Phil Rizzuto had a memorable career, playing on seven World Championship teams. He batted .273, hit 38 home runs, and batted in 563 runs. He was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1950, but it was two plays that occurred within a month of each other in 1951 that fans will always identify with Phil Rizzuto.
A Key September Game Against the Indians
The Yankees led the Indians by 0.003 percentage points on Monday, September 17. Bob Lemon was pitching another masterful game but Ed Lopat matched him, pitch for pitch and each had yielded one run as the Yankees batted in the bottom of ninth.
Joe DiMaggio’s Infield Hit
With one out, Joe DiMaggio hit a high bounder to third base. Al Rosen attempted to field the ball on the short hop, fumbled it, and then dropped it as DiMaggio reached first on an infield single. Gene Woodling followed with a hard ground ball to the right side between first baseman Luke Easter and second baseman Bobby Avila, with DiMaggio moving to third.
Phil Rizzuto Bats With the Bags Full of Yankees
Indians’ manger Al Lopez had Bobby Brown walked intentionally to load the bases, bringing up Phil Rizzuto, who was described by baseball writers as “a much feared and resourceful batsman in such situations.”
Standing on third base, DiMaggio turned to third baseman Al Rosen. “You know Al, I think he’s going to bunt.” Rosen responded, “I know he is.”
Lemon delivered and Phi took strike one. Lemon again went into his windup as DiMaggio took off for home. Lemon fired a fast ball high and inside as he saw what was happening, but Rizzuto put down a beautiful bunt that rolled on the grass in front of the plate as catcher Jim Hegan froze. Lemon went for the ball, picked it up ten feet from home plate, and watched DiMaggio score the winning run.
“If I didn’t bunt, the pitch would’ve hit me right in the head,” Rizzuto said. “I bunted it with both feet off the ground, but I got it off toward first base.” Casey Stengel called it “the greatest play I ever saw.”
A few weeks later, the Yankees and Giants had split the first two games of the World Series. New York was leading the Yankees, 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning. With one out, Eddie Stanky walked. With the count one strike on Alvin Dark, Yogi Berra called for a pitchout. Yogi grabbed Vic Raschi’s delivery and fired to Rizzuto, who was covering second.
A Legal Play
As Rizzuto waited with ball to tag Stanky, but Stanky moved his right foot into Phil’s glove and knocked the ball toward center field. Stanky moved to third as the error led to five unearned runs. Casey Stengel charged out of the dugout to protest Stanky’s actions, but umpire Bill Summers ruled that Stanky’s play was legal.
After the game, Phil admitted, “I was nonchalanting it, I was looking at the TV camera.”
But in the clubhouse, Phil really laced into the umpiring and Stanky. “Stanky hasn’t touched second yet. On the level, he couldn’t have possibly reached the bag. I had it blocked too well. He’s tricky. He got away with plenty on that one. Summers was in no position to see the play. I told him, ‘Even if you don’t call him out for kicking the ball out of my hand — and that’s interference — you must call him out for not touching second base.”
Eddie Stanky claimed innocence. The former soccer player, who hadn’t lost his kicking skills, said to reporters, “You writers all have me labeled wrong. You attribute ulterior motives to everything I do. Yet I’m a completely innocent guy,entirely free from guile.”
Phil Rizzuto never forgave Stanky, but he didn’t have to wait long for payback. It rained the next day, which gave Allie Reynolds the rest he needed to start Game 4. The Yankees won in six games, and Phil Rizzuto was voted the Series MVP. Quite a year for the player who today is considered the second best shortstop in Yankees’ history.
By JOHN DREBINGER. (1951, September 18). RIZZUTO BUNT ENDS STADIUM THRILLER :DiMaggio Tallies and Yanks Down Indians, 2-1. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 39. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 84868267).
By ROSCOE McGOWEN, The New York Times. (1951, October 7). Stanky’s Slide, Knocking Ball Out of Rizzuto’s Glove, Regarded as Key Play, New York Times (1857-Current file),168. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 90490199).
By JOHN DREBINGER The New York Times. (1951, October 7). 5 IN FIFTH DECIDE :Lockman 3-Run Homer, TWO Yankee Misplays Help Giants Win, New York Times (1857-Current file),167. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 90490198).
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1951, October 7). Sports of The Times :Rendezous With Destiny?. New York Times (1857-Current file),168. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 90490205).
By JAMES P. DAWSON, The New York Times. (1951, October 7). Bombers Loud in Criticism of Decisive ‘Field Goal’ Kick in the Fifth Inning, New York Times (1857-Current file),169. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 90490210).
Phil Rizzuto’s Defining Plays