Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scooter: The Biography of Phil Rizzuto

Carlo DeVito
Triumph Books, 2010 
368 pp.
"Holy Cow!" The trademark line from one of New York's most beloved baseball figures resonates vividly in the minds of fans across the country, long after his days in the Yankees broadcast booth. If Phil Rizzuto was still alive, it would be likely that he would exclaim his famous catchphrase after reading Carlo DeVito's “Scooter.”

DeVito provides in-depth detail of the entirety of the Hall of Fame shortstop's life, a career that was almost derailed when Rizzuto dropped out of high school in 1936. Deemed “too small” by the Dodgers and the Giants, Rizzuto was put back on track to embark on what would be a 60-year journey through baseball with the help of his high school coach Al Kunitz and the watchful eye of Yankee scout Paul Krichell.

Signed by the Yankees in 1937, Rizzuto's career was almost over before it started. During his first season in Class-D Bassett, Rizzuto tore a muscle in his leg and was told that his baseball playing days were over. Miraculously, he recovered quickly enough to return that same season and finish with over a .300 batting average. He would go on to hit over .300 at every stop in the minor leagues before debuting with the Yankees in 1941.

DeVito explores the high regard in which Rizzuto's teammates and opponents held his talents. Often overshadowed by the prowess of Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle, DeVito illustrates how many in baseball felt it was Rizzuto that was the vital cog in the seven Yankee World Series championship teams he played for. He would stay with the Yankees through the 1956 season, with his career being interrupted from 1943-1945 due to his service in World War II.

The second half of the biography focuses on Rizzuto's storied broadcast career, which endeared him to a whole new generation of fans, many of which only know Rizzuto from his work behind the microphone. Starting in 1957, with the urges of Yankees' sponsor Ballantine Beer, Rizzuto began a 40-year journey in the booth. DeVito expertly chronicles Rizzuto's ups and downs as one of baseball's most recognizable voices and his ever changing partners in the booth.

The final two chapters in “Scooter”, which detail his playing and broadcast careers respectively are over 100 pages each. In these lengthy chapters, the stories switch so much, that it is difficult to find continuity among the tidbits presented. The book would have been better served to be broken into smaller chapters to enhance the flow of information and keep the reader focused on what DeVito is attempting to illuminate.

Small criticisms non-withstanding, “Scooter” is a great look inside the career of one of New York's most cherished and respected homegrown baseball figures, that will please even the “huckleberries” who choose to pick it up.


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