Phil Rizzuto died at age 89 years on Tuesday. I remember him when he played with the other famous Yankee’s of that era. He was a great New York Yankee short stop who ended up in the Hall of Fame. Known as "the scooter" he played for the Yankee’s during the 1940’s and 1950’s. He played in five All-Star games and was a flashy player who played alongside people like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. He had tried out with the Brooklyn Dodges and New York Giants when he was sixteen years old, but it’s reported that because of his diminutive size for a baseball player, Dodgers manager Casey Stengel told him "Go get a shoeshine box." He ended up being one of Stengel’s favorite players. After his baseball playing ended in 1956 he became a baseball broadcaster.
Rizzuto was only 5-foot 6 inches and I was reminded of another famous short stop, Pee Wee Reese, the Brooklyn Dodger’s "little Colonel" who was 5-feet 10 and but weighed just 160 pounds. He played shortstop for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1940 to 1958 and was ten times an All Star shortstop. Reese was remembered for his support of Jackie Robinson at a time when baseball was segregated. When manager Branch Rickey hired Robinson, in a move to break the color barrier, the other members of the team would get up and move to another table if Robinson sat down. Some tried to injure him with their spikes and pitchers would often throw at his head. Death threats were common for him. His own teammates began to gather a petition to dismiss him from the team. It was Pee Wee Reese who not only refused to sign it, but when the Cincinnati Red’s crowd on their first road trip began screaming at Robinson, Pee Wee put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder and when the crowd grew quiet said "This man is my teammate." What’s significant about that is that Reese was born and raised in segregated Louisville, Kentucky. That act and the respect Reese had as a player who backed Robinson was the turning point in the acceptance of Robinson as a player. Reese, like Rizzuto, became a baseball announcer after his retirement.