Phil Rizzuto

Phil Rizzuto was in the right place at the right time. The New York native was with the powerhouse Yankees in the period of their greatest domination, and as a result is among the all-time leaders in many World Series statistics: 52 games (6th), 183 at-bats and 45 hits (7th), 21 runs (10th), 30 walks (4th), and 10 steals (3rd). One of the best shortstops in the AL in his time, he led three times each in double plays and total chances per game, twice each in fielding and putouts, and once in assists.

Rizzuto was a fair hitter for a shortstop and a superb bunter. He moved Frankie Crosetti aside in 1941 and 1942, but spent 1943-45 in the military. On an all-star service team, coach Bill Dickey played Pee Wee Reese at shortstop and Rizzuto at third base. The peak of Rizzuto’s career came in back-to-back standout seasons in 1949 and 1950. Though he had previously been the Yankees’ number-seven or number-eight batter, his hot 1949 moved him to the leadoff spot, and he produced 110 runs while batting .275 and walking 72 times. He finished second in the MVP voting (behind Ted Williams, who missed his third Triple Crown by a fraction of a point). Rizzuto’s 1950 season earned him the MVP award by over a hundred points: he had career highs with a .324 batting average (sixth in the AL), 125 runs (tied for second), 91 walks, 36 doubles (third), and a .439 slugging average, the only time he topped .400.

Rizzuto continued at the top of the lineup (first or second in the order) until he slumped badly in 1954, hitting just .195. Thereafter he was a backup used mostly for his defense. He moved into the Yankee broadcast booth immediately following his last season and remained a popular fixture there until 1996. While in the booth, Rizzuto became known for advocating the bunt in most situations, reading countless birthday, wedding and aniversary announcements and for his expressions “holy cow” (whenever something astonishes him, which is frequently) and “that huckleberry” (an unserious putdown). He is the inventor of the scoring symbol “WW,” for “wasn’t watching.” The Yankees retired his number 10 in 1985. Mr. Rizzuto died on August 14, 2007 at the age of 89.