants instead of New York.

When the Yanks let him go in 1956, he moved up to the broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium where, again, he found himself in a line up of all-time greats. He split innings with Mel Allen and Red Barber, iconic play-by-play announcers whose mastery and elegance allowed an enthusiast like Rizzuto time to develop the eccentricities that so endeared him to the fans - his fear of lightning, his favorite restaurant, your Aunt Minnie's birthday and the signature phrase that he's remembered for.

(Soundbite of a baseball game)

Mr. PHIL RIZZUTO: Fast ball, it hits the right. This could be it. Way back there. Holy cow…

CONAN: And that, by the way, was his call of Roger Maris' 61st homerun. Over the decades, Phil Rizzuto's angular approach, his habit of interrupting himself in a stream of consciousness commentary, led two writers to compile transcripts of his broadcasts as poetry. It's a book called "O Holy Cow." And here's one of those poems read by another fan, the great George - the late George Plimpton of the Paris Review.

Mr. GEORGE PLIMPTON (Journalist, The Paris Review): Billy Martin standing with his arms folded out there. Boy, he was quickly off that bench. Well, look who has returned. He made a U-turn on the bridge. Bill White is back. And they are about to make a decision, and this could be a momentous decision. I can't tell by the way they are talking who's going to win this argument. He's out.

CONAN: Late in life, Rizzuto was elected to the Hall of Fame on a wave of nostalgia and the endorsement of Ted Williams. At times, Rizzuto, himself, would concede that he didn't deserve it. He might have waited to made his way to Cooper's town in the broadcaster's wing, but truth be told, he, too, often found himself nattering on about cannolies to pay attention to the game. More and more of the boxes on his scorecard were marked with his famous WW - wasn't watching.

Historians will debate his qualifications as a player, too. The statistics alone don't support his case. But the author of a hundred suicide squeezed buns and thousands of double plays will be remembered as the sparkplug of a dynasty, as one of the most colorful and popular broadcasters of his time, and finally, yes, as an immortal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.