NEW YORK (Reuters) - Phil Rizzuto, a former New York Yankees shortstop and Hall of Fame member who played on seven World Series champions before becoming the team’s long-time broadcast voice, has died at the age of 89, the Yankees said on Tuesday.
“I guess heaven must have needed a shortstop,” Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner said.
“Phil Rizzuto’s contributions to the Yankees and the sport of baseball were immense for a period of over 50 years. He was one of the greatest Yankees of all time and a dear, close friend of mine whose loss is enormous to me and to the entire Yankee family,” Steinbrenner said in a statement.
Rizzuto played his entire 13-year career with the Yankees and started at shortstop in nine World Series, with the so-called Bronx Bombers taking the championship seven times.
After his playing career, interrupted for three years of military service during World War Two, he began a long stint as a broadcaster for the team and became known for his signature exclamation “Holy Cow,” as well as occasional obliviousness to what was happening on the field.
Small for a baseball player at only 5-feet, 6-inches (168 cm) tall and some 150 pounds (68 kg), Rizzuto had a career .273 batting average and was regarded as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops with a fielding percentage of .968.
“He was a heck of a player,” former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, 82, said in a statement. “He’s meant an awful lot to baseball and the Yankees and has left us with a lot of wonderful memories.”
Nicknamed the “Scooter” because of his short legs, the Brooklyn-born Rizzuto began his Major League career in 1941, playing in his first World Series against the hometown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers.
He was named American League Most Valuable Player in 1950, when he hit .324 and scored 125 runs.
“There will never be another -- and generations of New Yorkers, young and old, will miss him, his stories, his passion for the game, and his love of the Yankees,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.
Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and 2008 presidential candidate, said that “as a lifelong Yankee fan, Phil was one of my childhood heroes ... Everyone will miss the Yankee Scooter.”
In 1994 Rizzuto was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, 34 years after he first became eligible for the honor.
“Thank God for baseball,” he said at the time. “The era I played in was the greatest baseball ever played, but boy, I would like to play just one year now at the money they are making now.”
Additional reporting by Philip Barbara and Jeremy Pelofsky
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