Shortstops Reaching Jack Benny’s Age

What a handsome shortstop looks like once the bubble reputation bursts: Phil Rizzuto.

What a handsome shortstop looks like once the bubble reputation bursts—from the length of those sideburns, I’d say about fifteen years after: Phil Rizzuto.

In North America, professional baseball is readying itself for the oddly named World Series, a best-of-seven-game set between the Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, which will open in Boston in a couple of days. Once again, the Red Sox are resorting to beards to stimulate winning ways. The Cardinals, in the meantime, rely on a Moneyball-like balance to their lineup, good young pitching, and some of the most rabid fans in Major League Baseball. Which is not to say Boston fans, having tasted championships in 2004 and 2007 after a drought from the days of the Great War, are much less avid.

There is little question in my (Evander’s) mind that the two best teams of 2013 are hooking up.

Amidst the delirium, and in an attempt to remain ever quirky and irrelevant fading into the offseason, I want to talk about the two greatest shortstops in the history of the New York Yankees and one interesting fact that they share.

An old showbiz wheeze had Jack Benny stop counting the years aetat. thirty nine. Had Benny played shortstop instead of the violin accompanied by jokes, he would have found this age of no laughing matter.

One month before his thirty-ninth birthday in 1956, Phil Rizzuto played his last game. For this truncated season, he was in thirty one of them, with 52 at-bats, a .231 batting average, and a slugging percentage of the same number.

Derek Jeter turned thirty-nine in mid-season 2013. His statistics for the season: seventeen games played, 63 AB, a .190 BA, and a .254 slugging percentage. (It ought to be pointed out that Jeter had a monster season the year before: 740 plate appearances, 216 hits, a .316 BA, and a .429 slugging percentage.)

Derek Jeter will attempt to handle more than one hundred games at the position in 2014, something only Omar Vizquel and Luke Appling (1949: 142 games!) have ever accomplished. Phil Rizzuto, who possibly sacrificed his greatest seasons in youth to military service, was resorting to the saws of color commentary as a Yankees broadcaster at forty.

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About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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