Sat, Feb 04, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Phil Rizzuto out to auction items from MLB's golden age

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

The gent with the camel's hair blazer, snappy scarf and thinning silver hair walked gingerly to the microphone. For 40 years after the pixieish shortstop's retirement from playing, he had an affectionate relationship with microphones built on his calls of balls, strikes, birthdays and cannoli.

That is past. Phil Rizzuto is not the public man he once was, not at Yankee Stadium, not in a car racing over the George Washington Bridge in the seventh inning to beat the post-game traffic. He is 88 years old, a bit frail, still eating cannoli, still playing a little golf.

Rizzuto is the oldest living baseball Hall of Famer, and, with Yogi Berra, the recipient of the generous fan adoration once reserved for Joe DiMaggio that is displayed annually at the Yankees' Old-Timers' Day.

"Holy cow!" Rizzuto said into the microphone, in the rear of Mickey Mantle's Manhattan restaurant, where television screens played images of the Scooter as a younger man. "They told me I didn't have to say a word."

He did not say much more into the microphone; he did not venture into the kind of stream-of-consciousness monologue that characterized his wacky Hall of Fame induction speech in 1994. He seemed shy, nearly 10 years from the spotlight. Maybe he needed a game, a plate of garlic shrimp and Bill White to energize him.

Rizzuto sat at a table and picked on a small plate of ziti. The news media watched him eat rather than fling questions at him. Then the pasta got cold, which must be a culinary tragedy in the life of the Scooter.

Rizzuto was at Mantle's with his wife, Cora; two of his daughters, Patricia and Penny; and one of his granddaughters, Jennifer, to announce his plans to auction much of his memorabilia this summer. He is selling a trove through Geppi's Memorabilia Road Show that features a rookie uniform, a LeRoy Neiman painting of him, his 1953 and 1996 World Series rings, a plaque presented by Don Larsen to his teammates after his perfect game in 1956, and a frayed and blackened Yankees cap from the late 1940's, with a wad of nearly petrified Rizzuto-chewed gum the top.

Rizzuto said the collection of at least 1,000 pieces is "something I'm very proud of, yet I'm a little scared. I want to get rid of it once and for all. Well, you don't get rid of it."

He is keeping his 1950 American League most valuable player trophy (Cora was wearing her glittering 2000 World Series pendant), but he is parting with the platinum record he received for his play-by-play of a makeout session on Meat Loaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light.

Patricia Rizzuto, who works for Conair, a companyfounded by another clan of Rizzutos, said her family wanted to sell the items "while he's alive, so he can thank his fans for the loyalty they've shown him."

The trove has been stored and displayed at the Rizzutos' Hillside, New Jersey, house, where the Rizzuto children, including Cindy and Phil Jr. (inevitably, Scooter Jr., to all but his wife, Patricia said) were raised. The elder Rizzutos want to move to a smaller place, where the memorabilia would not fit.

Rizzuto said his health was good despite a recent unexplained illness.

"I was laid out for six months," he said. "They loaded me with steroids."

DiMaggio presumably never exhibited huckleberry tendencies, and was the star of a prized Rizzuto tale of his suicide-squeeze play against Cleveland in September 1951.

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