My dad just turned 75 a few weeks back, and for at least 50 of those years I’ve had to listen to him telling me stories (often the sames ones year after year) about Phil Rizzuto. “He was the best player I’ve ever seen. Period.”
Really, dad? I mean, you’ve seen DiMaggio, Dickey, Berra, Mantle …
Didn’t matter. Rizzuto was my dad’s guy. His favorite story? Dad was sitting behind the dugout watching Phil step up to the plate. He squared to bunt and took the ball “square between the eyes. Little Phil dropped the bat, took one step and flopped in the baseline. After that he wore a helmet.”
I’ve tried to find proof of that story, but never did. It could have just as easily been a well-intended fabrication to colorize the black and white baseball legacy of Phil Rizzuto.
In thinking about it, I understand why my dad may have fallen for Phil. My dad was always an undersized athlete who had to scrap to play football, basketball and his first-love, baseball. He didn’t have the arm to play shortstop, so he settled on second — but he worked hard to improve his throwing and finally during his senior year in high school he won the starting job and became his team’s shortstop.
My dad’s baseball career went no further than high school. After graduation, he got married and moved into the family steel business. But he always maintained his love for the little guy, the underdog. I was a pint-sized pitcher in high school, with a powerful arm and no pants. The AD in our school informed me that we had no varsity pants that would fit me. The only similar pants were girl’s varsity softball pants. That night during dinner I told my dad the story and wanted to quit.
“You can’t quit!” he ordered.
Before our next game, a box arrived at the school with 20 brand new varsity uniforms — and a pair of pants that actually fit me — compliments of my dad. Once again, standing up for the little guy!
I didn’t quit, and quite possibly because of Phil Rizzuto, I carved out a decent career for myself in professional baseball. Thanks Phil, and thank you, dad!