August 16, 2007


Phil Rizzuto, RIP: Innocence Stolen (Jeff Kallman | August 15th, 2007, Catbird in the Nosebleed Seats)

Can you think of a better reason among innumerable ones to despise Osama bin Laden?

“I can’t bear to look out there anymore,” said Phil Rizzuto to New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden, for the latter’s book Pride of October, from the kitchen of the New Jersey home that formerly afforded a splendid view of the World Trade Center until 9/11. “They’re gone and I feel as empty as my view.”

After a couple of conversations plumbing Rizzuto’s Yankee career and memories, the former shortstop and broadcaster released to the sky a pair of silver birthday balloons and lamented “the unintentional symbolism of the balloons and the towers,” Madden observed.

“I’m an old man,” said Rizzuto, a Brooklyn native (his father was a streetcar motorman) who grew up rooting for the Dodgers and flunked a tryout with them because then-manager Casey Stengel dismissed his diminutive size (”Get yourself a shoeshine box, kid”), “and I’ve seen a lot. But this . . . this has really got to me. I thought I lost my innocence when I went into the Navy. I never thought I’d lose it again.”

This sit-down for coffee, cookies, and book conversation occurred just days after Rizzuto turned 84. At one point, after his wife, Cora, reminded him gently to straighten himself up—Rizzuto by then walked with a slight hunch—he spoke of his change of plan on the day the planes hijacked into murder weapons hit the towers.

“We were supposed to go on a cruise up to Canada for my birthday, but we canceled out. No way either of us wanted to go anywhere. Then my daughter, Penny, who works for the Albany County crisis intervention team, called me. She had just spent two days down on Pier 94 counseling all the victims’ families. ‘You’ve got to go down there, Dad,’ she said, and after talking it over for a couple of minutes, Cora and I decided to go. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do when we got there, but the families were so happy to see us, it was unbelievable. We wound up spending four and a half hours there. As always, Cora knew right away what to say. I just told my Yankee stories and they seemed so happy to have someone take their minds off their grief and the awful business of waiting for a death certificate or a body part.

“It was rewarding but so heartbreaking at the same time. I don’t think I’ll ever get out of my mind the image of all those teddy bears, lining the walls the whole length of the pier. They’d been sent by schoolkids in Oklahoma City, with individual notes on every one of them.”

And now Rizzuto’s gone, at 89, after a few years living in a New Jersey assisted-living facility and yet cheering up his neighbours with his Yankee stories. “I’ve lost my beautiful prince,” his wife, Cora, was quoted as saying, through one of the couple’s three daughters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 16, 2007 8:31 AM

When I was a kid in Clifton, New Jersey, Scooter and Yogi owned a bowling alley -- Rizzuto-Berra Bowling Lanes. We bowled there exclusively. Never ran into them, but we loved to bask in their glow. Classy guys.

It's a Jersey thing.

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 16, 2007 3:21 PM