Phil Rizzuto, American Hero, Dies
August 14, 2007, 09:36 PM
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New York Yankee Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto died earlier today.

Rizzuto was a childhood hero for many reasons, most obviously because of his Italian heritage. The "Scooter," as Rizzuto was universally known, was also Joe Di Maggio`s roommate. DiMaggio was another hero of mine...at least until the darker side of his character was revealed.

During the course of the day, you`ll read many comments about what a great, down to earth guy Rizzuto was. Here`s my own experience.

Years ago, I was traveling to Boston. Coincidentally, the Yankees were playing the Red Sox. As I checked into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Rizzuto was walking through the lobby. I approached him, told him that I had spent countless summer nights listening to him broadcast Yankee games and that his accounts of the games gave me more pleasure than I could express.

Rizzuto could have brushed me off after I had spoken my piece. Instead he engaged me in a long conversation about baseball in general and the Yankees specifically. And Rizzuto asked me questions about my family, my occupation and whether I was going to the game that night.

Although I had other plans, Rizzuto pulled out two tickets and gave them to me. And somehow it didn`t seem right not to use them so I went, compliments of "Scooter."

I`ll confess that I wanted to ask him for his autograph but, you know, I was in my mid-30s. And after my visit with Rizzuto, I felt more like a friend than a fan.

Phil himself told my favorite Rizzuto story at his Hall of Fame induction. Talking about his early career in the Southern League, Rizzuto said he was served grits at his hotel breakfast. Rizzuto, who grew up in Brooklyn, had never seen grits. Not wanting to eat them but also not wanting to leave them on his plate, Rizzuto said: " I put them in my pocket and walked out." Phil`s story got a huge laugh.

For more of the same Rizzuto humor, read O Holy Cow!: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto.