Sean Coffey interviews Phil Rizzuto on February 2, 2006.
(Photo: Courtesty of Sean Coffey)
By Sean Coffey
Scholastic Kids Press Corps
Thursday, February 16At the peak of his big-league baseball career, Phil Rizzuto was one of the smallest players in the game, standing 5 feet 6 inches. Now he is about an inch shorter.
"I'm shrinking," Rizzuto says with a laugh.
At 88 years old, Rizzuto, the former New York Yankee shortstop from the 1940s and 50s, is the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was on seven world championship teams, including a record five straightnot too bad for a player who one baseball executive turned away, saying he looked like a shoe-shine boy.
Earlier this month, Rizzuto made a rare public appearance to announce that he was putting hundreds of items of his memorabilia up for auction this summer. The appearance, ironically, was in Mickey Mantle's Restaurant, named for another famous Yankee.
A great bunter, superb fielder, and beloved announcer, Phil (The Scooter) Rizzuto may be the most adored Yankee ever. He has a full head of silver hair and was wearing a camel-hair coat with a snazzy printed scarf. He was surrounded by a host of New York newspaper, TV, and radio reporters.
On a nearby table were some of the auction items, including a No. 10 Yankee jersey, two World Series rings, an All-Star game bat, letters from Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, and the tiny brown glove Phil used in his rookie year (1941). There also was a Yankee cap with a piece of gum from 1950 still stuck on the top (1950 was the year Rizzuto won the American League MVP award).
According to Steve Geppi, the president of Geppi's Memorabilia Road Show, which is handling the auction, another item in the collectionLeRoy Neiman's original oil painting of Rizzutocould go for as much as $100,000.
When Rizzuto walked slowly to the microphone, he was accompanied by his wife of 62 years, Cora, along with several children and grandchildrenand even a Yankee batboy from his playing days.
"Holy Cow!" Rizzuto said, offering his most famous expression from his years in the announcing booth. "They told me I didn't have to say a word."
Later, after eating a plate of rigatoni in red sauce, Scooter joked about the origin of another of his famous sayings: "You huckleberry."
"That's what I would call umpires, because they couldn't throw me out of a game for calling them that," he said. Rizzuto was never ejected from a game in his career.
The great Yankee shortstop of the past said his favorite player now is the Yankee shortstop of the present, Derek Jeter. Jeter stands 6-3. "Shortstops aren't short anymore," Rizzuto said.
After finishing interviews and warmly shaking this reporter's hand, Phil and Cora Rizzuto got ready to return to their home in New Jersey. Many fans in the restaurant came up to greet him, saying things like, "Hey, Scooter, great to see you."
Steve Geppi may have put it best. "Phil Rizzuto not only wore [the number] 10," Geppi said. "He was a 10!"
RELATED WEB SITES
Exploratorium's Science of Baseball
Want to learn more about the history of baseball? Check out this Web site for fun facts and activities!
National Baseball Hall of Fame: Phil Rizzuto
Visit this Web site to learn more about former New York Yankee Phil Rizzuto.
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