I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Scooter do Yankee games. In fact, his memorable on-air birthday wishes to Yankee fans inspired this Blog. One evening toward the end of his career in the Yankee booth, Rizzuto was going through his list of birthday announcements when the late Bobby Murcer interrupted him by asking when he was born. The Scooter didn’t answer the question so I grabbed my copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia and looked it up. Then I looked up Murcer’s, Mantle’s, Mattingly’s etc. As I did so I began to wonder if I could find a current or former Yankee born on each day of the calendar year and the task became my hobby for the next few months.
I never saw Rizzuto play the game but I grew up listening to him. I loved the fact that he was an unabashed “homer” rooting the Yankees on through good times and bad. His stories were priceless, entertaining me almost as much as a Yankee victory. I loved the one he told about spending his wedding night in a round room so he couldn’t corner his wife, Cora. Or when Bill White would ask him if he thought traffic would be bad after the game and Rizzuto would answer. “I don’t know White and I don’t intend to find out.” Or when a batter would hit a pop up and Rizzuto would say “While that ball’s up in the air Seaver I wanna wish Sophie DeCarlo up in Mt. Vernon a happy 80th birthday.” His induction speech at the Baseball Hall of Fame is a classic.
On the field, Rizzuto was one of the most valuable members of the Yankee teams that won five straight pennants from 1949 through 1953. In all he had seven championship rings and he won the 1950 AL MVP award when he reached the 200 hit plateau with a .324 average. He was an expert bunter, base runner and a terrific fielder. The great Ted Williams often stated that Rizzuto was one of the most talented players he had ever seen. I’m glad he made it to Cooperstown while he was still alive. He was truly a Yankee legend.
With the exception of starting pitcher, catching is baseball’s most physically demanding position. That’s true today and it was true when the Yankees, then known as the Highlanders, played their first game in the Big Apple during the first decade of the twentieth century. Even back then, most teams carried backup catchers on their roster. The only member of the Yankee’s all-time roster to celebrate his birthday on this date was Fred Jacklitsch, a Brooklyn-born back-up catcher who played close to 500 games in the big leagues but only one of them in a New York uniform and that was during the 1905 season. Jacklitsch may have been the only Yankee born on May 24th but he’s one of several to have been born in Brooklyn. Here’s my list of the five most famous Brooklyn natives to have ever worn the pinstripes:
1 – Phil Rizzuto
2 – Waite Hoyt
3 – Wee Willie Keeler
4 – Joe Torre
5 – Joe Pepitone