NEW YORK (AP) — Phil Rizzuto, the Hall of Fame shortstop during the Yankees’ dynasty years, who was beloved by a generation of fans for exclaiming “Holy cow!” as a broadcaster, died today. He was 89.
His death was confirmed by the Yankees. Rizzuto had been in declining health for several years and was living at a nursing home in West Orange, N.J.
He was a flashy, diminutive player who always could be counted on for a perfect bunt, a nice slide or a diving catch in a lineup better known for its cornerstone sluggers. He played for 13 seasons alongside the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
He stood just 5 feet 6 inches but was equipped with a productive bat, sure hands and quick feet that earned him his nickname. A leadoff man, Rizzuto was a superb bunter, used to good advantage by the Yankee teams that won 11 pennants and nine World Series between 1941 and 1956.
He tried out with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants when he was 16, but because of his size was dismissed by then-Dodgers manager Casey Stengel, who told him to “Go get a shoeshine box.” He went on to become one of Stengel’s most dependable players.
A Rizzuto bunt, a steal and a DiMaggio hit made up the scoring trademark of the Yankees’ golden era, and Rizzuto played errorless ball in 21 consecutive World Series games. DiMaggio said the shortstop “held the team together.”
Rizzuto came to the Yankees in 1941 and batted .307 as a rookie. His career was interrupted by a stint in the Navy during World War II. He returned in 1946 and four years later became the American League MVP. He batted .324 that season with a slugging percentage of .439 and 200 hits, second-most in the league. He also went 58 games without an error, making 288 straight plays.
He led all American League shortstops in double plays three times and had a career batting average of .273 with at least a .930 fielding percentage.
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