He remembers every little thing as if it happened only yesterday.
In the summer of 1976, Michael Lee Aday (aka Meat Loaf) spent his time listening to one New York Yankee game after another, jotting down everything that emerged from the mouth of the team's TV color commentator, Phil Rizzuto. Though Meat Loaf wasn't looking for anything in particular, he uncovered verbal gold. "Phil was one of the greatest storytellers baseball has ever seen," said Meat Loaf on Wednesday afternoon, two days after Rizzuto's death at age 89. "He would talk about the game, but he'd also talk about Billy Martin's fishing trip or a great restaurant nearby or somebody's 50th birthday. He was very unique."
From all those days and nights in front of the television, Meat Loaf -- along with legendary song writer Jim Steinman -- pieced together what is, without question, the most famous baseball play-by-play call in the history of sexually themed rock 'n' roll songs performed by a man nicknamed for diced cattle parts placed in a pan and baked for 45 minutes at 375 degrees (350 if your oven tends to run hot).
Without Rizzuto's contribution, "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" still goes down as a fantastic piece of rock opera.
With Rizzuto's contribution, it is an all-time classic.
"Phil was an absolutely huge part of that song," Meat Loaf said. "Huge. You have a tempo change, then all of sudden there's this baseball play-by-play this amazing baseball play-by-play."
For those of you out of the Meat Loaf loop, "Paradise By the Dashboard Light," off of the famed "Bat Out of Hell" albums, tells the story of a teenage boy trying to talk his girlfriend into sex. For the first 3½ minutes, Meat Loaf leads one into believing the kid just might get lucky -- "We're gonna go all the way tonight; We're gonna go all the way; And tonight's the night ... "
Boom! Enter Phil Rizzuto, speaking in that casual way, his nasally voice reciting the lines prepared by Meat Loaf and Steinman as if he were describing Chris Chambliss or Mickey Rivers or Graig Nettles:
"OK, here we go, we got a real pressure cooker going here. Two down, nobody on, no score, bottom of the ninth. There's the windup, and there it is. A line shot up the middle, look at him go. This boy can really fly. He's rounding first and really turning it on now. He's not letting up at all, he's gonna try for second. The ball is bobbled out in the center. And here's the throw and what a throw. He's gonna slide in head first. Here he comes, he's out. No, wait, safe, safe at second base. This kid really makes things happen out there. Batter steps up to the plate. Here's the pitch, he's going. And what a jump he's got. He's trying for third. Here's the throw. It's in the dirt, safe a third. Holy cow, stolen base. He's taking a pretty big lead out there. Almost daring them to pick him off. The pitcher glances over, winds up and it's bunted. Bunted down the third-base line. 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!"
With a soft chuckle, Meat Loaf warmly remembered the first time he and Steinman reached out to Rizzuto. The future Hall of Famer was represented by former Met Art Shamsky, who told Meat Loaf that, "Phil will do it, but he wants to know if people have to get high to listen to it."
"No," Meat Loaf replied. "You can be sober and enjoy it, too."
Rizzuto arrived at Manhattan's The Hit Factory one day in 1976, met with Meat Loaf and Steinman and read over his lines. He initially expected to sing something ("I love to sing," Rizzuto once told the National Post. "All Italians love to sing. We're not all good, but most of us are good."), then asked why every play was so close. When he finally recorded, Rizzuto's delivery was flat and wooden. "Just do it like it's a game," Meat Loaf advised.
The second take was perfect.
In the world of Meat Loaf Trivia (check the Internet -- such a world exists), there has long been debate over whether Rizzuto was aware of what, exactly, he was being put up to. Would a nice Italian Catholic boy feel comfortable equating baseball with sex? Publicly, Rizzuto maintained he had no idea.
Privately, Meat Loaf said he understands the truth.
"Phil was no dummy -- he knew exactly what was going on, and he told me such," Meat Loaf said. "He was just getting some heat from a priest and felt like he had to do something. I totally understood. But I believe Phil was proud of that song and his participation."
Though he and Rizzuto spoke only sporadically over the years, Meat Loaf took the news of his musical partner's passing hard. A die-hard Yankees fan dating back to his boyhood in Dallas, Meat Loaf was raised watching Mantle and Maris and Ford and Berra and, yes, Rizzuto on the televised Game of the Week.
He has performed "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" in concert, oh, 7,000 times since the song's release in 1977, always making certain to play Rizzuto's part over PA systems ranging from Yakima to Yonkers, Los Angeles to London, New York to Newfoundland.
"I think that's why I feel so close to him," Meat Loaf said. "Every night I hear him. Every night I'll continue to hear him." He paused. "That," Meat Loaf said, "is a wonderful thing."
Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero," now available in paperback. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHIL RIZZUTO: 1917-2007
Phil Rizzuto, a baseball Hall of Famer who won seven World Series titles with the New York Yankees, has died at 89. "The Scooter" was the 1950 American League MVP, and followed his playing career with a 40-year stint in the Yankees' broadcast booth.NAME: Philip Francis Rizzuto.
NICKHAME: The Scooter.
BORN: Sept. 25, 1917; DIED: Aug. 14, 2007
BIRTHPLACE: Brooklyn, N.Y.
PLAYING CAREER: A total of 13 seasons with New York Yankees, interrupted by three seasons when he was in the U.S. Navy. A sure-handed shortstop, prolific leadoff man who helped lead the Yankees to seven World Series titles.
BROADCASTING CAREER: Spent 40 years calling Yankees games. Famous for his attention to birthdays, get-well wishes and his between-innings cannolis. He is most famous for his signature phrase, "Holy Cow!" used whenever a great play was made.
FAMILY: Wife Cora Anne Esselborn, daughters Cindy Rizzuto, Patricia Rizzuto and Penny Rizzuto Yetto; son Phil Rizzuto Jr.; and two granddaughters.
HONORS: Most Valuable Player in 1950. Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
• Jerry Coleman