It is said that fame is fleeting. But for a chosen few, it becomes eternal.
Plugging an obvious hole at shortstop, the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee elected New York Yankees great Phil Rizzuto Friday, 38 years after his playing career ended.
Voted into the Hall along with Rizzuto was the late Leo Durocher, whose 40-year baseball career was highlighted by his 24 years as a manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. Durocher anchored the infield of St. Louis' famed "Gas House Gang" Cardinals in the mid-1930s. "Leo the Lip" died in 1991, with more than 2,000 major-league managing victories to his credit.
Holding its annual election meeting at Tampa's Marriott Airport Hotel, the Veterans Committee ended Rizzuto's long quest for the Hall by giving him the mandatory 75 percent on the second ballot. This was Rizzuto's 13th year of eligibility before the Veterans Committee, after 15 years of being passed over in the regular Hall of Fame voting, conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"When we used to pick sides on the sandlot, I always got picked last, and this was the same thing," said Rizzuto, who at 5-foot-5 was nicknamed "Scooter."
"But it doesn't matter as long as you get your chance. I'll tell you, it's taken away all the disappointment from the years I didn't get in and all the mumbling I did about it. It's something they'll never be able to take away from me."
Rizzuto has been a Yankees broadcaster since 1957, but in recent years fans and media have started a movement on behalf of his enshrinement. His Hall chances were thought to be at an all-time high this year, thanks to the inclusion on the Veterans Committee of former Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, former Yankees teammate Yogi Berra, and onetime National League first baseman Bill White, who was Rizzuto's broadcast partner before becoming NL president.
"I thought if I ever got in that maybe Phil and I would go in together, but it was a little bit late," said Reese, Rizzuto's contemporary, elected in 1984. "But as they say, the idea is to get in. And he's in. He's very happy. I asked him (on the phone), "How's your golf game,' and he said, "Who cares now?' "
After four hours of deliberations, the 16-member committee (members Ted Williams and Stan Musial did not attend) asked Berra to call his former teammate at home in Hillside, N.J.
"He was like, "You're kidding,' " Berra said. "You know how he always talks. "Holy cow,' and all that. He was very appreciative. I played with him for 11 years, and without him I don't think we could have done it. He kept us together."
Rizzuto, 76, a five-time All-Star who was named AL MVP in 1950, said the thought of having Hall of Famer precede his name will take getting used to. "It's hard for me to fathom. When people say it, I'll probably turn around and look for someone else. When Yogi called, I wasn't even sure. He's so low-key, I figured he was just kidding.
"I'll probably get a lot of heat from some people who say my friends finally got me in there, but it won't take away from it for me. I'm still up on cloud nine."
The committee considered 23 names on its first ballot, advancing the top 10 finishers to a second ballot. Only one person can be elected in each of the committee's two categories: former players; and former managers, executives, umpires, and Negro League stars.
Others who received strong consideration but fell short in the secret balloting were longtime Phillies outfielder Richie Ashburn, Dodgers first baseman and Mets manager Gil Hodges, and National League founder William Hulbert.
Durocher, who died in 1991 at age 86, had a .540 winning percentage as a manager and ranks sixth in wins (2,010-1,710). He managed the New York Giants to their improbable NL pennant in 1951 and won his only World Series with the Giants in 1954. In a playing career that spanned 1925-1945, Durocher batted .247 with 1,320 hits.
Rizzuto, Durocher and former Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton _ the 1994 BBWA selection _ will be inducted in Cooperstown, N.Y., July 31.