Phil Rizzuto died this week, prompting Yankee fans to memorialize his great moments as a Hall of Fame shortstop and announcer. Sure, he was the American League MVP in 1950, and his “Holy Cow” calls are legendary. But growing up in Philadelphia, long after Rizzuto’s playing career was over, I didn’t know anything about his sacrifice bunts or his affable gameday ramblings. I simply knew him as the guy from The Money Store.
The Money Store? They have a store for money? I loved the old crackpot who tried to sell me this absurd idea by wearing big glasses and talking loud. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but commercials seemed different then. Simpler. More direct. Cheaper.
So when Scooter Rizutto died, I didn’t search my memory for double plays, I searched You Tube for old commercials, to bring back the era of my youth, the era of Crazy Eddie, Ballpark Franks, and the weirdly sexual Don’t Squeeze the Charmin ads (Measure it?).
But back to baseball. Peter Rose was the perfect salesman for the 1970s and 80s working man. Here he tells us that Aqua Velva doesn’t contain any ‘fancy perfumes.’ Here he has an olfactory discussion at second base with Joe Morgan, and here is another infield sing-along. Perhaps, if he has no future in baseball, Charlie Hustle should hit the Karaoke scene.
I couldn’t find one of my favorite baseball ads form the period, Johnny Bench’s “No runs, no drips, no errors” spot for Krylon paint. But I did run across Reggie Jackson’s smooth take on his own candy bar, Jim Plamer’s love of Brylcream, the one for soft hair, and an odd promo for gym shorts by the Money Store man himself.
In my reconstruction of my early life with commercials, the low-budget local ads are the ones that take me back to the weird smells and drab colors of early adolescence, while the big-budget national beer ads remind me of the angry diffidence of my teen years. Bob Eucker figures in both. When I watch him hawking cars in a loud suit, he conjures up swimming pools and thoughtless summer days.
Uecker moved on, though, bringing some of that non-threatening, average-white-guy humor to Miller Lite as Mr. Baseball. Eventually more money poured into the ads, and Madison Avenue crammed more and more celebrities into the spots. Things got weird. By then ads were as embarrassing as the portrait that my parents commissioned of my brother and me on the steps of our high school (I will not post this).
Bob Eucker kept at it. Here he is introducing a Burger King meatloaf sandwich. I mention this in order to segue to the only other reason I knew Phil Rizzuto as a pre-teen — Meat Loaf’s 1977 rock operetta, ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light.’ In it, baseball is a metaphor for teenage sex. As a woman moans in the background, Rizzuto’s voice describes the horny Meat Loaf’s trip around the bases. Finally he says, “The suicide squeeze is on. Here he comes, squeeze play, it’s gonna be close. Here’s the throw, here’s the play at the plate. Holy cow, I think he’s gonna make it!”
Did the Money Store man know what the hell he was lending his voice to? Or was he as innocent as I was? In spirit perhaps, we were both like the characters in the song: “Ain’t no doubt about it. We were doubly blessed. Cause we were barely 17 and we were barely dressed.”
I doubt Rizzuto knew…he probably didn’t even own the tape; farely certain broadcasts are owned by the team being announced for. Rizzuto had to scrap to make money, not like the guys nowadays. Every player pre-free agency did!