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This Day in Yankees History: “The Scooter” slides into Cooperstown

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With a little help from the Veterans Committee, Phil Rizzuto earned a Hall of Fame plaque on this day in history.

Phil Rizzuto at Yankee vs Baltimore game. Photo by Keith Torrie/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. Now that spring training is officially open, it’s time to get amped for the upcoming season. These daily posts will highlight two or three key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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This Day in Yankees History (February 25th)

27 Years Ago

The Veterans Committee elected Phil Rizzuto, the Yankees’ beloved broadcaster and longtime fan-favorite shortstop of the 1940s and ’50s, to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on this day in 1994. It was a long time coming, as the Scooter’s enshrinement in Cooperstown came 32 years after he first appeared on the ballot and became eligible for induction in 1962.

There were several reasons why Rizzuto’s path to the Hall of Fame was meandering. In his first 15 years of eligibility, he never even came close to garnering enough votes to be considered a contender. He received his peak support among the voting BBWAA writers in 1976, but even then Rizzuto received just 149 votes, a little more than half of the 291 votes required for selection that year. Five years later, in 1982, Rizzuto again became eligible for selection, this time by the Veterans Committee. Unfortunately, the 18-member committee that year—which was made up of Hall of Fame ballplayers, baseball executives and six baseball media representatives—didn’t give serious consideration to his candidacy, either.

Yankees fans, and team owner George Steinbrenner in particular, had long decried Rizzuto’s absence from the Hall of Fame. While many regarded the Scooter’s career stats as “borderline,” those who maintained Rizzuto belonged in Cooperstown often attributed his failure to get elected to the fact that he was a light-hitting infielder known for his defensive play. That Rizzuto had missed three seasons serving in World War II didn’t help his cause. But in 1994, the Scooter’s chances were looking up. That year, the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee included a few of Rizzuto’s contemporaries and former teammates, who were more familiar with skills and contributions as a player: former Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, Rizzuto’s longtime teammate Yogi Berra, and Bill White, his former partner in the WPIX broadcast booth.

Berra was the one who made the call to Rizzuto’s home in New Jersey, to inform him of the news. What was it like for Rizzuto to be told by his longtime friend that Rizzuto had earned a place in Cooperstown? Upon learning he had been voted in, Rizzuto said he yelled, “Holy cow!” and nearly fainted, according to the New York Times.

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Happy 58th birthday to Paul O’Neill, another fan favorite and beloved Yankees broadcaster. In his nine seasons in the Bronx, Paulie became a team leader, a favorite of fans who appreciated his competitive intensity, and he even carved out a special place in the heart of George Steinbrenner, who referred to the right fielder as “my warrior.” As an integral member of the last Yankees Dynasty, he played an outsized role in helping the Bombers win the World Series four times.

MLB Photos Archive
It’s easy to forget how smooth and beautiful O’Neill’s swing was.
Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB via Getty Images

Since retiring as a player in 2001, O’Neill has endeared himself to a new generation of Yankees fans as a color commentator on the YES Network. During the odd, pandemic-shortened 2020 season, broadcasts from O’Neill’s basement in Cincinnati were, without a doubt, a major highlight. In 2021, will Paulie’s cool memorabilia show-and-tell sessions continue? Only a few more weeks until we find out!

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We thank Baseball Reference, Nationalpastime.com and the New York Times for providing background information for these posts.