Phil Rizzuto recently passed away at the age of 89, and since his death there have been thousands of words written about his importance to the Yankees, both as a player and later as a broadcaster. This post probably will not break any new ground, but instead be a rememberance from my childhood and early years as a Yankees fan.
When I think about my first experiences watching Yankees games, the first thing I think of is Rizzuto's voice as he called the games. Scooter, Tom Seaver, Bill White and Frank Messer called the games and were, in my opinion, the best announcing team the Yankees have compiled in my time as a fan. Rizzuto was the ultimate homer; he had played for the team during the glory days of the 40's and 50's, and did nothing to hide the fact that he was rooting for the Yanks to win every game. It was through his announcing that I learned about the team, to root for Mattingly, Winfield, Randolph, Tommy John, and later, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter. His exclamations of "Holy Cow!" and "Can you believe it?!" were hardly original, but didn't sound the same to us Yankees fans if they were coming from anyone else (Cubs fans and others, feel free to disagree). He'd talk about local restaurants, where to find the best cannolis, his beloved wife Cora, and his need to leave during the 7th inning to beat the traffic (or sometimes, the thunder and lightning storms he so feared).
Mostly, though, he'd talk about his love of the Yankees. His stories, combined with my dad's rememberances from his childhood, set the basis for my interest in the team's history, about guys like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, but also players largely forgotten by history, like Tony Kubek, Gene Woodling, and Joe Page. His presence connected the present day Yankees to the classic teams, especially important during the near-misses of the late 80's and lean years of the early 90's. During that time, when such luminaries as Andy Hawkins took the mound, all the Yankees had was their history.
Somehow, Yankees games weren't the same once he retired, and now, the Yankees won't be the same because he is gone. Rest in peace Scooter, and thanks for helping make me a lifelong Yankees fan.