Saturday, August 18, 2007


This week saw the passing of Phil Rizzuto, and Merv Griffin, and the 25 anniversary of the first CD. All three had their impact on modern culture.

Phil Rizzuto, the "Scooter," was the talented Yankee shortstop who worked hard to make the technical tools of his trade look easy--his smooth fielding, great bunting, and clutch hitting seemed effortless. He was a Yankee that even a Brooklyn Dodger fan could root for (it turned out he was from Brooklyn, and once tried out for the Dodgers). Rizzuto was a Hall of Famer, but he was passed over for the Hall of Fame 15 times by the writers and 11 times by the Veterans Committee. Finally, a persuasive speech by Ted Williams (a pretty good authority) seemed to push Rizzuto into Cooperstown in 1994. "If we'd had Rizzuto in Boston, we'd have won all those pennants instead of New York," Williams often said.

Rizzuto would do anything to win (all with a smile and grace), but he did not take himself too seriously. As a long-time Yankee announcer he was a comfort in chaos, a natural who gave classic status to "Holy Cow," and the Meatloaf song, "Love by the Dashboard Light" (which used his call of a game to achieve a strategic success). Rizzuto was a baseball gentle man who stood tall (in spite of his relatively short size) in contrast to many of our current day players, but whose tradition is being carried on nicely by the Yankee's current shortstop, Derek Jeter.

Merv Griffin is another "down-to-earth" (no pun intended) celebrity who made a recent exit. Merv was mostly remembered in the mass media as a TV impresario (credited as creator of recent era's two most popular game shows, "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy"). He was also remembered for his talk shows, in which he made easy patter a landmark that even Seinfeld's Kramer could relate to. In one memorable episode, Kramer had purchased the set of the Griffin talk show and used it as his living room; Kramer put his all of his visitors (including Jerry, Elaine, and George) into the set and started the easy, now fake-sounding, talk show patter.

I also remembered Merv's hosting of Play Your Hunch early in his career, 1958-1962, when he was a modest, unassuming, former band singer, and easy-to-take game show host of a clever game show. One day, Jack Paar accidentally emerged onto the set of Play Your Hunch during a live broadcast (Paar was superstitiously trying to avoid the elevators at Rockefeller Center), and Griffin held Paar captive for a friendly, unplanned interview. As legend has it, Paar was so impressed by Merv's effort to hold him, that he brought Merv on as a replacement host on the Paar version of the The Tonight Show, and that started Merv's more than 20-year talk show career (1965-1986). Merv made his projects seem easy and accessible, somewhat like the work of Scooter Rizzuto. Merv added much to the lure (or lore) of TV.

The CD and digital sound were first created on August 17, 1982, after the first CD first went into production at a Philips plant in Germany. For the record (pun intended), the first CD, 25 years ago was a copy of "The Visitors" by Abba, with the first batch going on sale in the retail market in November that year. It led to our supposedly better sounding, more portable world of digital music and data. Or do we continue to miss vinyl?

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