“Well, hi everybody, welcome to New York Yankee baseball. I’m Phil Rizzuto along with Bill White.”
The Baseball-loving children of the tri-state area during 1970s and 1980s lived for those two sentences. We would turn on WPIX, wait for the “Here Come The Yankees” theme song to play and then for the camera to pan to the booth to see “The Scooter” Phil Rizzuto and Bill White.
Night after summer night, we would have the same broadcast team welcoming us to watch our team. Phil Rizzuto was more than a broadcaster though. We felt like he was one of us. Although he was a Yankees great and an eventual Hall of Famer, we felt connected to him. He was a fan who cheered like us, got disgusted like us, and even sometimes missed a play like us. We felt like we were in it together, waiting for that moment when he would yell out, “Holy Cow!”, when our guys did something amazing.
While he provided much of the magic each night, he couldn’t do it alone. For as much as “The Scooter” entertained us and rooted with us, he needed a partner to balance his fandom and his style. Frank Messer was around for a while and played the straight man well. But, it wasn’t until Bill White became Scooter’s regular partner where we had the perfect balance in the booth; White knew how to make Rizzuto even better. Rizzuto would say during his Hall of Fame induction speech that White was the one partner he felt most comfortable with.
Scooter and White would provide the soundtrack to our 1980s childhood as the two made for the perfect team that could inform while also entertain. White would rib Rizzuto when given the opportunity and would also know when to give the serious baseball analysis. White wasn’t the “homer” that Rizzuto was, yet we still felt that he was with us.
It’s amazing that after all these years, I can vividly hear that introduction song, remember bits from Scooter. I can hear White’s classic laugh with a Rizzuto flub. I can hear still hear Rizzuto call White a “huckleberry” in jest.
I can remember all those nights settling in on the couch with my father to watch the game. Sure, it was always a treat to see a game live at the stadium, but my core memories as a baseball fan stem from the time at home with my father. My father would let me stay up to watch late innings and even the West Coast games. It is the time with Dad watching and teaching me the game that I still remember to this day.
Often, especially in the summer, those games would be watched with my grandfather too. I can still see him in his recliner, falling asleep in the fourth or fifth inning, snoring and all. Yet, when he’d wake up, he could tell you exactly what Scooter said and how the Yankees scored. 40 years later, I still can’t figure out how Pops did that.
Scooter narrated almost every night. Looking back, I had the ideal childhood. I had a special family and I grew up during a time when Rizzuto was the narrator of my favorite team. I was lucky in every way.
The Dodgers may have had their legendary announcer in Vin Scully who, perhaps, objectively speaking, is the greatest baseball announcer to have ever stepped behind a microphone. But, we thought differently back them. We had “The Scooter,” our guy. No team had what we had back then.
We knew his wife, Cora’s, name. We knew he had kids, later on in his career we would hear about his son Scooter and his wife, Anne. He talked about his family every night. He would mention places he ate while the game was going on. There was the omnipresent cannoli delivery, the birthday wishes to fans, things that became a tradition on each broadcast. We knew what he was going to have for dinner when he got home. He told us all of these things as if we were family. It wasn’t forced; it wasn’t schtick. It was Phil Rizzuto being himself. That’s what made him so special. He wasn’t scripted. He spoke from his heart and from the heart of his fandom.
On many nights, we knew that we had “The Scooter” for maybe seven innings before he would exit to beat the traffic over the George Washington Bridge. He’d leave his partners to finish the game. WPIX would often show a shot of the bridge to setup the punchline from one of the announcers, “there’s Scooter on his way home!” No other announcer would do that — he was genuine and never hid this from us.
No team had what we had. He spoke to us and knew how to leverage his self-deprecating humor into the broadcast. He wouldn’t pretend that he got everything right and he would freely admit his mistakes. White would, in good humor, never let him forget those mistakes. And, when Scooter went off the rails on a random story, White would slip into play-by-play mode and keep the game flow somewhat near the center of attention.
Scooter wasn’t perfect; his mistakes were legendary, and we loved him even more for that. On more than one occasion, Rizzuto would begin a broadcast by saying, “Hi, I’m Bill White…” His desire for the Yankees to do well would cause a premature home run call every now and then. He was famous for putting a “WW” in his scorebook sometimes, which stood for “wasn’t watching.” His reaction to those errors would be a genuine laugh at himself. He could take the ribbing from White and his later partners. The two of them would laugh like two brothers would while sitting around the kitchen table, and we laughed along with them. He was our perfectly imperfect broadcaster.
Of course, his famous “HOLY COW” dotted every great Yankees moment we saw together. We were too young to be there for Maris’ 61st or Guidry’s 18th strikeout, but we could listen to those calls all day. We did get to hear him call Mattingly “unbelievable” when he hit a home run in his eighth consecutive game. We felt the same way about Mattingly; Scooter was speaking for us.
The thing is, every moment, even those regular season moments, seemed important to Scooter. That made it important to us. He met our passion. He kept us interested. He was, in many ways, a part of the family.
We live in a time where our baseball broadcasts are full of statistics, former players, and the greatest camera work. The vast majority of announcers are knowledgeable, prepared, and, at times, entertaining. It’s different now. There isn’t that connection to them. There isn’t that continuity of having them day in and day out as color commentators keep rotating through each series. There isn’t that feeling that the announcer cares like we do or is even talking to us. Rizzuto felt like a grandfather or maybe that crazy uncle who we just couldn’t wait to see what he’ll say next.
It was a special time and we had a special bond with Scooter. He was made us want to tune in and had that unique voice that no other announcer had. He was the voice of our childhood. The instant I hear it, I am transported back in time to when I watched games with Dad and Grandpa. Scooter and White will forever be linked to our youth, our summer vacations, when times were simpler and the broadcasts made even the most innocuous game feel special. Scooter and White were two very special reasons why we love this game so much.