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Sunday, June 26, 2011

EXCLUSIVE: WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT PHIL RIZZUTO

What a wonderful day. Old Timer’s Day is a terrific day to see all the greats and reflect on the ones that have passed; Bobby Murcer, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto…the list goes on.

As an Italian American, I have always had a fondness for Italian Yankees and I wrote about that in WHY I ROOT FOR THE ITALIANS. I love the stories of Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto and loved watching guys like Danny Pasqua and Mike Pagliarulo play.

(In Photo: Phil Stoehr)

In my lifetime, I’ve met and known some interesting people and while I was never fortunate enough to meet someone like the great Phil Rizzuto, I am lucky enough to know Phil’s nephew, Phil Stoehr who is a family friend and who has a lovely family himself. Phil and I share the same passion…baseball and the New York Yankees.

Phil and I rarely speak about Phil Rizzuto, although we all know that he was Phil’s nephew. So when Bleeding Yankee Blue started, Phil was always in the back of my mind. We reached out and Mr. Stoehr was gracious enough to give us an interview about his uncle. So Ladies and Gentlemen, you’ll only get this type of interview here and it’s the stuff you never knew about Phil Rizzuto…so enjoy it, I learned a lot.

BYB: What is your earliest and fondest memory of Phil Rizzuto?

Phil Stoehr: My earliest memory of my uncle is from 1948. I was only 3 years old and the Yankees honored him at the Stadium. I was too young to understand what was going on, but I remember the entire family, my mother and father, brother and grandmother and grandfather. Even my aunts and uncles attended. In the book, Phil Rizzuto by Joe Trimble, there are some photos of that day. As I said, even though I didn’t fully understand the events of the day, somewhere in the back of my mind, I realized I had a very special uncle.

BYB: Did Mr. Rizzuto ever tell stories about his days on the Yankees? Can you share one with us?

Phil Stoehr: Although he was a great story teller while broadcasting, he was much different in sharing stories about his days as a player. He would talk about the travelling, which he hated and his fear of flying. In those days, you didn’t talk about what went on in the clubhouse and afterwards. As the years went by, he was more concerned with what movie was playing on the plane. He once told me he switched planes because he had already seen the movie that was playing. Once in the hotel, he would often call home and while speaking to my Aunt Cora, he would read the menu over the phone so she could tell him what was best for him to order.

BYB: Was Mr. Rizzuto’s favorite dessert really Cannolis?

Phil Stoehr: Although he loved all Italian Pastries, to my knowledge his favorite dessert was a good old crumb cake and a cup of coffee.

BYB: Was Mr. Rizzuto the life of the party at family functions or was he reserved?

Phil Stoehr: My uncle was always the focus of family functions because of his celebrity status. He was always traveling with the team and because he lived in New Jersey, which in those days seemed like another country, we didn’t see him that often so it was very special when we all got together. However, coming from a strong Italian family, make no mistake that it was my grandfather who was the head of the family. My uncle and everyone else in the family understood that and always gave him the respect he deserved. When my grandfather talked, everyone listened.

BYB: Which Rizzuto did you admire most; the player or the broadcaster and why?

Phil Stoehr: This is an easy question. The “Rizzuto” I admired the most was the “Rizzuto” that was my uncle. He was a great ballplayer and a great announcer, but he was even a greater uncle. Family always came first to Uncle Phil. He treated everyone the same and never overshadowed his other brothers and sisters. He was always very gracious and what’s more, would expect nothing in return. In any family situation, he would be the first to say “what can I do to help?” We should all be so lucky to have a family member like him.


BYB: Did you know all the Money Store commericals are on YouTube?

Phil Stoehr: I did not, however I’ve since taken a look at them and they certainly bring back a lot of fond memories. He always talked about how he enjoyed doing them. Interestingly, when he passed away, in August of 2007 and many people paid their condolences to me, it was the Money Store commericals that they remembered most.

BYB: You were at the #10 number retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium in 1985. Tell us what it was like for you to see your uncle receiving such a high honor as a New York Yankee?

Phil Stoehr: I was at the #10 retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium in 1985 along with other family members. It’s an awesome feeling to see 50,000 plus fans clapping and cheering for my uncle. It’s quite an honor to have your number retired by the Yankees; it means you’re the one of the best among the best sports franchises in history. The day was proud and emotional, plus full of laughter. After all, who else could have been knocked over by a cow during the ceremony.

BYB: Were you at the Hall of Fame induction? If so, describe the emotion of that day?

Phil Stoehr: I was fortunate enough to be at the Hall of Fame induction in 1994. My uncle charted a bus to take all the family up to Cooperstown. We all met at his house early in the morning for the ride up, where we shared stories amongst us. Once at Cooperstown, I can’t tell you how proud I, along with the rest of the family, felt at that moment. To see him be inducted into the Hall of Fame, the highest level of accomplishment that can bestowed upon a baseball player, can’t be described in words. There were tears in our eyes, until he started to give his speech, then it was non-stop laughter. I don’t think there was ever a speech like his, but it was so reflective as to the type of person he was. To this day, it’s still regarded as one of the most unbelievable speeches of all time. Thank God I was there to witness it firsthand.

BYB: We are fans of Mr. Rizzuto here at Bleeding Yankee Blue. Did you happen to see our piece titled HOLY COW! ALL ABOUT RIZZUTO? YOU BET? What did you think?

Phil Stoehr: I did see the piece and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was a nice tribute to his life, starting with his playing days and then his broardcast career, along with his devotion to family and his chartiable work. I’ve met the young man who became blind. His name is Ed Lucas and to this day he is still considered part of our family. I also enjoyed the great photos you posted.

BYB: Do you read Bleeding Yankee Blue? If so, what do you think?

Phil Stoehr: I am now a big fan of Bleeding Yankee Blue. It’s a great website. Whether you’re looking for information or stats on past or current Yankees, it’s there. The profiles on each player are not only informative, but give you a perspective you don’t normally see on other websites. I will do my best to promote Bleeding Yankee Blue. Keep up the good work.

Just 2 more things, being you will post this on Old Timer’s Day, I was at the ballpark for Old Timer’s day on August 25, 1956 and I couldn’t understand why I didn’t see my uncle at the game. As it turned out, that was the day he was released and I didn’t know about it until I got home. He was devastated.

Also, I need to say, I’ve been very fortunate to have an uncle that was a great ballplayer and famous personality, but I’ve been most fortunate to have known him as a person. When he passed away in 2007 and people expressed their sorrow, they didn’t talk about his ball playing or his broadcasting skills, they talked about his qualities as a human being. A man who was down to earth, non-pretentious, a family oriented man and a class act. He was really one of the good ones and is still missed by all.

Phil, thank you so much for taking the time and giving us a personal perspective of your uncle many of us didn’t know about. It was tremendous and we will be sure to keep your interview on our website as long as we are in existence. Thanks Phil…thanks a million.

Please comment and let me know what you think and follow me on Twitter @BleednYankeeBlu and join the group Bleeding Yankee Blue on Facebook, just type it in.

7 comments:

  1. this is wonderful

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  2. What a terrific piece, It was good to see the Uncle Phil side of him. I am overjoyed that Phil shared that with you.

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  3. Such a great piece. I'm officially a BYB fan.

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  4. Great story! We now have two famous Phil's in the family.

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  5. That was fun to read! Great Job Uncle Phil!

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  6. Nice story about a great man and Yankee player. Makes me proud to be an Italian American

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  7. Every year I attended old timers day in my Phil Rizzuto #10 Yankee shirt to honor the great Phil Rizzuto. As a 12 year old Youngster in 1952 I waited for Phil to come out of the Stadium to greet him. As a 36 year old married man with a 13 year old son I met Phil in Detroit before Opening Day in 1987 and solidified my relationship with him when he invited us into his Hotel room and called Cora to tell her he met two "hulkle berries" from the Bronx who were in town to see the Yankees. From that time on we stayed in contact with him and visited him in the press booth where he treated us as family. We organized a grass roots group called the "Scooter Rooters" and attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in which we took two busloads of 80 people to Cooperstown. He called me at home to say thank you for your support and welcomed us at other staduims when we visited him in Comisky Park or on the road. A true down to earth gentleman who will always be in my memories.
    Ray

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