Sunday, June 25, 2006

An Old-Timer Fades

June 25, 2006 -- "HOURS before all the old-timers stepped onto the grass of the time machine known as Yankee Stadium, I called Phil Rizzuto's home. This special day was just not the same without the Scooter.
Phil's wife, Cora, picked up and said Phil was sleeping. Each day is getting that much tougher for Phil Rizzuto, 88, but he's trying to hang in there, as he did on the double play when the runner, who always was bigger than Phil, was bearing down on him.
Yesterday was the first Yankees Old Timers' Day Rizzuto has missed. That should tell you how difficult the days are for him.
"The story is still going," Cora said of her Hall of Fame husband. "He's had a beautiful life."
Later, Yogi Berra would tell me in a concerned voice, "We sure miss Phil. They say he's not feeling too good. We'll see what happens. I hope he's all right."
During introductions, a message was read from Rizzuto, saying how he missed "seeing all the great Yankee fans today."

It is morbid but true. My family shares an area of a Florida cemetery with the Rizzuto family. Something my Father, a livelong Yankee fan, couldn't resist. He is interned next to a close relative of Phil's, and the elder statesmen of our clan are abuzz over the soon demise of a hero, and someone we'd see on occasion as he visited his deceased relatives. To be a Yankee fan is to adore Phil Rizzuto. Each and every one of us miss his voice, his personality, and while he does not evoke childhood memories for me...Red Barber and Mel Allen did the calls when I was a kid...his rise to fame coincided with my becoming a man and I'll always remember how he maintained his own personality in the face of adoration. They stayed the same, most of the oldtimers did. Broke or rich they were who they were, and tough shit if you didn't like it.

One of the last Old Timers Day that Phil participated in as an announcer featured a cannon firing in the outfield, for whatever stupid reason, and the blank charge from the cannon knocked part of the outfield fence down, startling a great many people from the roar and impact.

"Holy shit they're blowing the fucking wall down!" Phil shouted to an open mike, and no one took exception because that was Phil at his best. I wasn't "allowed" to call him The Scooter because that nickname was reserved for the older genersation who saw him play. To me he was Phil, and just knowing Phil was still around was comforting in so very many ways, and I dread the phone call telling me otherwise.

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