A.J. Richard, Phil Rizzuto and Me

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One of my blogs earlier this year had the headline “Cover the CE Industry, See the World.” I can also say with assurance, “Cover the CE industry and meet celebrities.” I’ve met many over the years and the news of the passing of New York Yankee Hall of Fame shortstop and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto yesterday reminded me of that.

In June 1996 I covered the annual P.C. Richard Foundation Golf & Tennis Classic held in Manhasset, N.Y. Along with P.C. Richard & Son elder statesman A.J. Richard (the “son” in the title), Gary Richard, Gregg Richard, Bill Trawick (who now heads the NATM Buying Group) the usual group of industry suppliers were there.

There were tons of former New York-area baseball, football, hockey and basketball stars, most notably Rizzuto; his old teammate, the great left-handed pitcher Whitey Ford; and a special guest, N.Y. Daily News sports cartoonist Bill Gallo.

With our usual freelance photographer Alan Perlman along, I introduced myself to Phil and Bill Gallo, said the usual lines about being a great fans of both and Alan got the shot. As both of us wandered around the cocktail party, taking pictures and exchanging small talk with guests, Bill Trawick came up and asked if we could get a shot of Phil and A.J.

Well, Rizzuto was already sitting at a table talking to a few of the sports stars and maybe having some lasagna … because it was too early for a cannoli. Intimidated, I sheepishly went over and asked, “Mr. Rizzuto, could we bother you again to take another picture?” He turned, smiled and practically jumped from his chair, shook my hand and said, “Sure! That’s why I’m here!” He walked over to A.J., who eventually was named to the CE Hall Of Fame, and exchanged in some friendly banter with Phil, and Alan got a great shot.

I’ve met a few celebrities over the years and Rizzuto had to be the most down-to-earth guy you’d meet.

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Phil Rizzuto and A.J. Richard

last typical Rizzuto story: In 1984 my wife Marion came up with the bright idea to have Phil announce my birthday during a Yankee broadcast the same day. She didn’t bribe him by sending cannolis, or another of his favorite Italian delicacies, to Yankee Stadium. She took the high road and made a donation to the ALS Foundation, the ailment commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” in his name if he mentioned my birthday that night.

Well, we had the game on and Marion arranged for a little party. It was happier occasion than normal for that season because on this August night the Yankees were winning, beating Cleveland. In typical Rizzuto fashion, the greeting went something like this:

“Now here’s something we all can do. I got a letter here from Marion Smith.”

“Ball one to Andre Thorton.”

“She’s asking people to make donations to the ALS Foundation.”

“Foul down the right field side.”

“And hey, she lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, along with her husband!”

“Ball two, low and outside.”

“She says that he’s a lifelong Yankee fan and … he’s half Italian!”

“Thorton fouls it straight back, two and two.”

“And it’s Marion’s husband’s birthday! Happy birthday!”

“It’s a ground ball to short. Meacham … over to Griffey … and the inning is over.”

“For the Indians, no runs, no hits, two left on base. After four and half the Yankees 5 and the Indians 1.”

That’s it. Everyone waited until after the commercial break, but in typical Rizzuto fashion he never mentioned my name. Everyone called me “Marion’s husband” the rest of the night.

Last night, watching the tributes to “The Scooter” during the Yankee game, Marion and I remembered “Marion’s husband” and Phil Rizzuto, who was one of a kind.

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