There was a certain amount of eye-rolling when Phil Rizzuto, the scrappy Yankees shortstop who died today at 89, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. The Scooter had repeatedly been denied entry by the voting sportswriters on the grounds that his stats were good, not great (.273 lifetime batting average, one MVP year) and that his presence on seven World Series–winning teams was dumb luck. It was said at the time that his pal Yogi Berra had talked to the veterans' committee, which digs up early players forgotten by history, and smoothed the way for his old buddy Rizzuto. This may or may not have been true, but, either way, it was ridiculous.
Rizzuto certainly belongs in the Hall, partly for his presence as a player but even more for his years as a broadcaster. The fact is that he was one of two instantly recognizable on-the-air baseball voices for decades (the other being the Dodgers' Vin Scully). No, Rizzuto was not an intellectual broadcaster, given as he was to malapropisms and weird on-the-air riffs about Italian restaurants he liked. He was a color man rather than a pure analyst, and for every smooth Scully or Jon Miller, there's room for a goofball who can loosen up the broadcast. A more entertaining press-booth gadfly you will never find — especially on the Yankees, always the most businesslike and least soulful of baseball teams — and that did the game a huge service. You're supposed to enjoy watching a baseball game on TV, and it was simply impossible not to do that when Rizzuto was going on about cannoli. —Christopher Bonanos