Phil Rizzuto and the Jumpin' Bunt
Former Yankees' shortstop and radio announcer Phil Rizzuto died today at age 89. The New York Times has a nice write up of the man's life, which included a description of a startling play that the fireplug made in 1951.
The Times describes it thusly: "In the first, Rizzuto was at bat against Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians. With DiMaggio on third base, Rizzuto took Lemon’s first pitch and argued the called strike with the umpire. That gave him time to grab his bat from both ends, the sign to DiMaggio that a squeeze play was on for the next pitch. But DiMaggio broke early, surprising Rizzuto. With Joltin’ Joe bearing down on him, Rizzuto laid down a bunt on a pitch that Lemon threw at his head.
'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.'
DiMaggio scored the winning run, and Lemon angrily hurled the ball at the press box. Stengel called it 'the greatest play I ever saw.'"
Well, knock me over the head with a wet baseball card. That does sound like one of the greatest plays ever--in fact, had I seen something to that effect at the Dome I most certainly would have embarrassed myself by shouting out something to like "Holy Fuck!" around a coven of young children and old ladies.
But that's part of the joy of this sport. Not swearing around the innocent, but the utter surprise from incredible and unlikely plays. Even in a year such as this, which, for all intents and purposes, is going to go down as one of the dullest in recent years, we can thrill to individual plays in specific games, or even marvel at a tale told from a game long, long ago.
Phil Rizzuto barely registers in my own personal firmament, and is not a player I would go out of my way to read or talk about. I didn't dislike him, but I just never found his career or his stories all that interesting--and that goes for the rest of the Yankees (I'll take the Brooklyn Dodgers over the Bombers any day). But I mark Rizzuto's passing with satisfied smirk and a small offer of thanks over a play that still energizes this fan almost sixty years later.