Rizzuto was accomplished broadcaster

The late Phil Rizzuto is in the baseball Hall of Fame for his ability as a shortstop and the intangibles he brought to those championship New York Yankees clubs. But I also believe he belongs in the broadcasters’ wing at Cooperstown.

Rizzuto was an accomplished broadcaster, calling Yankees games for five decades. Fans will recall his zany antics and quirks on the air. Those characteristics endeared him to his audience and arguably made him the most popular broadcaster in the club’s history. “The Scooter” connected with his audience. One of the measurements of a good broadcaster is did he connect with the listener. But the Rizzuto who rooted on the air, much to the annoyance of his critics, was also a very good announcer.

When he was in his prime as a broadcaster, say 1960 to early 80’s, he could describe a play and transmit the excitement of a game or a moment as well as anyone behind a microphone. His call of the then record-breaking 61st home run by Roger Maris is a classic. This was the Rizzuto who knew who was warming up in the bullpen without asking his broadcast partner – and he coexisted with numerous partners and made them all sound great, another attribute – who didn’t leave early to beat the traffic, who could talk about the other clubs and players with detailed analysis. Many of his broadcasts are available on You Tube. Give a listen and draw your own conclusions.

Rizzuto was also a versatile broadcaster. For example, how many people know that in the spring of 1965, when the Spalding Sporting Goods Company released a LP record (remember those?) of radio sports highlights, the narrator was Rizzuto? Phil also hosted a daily sports show on the CBS radio network. Recently, I unearthed one of those broadcasts in my vast collection. It is from Feb. 20, 1970, the day embattled pitcher Denny McLain met with baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. I posted the show on one of my You Tube channels and I leave it with you here. Enjoy. Meanwhile, maybe it’s time to launch another campaign to get Phil in the hall, the Phil many remember as a beloved broadcaster and not a shortstop.

Rizzuto and Seaver joined at the hip

Who would have thought that Phil Rizzuto and Tom Seaver would end up being joined at the hip? When Seaver, 75, died on Sep. 2, coincidentally, I had been reading Roger Angell’s piece about the 1969 New York Mets, a piece in which Seaver was prominently figured. (The venerable Angell turns 100 on Sep. 19 and his works are a must read, even for non-baseball fans.)

Rizzuto’s playing days were long over, when Seaver surfaced as one of baseball’s greatest pitchers. Rizzuto, at this point, was broadcasting New York Yankees games. Because there was no interleague play, the Yankees and Mets might have well as been separated by the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Whitestone Bridge. There was very little connection between the clubs, other than the annual Mayor’s Trophy game and the Yankees’ obsession with being replaced by the Mets, as the number one team in town.

Fast forward to 1985. It’s Phil Rizzuto Day. The venerable broadcaster is being honored at Yankee Stadium, saluted by the Yankees and fans as a popular former player and even more popular broadcaster. Who should be pitching that day for the Chicago White Sox against the Yankees? Tom Seaver, going for his 300th career victory, no less. Seaver won the game, and Rizzuto was upstaged.

That might be the end of the story, except the popular Yankees television broadcast tandem of Rizzuto and Bill White was dismantled, when White became the president of the National League. Enter Seaver, who had broadcast experience on both NBC and ABC, even teaming with the estimable Vin Scully, as different a broadcaster from Rizzuto as night from day. Seaver would join Rizzuto, George Grande and Bobby Murcer in the booth, but make no mistake, all eyes and ears were on Rizzuto and Seaver.

How would Rizzuto and Seaver mesh? As it turns out, spectacularly, thanks in large part to Rizzuto’s lack of ego in an ego-driven business. With his birthdays, cannoli reviews, excitable play-by-play delivery and zany commentary, Rizzuto turned out to be the perfect broadcast mate for “Seaver,” as Rizzuto often referred to him. They turned out to be an entertaining listen, which was necessary, because the on-field product was horrible. Rizzuto and Seaver turned out to be the only reason you would want to tune in on WPIX-11 to watch a ballgame. The broadcast team was a hit to the audience, which had to gall the Mets. Here was their “franchise”, across town broadcasting New York Yankees games!

From 1989-93, Rizzuto and Seaver worked Yankees games together. In 1994, Rizzuto was finally elected to the baseball Hall of Fame, joining Seaver in Cooperstown. Seaver would leave the booth, after the 1993 season, join the Mets broadcasting crew for a few seasons, starting in 1999, commuting from his California vineyard. Rizzuto retired after 1996, as the Yankees took over the city, with their dynasty.

But there isn’t a person, anywhere, who could have predicted in 1969 that Phil Rizzuto and Tom Seaver would prove to be a popular, broadcasting duo.

Yankees of 2020 can’t hold a candle to 1960 Yankees

The New York Yankees played three doubleheaders in three days, 60 years ago this week. Keep that in mind, when you hear and read about the “tough” schedule the Bombers will face, starting on Aug. 26, 2020: three doubleheaders in five days. And unlike this Covid-riddled season, when each game of the twin bill will be seven innings in length, in 1960 each game of the doubleheader was a scheduled nine-inning affair.

Three-way race

On August 26, 1960, the first place Yankees found themselves in a tight three-way pennant race with Baltimore and the White Sox. Before their 6 p.m. doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, New York held a one game lead on the Orioles and two games over Chicago.

The first game on a Friday night, with 56,508 in attendance, went extra innings, lasting 3:43. The game ended in the last of the 11th inning on a Yogi Berra home run, his second of the contest, giving New York a 7-6 win. The Indians seemingly had the game in hand, taking a 5-2 lead on a two-run homer by Tito Francona, whose son Terry Francona is the current manager of the Cleveland Indians.

The Yankees needed a second-game comeback too, winning 7-5. The game did not end until 12:58 Saturday morning, leading Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto to tell the radio audience, “we should probably sleep right here in the booth.” The two clubs had to be back at the Stadium that afternoon for another doubleheader, starting at 2:00.

There was no sneaking over the bridge in the seventh inning for “the Scooter,” back in those days, working the games with Mel Allen and Red Barber.

Saturday doubleheader

With both clubs playing on little sleep, starting 13 hours later, the Yankees made it another doubleheader sweep, winning the first game 7-4 (Francona homered again for Cleveland) and capturing the nightcap, 3-0, behind a Ralph Terry complete-game, two-hit shutout. It took 2:45 to play the opener and a thrifty 2:07 for the second contest, played before 42,520.

Tigers in for two

The marathon weekend concluded with a Sunday doubleheader starting a 2 p.m against the Detroit Tigers. Perhaps feeling as if they were in a daze, the Yankees lost the opener, 6-2 in a game lasting 3:24. But New York bounced back to win the second game, 8-5, paced by Mickey Mantle’s home run and four RBI. The game lasted 2:30 in front of 47,921.

Final totals

When the weekend was over, the Yankees had played 56 innings of baseball or 17 hours and 19 minutes over 50 and-a-half hours. With both the Dodgers and Giants having moved out west, the Yankees, being the only game in town, drew 146,949 for the three days. There is no telling how many throat lozenges were used by Rizzuto, Allen and Barber.

After the six games the first place Yanks had picked up a game and held a two-game advantage over Baltimore. It wouldn’t be until mid-September, before the Yankees finally shook off the Orioles in a weekend series to win their 10th and final pennant under manager Casey Stengel. The “ol’ Professor” was denied his eighth World Series title when the Pirates defeated the Bombers in the deciding game of the series on a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski.

But over the next few days, while the media makes a big deal about three doubleheaders in five days, remember the 2020 Yankees cannot hold a candle to their 1960 counterparts.