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Yankees Legend Phil Rizzuto dies at 89


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NEW YORK (AP) -- His speed and spunk made him a Hall of Famer.

"Holy cow!" made Phil Rizzuto famous. post-37120-1187190016.jpg

Popular as a player and beloved as a broadcaster, the New York Yankees shortstop during their dynasty years of the 1940s and 1950s died Monday night. "The Scooter" was 89.

Rizzuto had pneumonia and died in his sleep at a nursing home in West Orange, N.J., daughter Patricia Rizzuto said Tuesday. He had been in declining health for several years.

"I guess heaven must have needed a shortstop," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "He epitomized the Yankee spirit -- gritty and hard charging -- and he wore the pinstripes proudly."

Rizzuto was the oldest living Hall of Famer and his Cooperstown plaque noted how he "overcame diminutive size." At 5-foot-6, he played over his head, winning seven World Series titles and an AL MVP award and becoming a five-time All-Star.

"When I first came up to the Yankees, he was like a big -- actually, small -- brother to me," said Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who frequently visited Rizzuto in his later years.

Rizzuto's No. 10 was retired by baseball's most storied team, and the club will wear his number on its left sleeves for the rest of the season.

The flags at Yankee Stadium were lowered to half-staff before Tuesday night's game against Baltimore and a bouquet was placed by Rizzuto's plaque at Monument Park. The team planned a moment of silence and a video tribute.

Yet it was after he moved into the broadcast booth that Rizzuto reached a new level celebrity with another generation of Yankees fans.

Rizzuto delighted TV and radio listeners for four decades, his voice dripping with his native Brooklyn. He loved his favorite catch-phrase -- exclaiming "Holy cow!" when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run -- and often shouted "What a huckleberry!"

In an age of broadcasters who spout statistics, Rizzuto was a storyteller. He liked to talk about things such as his fear of lightning, the style of an umpire's shoes or even the prospect of outfielder Dave Winfield as a candidate for president.

"He didn't try to act like an announcer," Hall of Fame teammate Whitey Ford said. "He just said what he thought. It added fun to the game."

Rizzuto liked to acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries, read notes from fans, talk about his favorite place to get a cannoli and send messages to old cronies. Once he noticed old teammate Bobby Brown -- then the American League president -- sitting in a box seat and hollered down, trying to get his attention.

"He would keep getting in trouble with WPIX for announcing birthdays and anniversaries," Patricia Rizzuto recalled.

And if Rizzuto missed a play, he would scribble "ww" in his scorecard box score. That, he said, meant "wasn't watching."

His fans and colleagues never minded. Because with a simple shout of "Hey, White!" to longtime broadcasting partner Bill White, it was time for another tale.

"I never thought I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame," Rizzuto once said. "The Hall of Fame is for the big guys, pitchers with 100 mph fastballs and hitters who sock homers and drive in a lot of runs. That's the way it always has been and the way it should be."

The flag at Cooperstown was lowered to half-staff and a laurel was placed around his plaque, as is custom when Hall of Famers die. With Rizzuto's death, executive Lee MacPhail, 89, became the oldest living Hall member.

Rizzuto is survived by his wife, Cora, whom he married in 1943; daughters Cindy Rizzuto, Patricia Rizzuto and Penny Rizzuto Yetto; son Phil Rizzuto Jr.; and two granddaughters.

A private, family funeral is planned. The family is working with the Yankees on a memorial to be held at Yankee Stadium, Patricia Rizzuto said.

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