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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

/// I heard Rizzuto talk at Hofstra University about ten years ago, one of the funniest monologues I've ever heard. I had a tape of it; wish to hell I could find it. ///


By John B Holway

Fans used to say that Phil Rizzuto, 5’6” tall, was standing in a hole at shortstop, which didn't make me laugh, because I'm also 5’6.

As a broadcaster, Phil, who died this week at 89, had his own way of scoring the game. For example, “ww” meant “wasn't watching.”

In 1941 pitcher Lefty Gomez called the rookie to the mound. “Kid, is your mother here?” “Yes sir, Mr Gomez.” “Well, stay here and talk to me awhile, she'll think you're giving advice to the great Lefty Gomez.” Phil beamed and a short while later hit his first homer.

The next month I saw him hit his second.

Phil went on to amass 38 in his career.

He and his friend, Boston’s Johnny Pesky, had a standing bet every year on who would hit the most homers. Rizzuto won seven times, Pesky only once, 1951, when he edged Phil 3-2. Twice, 1946 and 1953, they tied with two apiece.

But in batting average there was no contest. Phil batted .273, Johnny .307, one of the highest ever for a shortstop. It would have been even higher if John hadn't lost three years in World War II. He also lost the chance to lead the league in hits in his first six years. Phil was the biggest advocate to put John in the Hall of Fame beside him.

A third shortstop, about five years older, Cecil Travis, topped them both with .314 and even beat Joe DiMaggio with .359 in 1941, the year Joe hit in 56 straight. That gave Cece a .327 lifetime average, tied with Honus Wagner as best among shortstops. After four years at war, including combat in the Battle of the Bulge, he slumped to .314.

Of the three, only Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame. I urged Cooperstown to hold a special election for Pesky, Travis, and Dom DiMaggio to honor their missing war-time years, but the Hall refused. The suspicion is strong that that’s because they didn't wear NY on their caps.

Travis died this year at 93, still waiting for the phone call from Cooperstown, which never came.

Pesky will turn 88 in September. Will he wait in vain as well?

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