Rizzuto renaming caught off base

The New York Yankees have officially lent their support to the movement to rename Smokey Oval Park in Richmond Hill after the late former Yankee Phil Rizzuto, but the process may have hit a snag.
Nancy Cataldi, President of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, said her research has yielded no evidence that the Scooter played ball at Smokey Oval.
Rizzuto grew up in Glendale, not Richmond Hill, as is widely believed, said Cataldi, “and Smokey Oval would have been too far a trip.”
Rizzuto did play at Farmers’ Oval, a park in Glendale that has since been built upon, Cataldi said.
The Historical Society does not have the authority to approve or disapprove the motion, introduced by Assemblymember Rory Lancman, to rename the park “Phil ‘Scooter’ Rizzuto Park.” That right belongs to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which did not immediately return phone calls Monday, November 12.
The Parks Department did, however, call Cataldi, seeking verification that Rizzuto had some connection to the park, as well as to Richmond Hill. According to Cataldi, neither claim can be proven.
“He went to Richmond Hill High School, but it does not appear that he graduated,” said Cataldi. “We have all the yearbooks from that era, and he isn’t in any of them.”
Whether or not the Parks Department takes into account Cataldi’s findings is yet to be determined, but a long list of groups and residents hopes the plan goes forward as originally proposed.
The Yankees added themselves to that list late last month, referring to Rizzuto in a written statement “a legendary figure in New York Sports History.”
“His baseball career took root at Richmond Hill High School,” said the statement. “Honoring him with ‘Phil Rizzuto Park’ is a fitting tribute to a man whose youthful exuberance for life brought joy to so many.”
“The Yankees really hit one out of the park with their support,” said Lancman, “and we hope this inspires the city to drive in the winning result.”
Rizzuto’s daughter also recently voiced her support for the proposal.
In a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Patricia Rizzuto said her father “deserves” the honor, as “do the people of Richmond Hill.”
“My father grew up in a big two-family house, with a fig tree in the front yard,” read Rizzuto’s letter. “That house remained in the family until 2002. I remember many pasta dinners with everyone in attendance - a lot of noise and a lot of laughter…He never forgot his old neighborhood.”
Maryann Carey, District Manager of Community Board 9, which unanimously approved the motion when it was introduced in September, said at the time that she was “very pleased that it worked out. What could be better than naming something in my district after the Scooter?”
Cataldi is not against renaming the park after Rizzuto, but would prefer to leave it as is.
“It’s called Smokey Oval, and it’s got a very, very long history,” she said.

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