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Yankees Hall of Famer, Broadcaster Phil Rizzuto

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Phil Rizzuto, 89, a New York Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop who had a four-decade career as the team's beloved broadcaster and was long known for his exclamation, "Holy cow!" died Aug. 13 at Green Hill nursing home in West Orange, N.J. He had pneumonia.

Mr. Rizzuto bolstered the Yankees lineup during a golden era that included teammates Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. He was not a consistently powerful hitter but was revered as a defensive shortstop, base runner and bunter. Small and quick, he earned the nickname "the Scooter."

Starting in 1941, Mr. Rizzuto played with the Yankees for 13 seasons, with the exception of a three-year absence for wartime service in the Navy. He participated in nine World Series -- seven times on the winning side. He was voted the American League's most valuable player in 1950. The previous year he was runner-up to Ted Williams of the rival Boston Red Sox.

Mr. Rizzuto's statistics overall were not exceptional. During his MVP year, he earned a batting average of .324 with 200 hits and 125 runs. He had a .273 lifetime batting average, 38 home runs and 562 RBI. "My stats don't shout," he said. "They kind of whisper."

Mr. Rizzuto thrived as a media personality, working as a Yankees broadcaster from 1957 to 1996.

As an announcer, he was known for unpredictable, sometimes stream-of-consciousness commentary that might include news of his wife or a terrific cannoli he had eaten, or greetings to friends celebrating a birthday or pals laid up in the hospital.

He also talked about his phobias of snakes, rodents, lightning and traffic. It was fear of traffic, he said, that led to one recurring gag -- leaving a game in the seventh inning to beat other cars out of the stadium and over the George Washington Bridge to his longtime home in Hillside, N.J.

Mr. Rizzuto's announcer's booth digressions became as much a signature as his bellow of "Holy cow!" Many were collected in a 1993 book of free verse, "O Holy Cow!," edited by humor writers Tom Peyer and Hart Seely. One poem, "The Bridge," referred to a one-sided discussion Mr. Rizzuto had with Bill White, his partner in the broadcast booth:

Two balls and a strike.

You know what they had on TV today, White?

"Bridge on the River Kwai."

Everybody should have gotten an Academy Award for that movie.


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