NEW YORK -- With tears in his eyes and a paper coffee cup in one hand, Phil Rizzuto said yesterday that his retirement from WPIX-TV is not a bluff.
"This time you'd better believe me," he said at a Yankee Stadium news conference, where he called his own end to 39 years as a New York Yankees broadcaster. "I've called my last game."
But Rizzuto, who will turn 78 next month, sounded deeply conflicted between staying and going, struggling to stick to his abrupt decision made last week after he missed Mickey Mantle's funeral.
"I don't want to go, but it's time for me to go," said Rizzuto, a shortstop with the Yankees from 1941 to 1956 who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994. "It's time to go, but you want to stay around."
He could have returned for WPIX's last four home games this season and to say his farewell, but he said he would choke up in the booth thinking about Mantle.
He acknowledged the overwhelming response from his "Holy Cow" apostles, who have been pleading with him to stay. But he said that hanging on "wouldn't be fair to the fans. I'd do a game, but it would be pathetic."
On Aug. 15, Rizzuto was faced with attending Mantle's funeral in Dallas or calling the Yankees game in Boston, where the station thought he would be valuable in delivering a tribute to Mantle. One of his partners in the booth, Bobby Murcer, went to Dallas.
Rizzuto watched the service on TV in his hotel room and grew increasingly upset. "I realized what a big mistake I had made [by not attending the funeral]," he said.
He was so distraught that he left the booth that night after the fifth inning and never returned.
"I fell apart and wasn't professional enough to come back, do the tribute to Mickey and honor my contract for the rest of the year," he said.