Scooter and the Captain
By Billy Brost
Today would’ve marked the 96th birthday of Philip Francis Rizzuto, better known as the Scooter. From 1941 through 1956, with a short absence to serve our country Rizzuto was considered the gold standard by which all future shortstops that donned the beloved pinstripes of the New York Yankees would be measured against. That was, until a skinny young shortstop made his big league debut in 1995, and took over the spot for the next 20 years in Derek Jeter.
Mandatory Credit: posters.ws.com
The two Hall of Fame shortstops have quite a bit in common. Both have a handful of World Series rings, made multiple All-Star appearances, and once Jeter is done, will have his number 2 retired. Scooter didn’t get the recognition that Jeter has throughout his career. Somewhat of an underdog, the 1994 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee has a Most Valuable Player Award to his credit (1950), something Jeter does not. Unlike Jeter, Scooter was not an imposing figure at shortstop, standing only 5’6″ and barely weighing 160 lbs. During Rizzuto’s MVP season, he had impressive numbers, but not your typical MVP numbers: a .324 batting average, only 7 home runs, and 66 runs driven in. The only category he led the league in that season, was plate appearances with over 730. This was at the end of the DiMaggio Era and prior to the dominance of the Mick.
Like Jeter, Rizzuto was often overshadowed by the bigger names and gaudy numbers of teammates on championship teams. Scooter had Mantle, Yogi Berra, and the like. Jeter had to deal with the A-Rod sage, along with quality teammates and all-time greats such as Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Andy Pettitte. While Jeter hardly flew under the radar, he was never the best individual player on the best team. He was simply the best TEAM player on the best team–to the tune of five World Series crowns.
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Unlike Scooter, Jeter’s career marks are far and aware superior. Rizzuto did miss three prime years due to military service, and failed to reach the 1600 hit plateau. Even if we add his 162-game average, which isn’t accurate either, because he played in the 158-game era, Scooter would’ve concluded his career at just over 2000 career knocks. Rizzuto finished in the top 5 in MVP voting three times, similar to the current Yankees’ captain. Scooter retired at the age of 38, and like Jeter, was the glue that bonded so many pennant winning, and title winning Yankees’ teams. He was indispensable.
Mandatory Credit: NY Daily News
It just so happened that decades after retiring, and being a mainstay in the Yankees’ broadcast booth, it was Scooter who had the call of Derek Jeter’s first big league home run back in 1996. The two men shared a bond that was uncommon between the older generation of Yankees and the current versions. Jeter recognized the common thread between the two men shortly after Rizzuto passed away in 2007:
"“I’m sure that’s probably part of the reason he went out of his way and took me under his wing…I’m very familiar with the tradition of the Yankees and he’s as popular and as good of a player as we’ve had.”(h/t, Bryan Hoch, MLB.com)"
Jeter admitted he was aware of Rizzuto’s place in Yankees’ history, and it was the longtime broadcaster that looked to build a relationship with the 20-year-old Jeter at the time. The Captain stated that Rizzuto was always warm and friendly, and became a grandfather-type figure to him early on in his career. Jeter admit’s one of the things about Scooter that always cracked him up, was the former MVP’s size:
"“The thing with him that I found amazing was how small he was…I used to joke with him a little bit. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be big, size-wise, in order to be successful.”"
Some might believe it’s just coincidence, others may believe it’s the ghosts of a building that no longer stands, making their way over to the new house for one last ironic, yet appropriate appearance. Derek Jeter’s final game in Yankees’ pinstripes just happens to fall of Phil Rizzuto‘s birthday. The two greatest shortstops in the history of the franchise. Different eras, but an unbreakable bond that won’t be forgotten by Jeter, and thought about more and more as the Captain heads off into the the sunset. Congratulations to Derek Jeter on a fabulous career, and Happy Birthday to the late, great Scooter!