Yogi Berra Essentials
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Height 5-7 Weight: 185
Born: May 12, 1925 in St. Louis, MO USA
Died: September 22, 2015 in West Caldwell, NJ USA
Buried: Gate of Heaven Catholic Cemetery, East Hanover, NJ
Debut: September 22, 1946 vs. PHA 4 AB, 2 H, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB
Last Game: May 9, 1965 vs. MLN 4 AB, 0 H, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB
Hall of Fame: Inducted as a Player in 1972 by BBWAA
Full Name: Lawrence Peter Berra
Nickname : YOGI
Short, stocky, and lacking grace both in the field and at the bat, Yogi Berra hardly looked like a future Hall of Famer when he first joined the New York Yankees in 1946. But, by the end of his 18-year career, Berra had established himself as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, and as one of the winningest players in the history of professional team sports. Berra was so successful that longtime Yankee manager Casey Stengel considered him to be his good luck charm, relying heavily on his catcher during his 12-year managerial stint in New York. Stengel once said of Berra, “He’d fall in a sewer and come up with a gold watch.” Stengel stated on another occasion, “They say he’s funny. Well, he has a lovely wife and family, a beautiful home, money in the bank, and he plays golf with millionaires. What’s funny about that?”
Lawrence Peter Berra was born on May 12, 1925, in a primarily Italian neighborhood of St. Louis called “The Hill” to Italian immigrants Pietro and Paulina Berra. Originally nicknamed “Lawdie” by his parents due to the difficulty his mother had correctly pronouncing his given name of Lawrence, Yogi acquired his more famous nickname from a childhood friend, Bobby Hofman, who said that Berra reminded him of a Hindu holy man (yogi) they had seen in a movie whenever he sat with his arms and legs crossed while waiting to bat. Yogi grew up across the street from boyhood friend and later fellow major league catcher Joe Garagiola. Ironically, it was Garagiola’s signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1942 that enabled Berra to end up with the Yankees.
Both Garagiola and Berra tried out for the Cardinals that year, with the team eventually electing to offer a contract to the less-talented Garagiola. Thinking he had been spurned by the Cardinals, Berra subsequently signed a contract with the Yankees for the same $500 bonus Garagiola received from St. Louis. However, the thing that very few people knew at the time was that St. Louis team president Branch Rickey planned to leave the Cardinals shortly thereafter to take over the operation of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Once in charge in Brooklyn, the extremely astute Ricky intended to sign Berra for the Dodgers. His plans failed to come to fruition, though, when New York scooped up Berra in the interim.
After playing briefly for the Norfolk Tars of the Class B Piedmont League in 1942, Berra enlisted in the United States Navy, for whom he served as a Gunner’s Mate in the D-Day invasion during World War II. Berra returned to professional baseball in 1946, spending most of the year with the Newark Bears before being called up by the Yankees for the final few games of the regular season. He joined the Yankees for good the following year, appearing in 83 games and batting .280, with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs in only 293 official at-bats.
Yogi was awkward behind the plate during the early stages of his career, and he leaned heavily on Yankee coach Bill Dickey to teach him the tricks of the trade. Dickey, an exceptional defensive catcher during his Hall of Fame career with the team, discussed his young pupil’s lack of refinement behind the plate: “Right now, Berra does about everything wrong, but Casey (Stengel) warned me about that. The main thing is he has speed and agility behind the plate and a strong enough arm. He just needs to be taught to throw properly. I know he can hit. I’d say Berra has the makings of a good catcher. I won’t say great, but certainly a good one.”
Yogi ended up exceeding all expectations. He developed into an outstanding defensive receiver, leading all American League catchers eight times in games caught and in chances accepted, six times in double plays, eight times in putouts, three times in assists, and once in fielding percentage. Deceptively quick and mobile, Berra left the game with A.L. records for catcher putouts (8,723) and chances accepted (9,520). He was also an exceptional handler of pitchers and a superb signal-caller. Casey Stengel once noted, “Why has our pitching been so great? Our catcher, that’s why. He looks cumbersome, but he’s quick as a cat.”
It was as a hitter, though, that Berra truly excelled. After hitting 14 home runs, knocking in 98 runs, and batting .305 in 1948, Yogi began a string of 10 consecutive seasons in which he hit at least 20 home runs. He surpassed 100 RBIs in five of those years, also topping the .300-mark in batting on two separate occasions. Berra had his finest statistical season in 1950, when he hit 28 homers, drove in 124 runs, scored 116 others, and batted a career-high .322. He finished third in the league MVP voting that year, before winning the award for the first of three times the following season. Berra earned league MVP honors in 1951 for leading the Yankees to their third consecutive world championship by hitting 27 home runs, knocking in 88 runs, and batting .294. He won the award again in 1954, even though New York finished second to Cleveland in the American League pennant race. Berra batted .307, hit 22 homers, and knocked in a career-high 125 runs. Berra captured his final MVP trophy the following year, leading the Yankees to their seventh pennant in his first nine full seasons with the team by hitting 27 home runs, driving in 108 runs, and batting .272. Berra had another outstanding season in 1956, when he hit 30 homers, knocked in 105 runs, scored 93 others, and batted .298. He finished second to teammate Mickey Mantle in the league MVP voting. Berra placed in the top five in the balloting a total of seven times during his career.
Mickey Mantle established himself as New York’s best all-around player during the middle stages of Berra’s career, and opposing pitchers dreaded the thought of pitching to the Yankee centerfielder with men on base. But Berra developed a reputation for being one of the game’s best clutch hitters, and some opponents feared him even more than Mantle. Rival manager Paul Richards once called Berra “the toughest man in the league in the last three innings.”
Former teammate Hector Lopez said, “Yogi had the fastest bat I ever saw. He could hit a ball late, that was already past him, and take it out of the park. The pitchers were afraid of him because he’d hit anything, so they didn’t know what to throw. Yogi had them psyched out and he wasn’t even trying to psyche them out.”
A notorious bad-ball hitter, the lefty-swinging Berra tended to swing at anything near the plate. He golfed low pitches into the rightfield seats and lined high offerings into the outfield for base hits. Blessed with tremendous bat control, Yogi rarely struck out. Five times during his career, he had more home runs in a season than strikeouts. He struck out only 12 times in 597 at-bats in 1950, and he whiffed a total of only 414 times over the course of 18 big-league seasons.
An outstanding performer in the World Series as well, Berra holds major league records for World Series games (75), at-bats (259), hits (71), doubles (10), singles (49), games caught (63), and catcher putouts (457). He hit 12 home runs and drove in 39 runs in the Fall Classic. The Yankees won 10 of the 14 World Series in which he appeared. Both figures are all-time records.
Berra remained a productive offensive player until 1962, when his skills finally began to erode. He spent his last two years with the Yankees as a part-time player, before retiring at the conclusion of the 1963 campaign. He ended his career with 358 home runs, 1,430 runs batted in, 1,175 runs scored, 2,150 hits, and a .285 batting average. Berra was selected to the A.L. All-Star Team 14 times, and he was named to The Sporting News All-Star Team five times.
Yet, in spite of the tremendous amount of success Berra experienced during his career, he was viewed by many people as a somewhat comical figure, known as much for his malaprops (often referred to as “Yogi-isms) as for his greatness as a ballplayer. Among the more notable quotes that have been attributed to Yogi are the following:
– Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
– Baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical.
– Even Napoleon had his Watergate.
– He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.
– I never said most of the things I said.
– So I’m ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.
– Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
– It ain’t over till it’s over.
– It’s like deja-vu, all over again.
– When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
However, those people closest to Berra have always been keenly aware of his tremendous baseball acumen that enabled him to manage two different teams to the World Series after his playing days were over.
Berra was hired as Yankee manager after he retired at the conclusion of the 1963 campaign. He led the team to the American League pennant in his first year as skipper, but was unceremoniously relieved of his duties after New York lost the 1964 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Berra subsequently was hired by the cross-town rival New York Mets to be Manager Casey Stengel’s first base coach. He remained in that position until 1972, when he took over as field manager following the sudden death of previous manager Gil Hodges. Berra piloted the Mets to the National League pennant in 1973, leading them to a major upset over the heavily-favored Cincinnati Reds in the League Championship Series. He then directed them to within one game of the world championship, with New York finally losing the World Series to the Oakland Athletics in seven games.
Berra remained Mets manager until he was fired by the team in August of 1975. He rejoined the Yankees the following year, serving as a coach under former Yankee teammate and longtime friend, Billy Martin. Yogi was a member of the New York coaching staff when the team won consecutive World Series in 1977 and 1978. He continued to function in the same capacity until Yankee owner George Steinbrenner named him the team’s manager prior to the start of the 1984 campaign. Berra agreed to stay on as manager in 1985 after receiving assurances from Steinbrenner that he would not be fired in the middle of the season. However, the Yankee owner went back on his word, letting Berra go only 16 games into the season. Berra later said that he wasn’t as upset by his dismissal as he was by the manner in which it was conveyed to him. Instead of firing him personally, Steinbrenner dispatched GM Clyde King to deliver the news for him. A rift subsequently developed between Berra and Steinbrenner, with the former vowing never to return to Yankee Stadium as long as Steinbrenner owned the team. Yogi finally recanted some 15 years later, after the Yankee owner publicly apologized to him. Berra returned to the stadium he called home for 18 seasons on July 18, 1999, for “Yogi Berra Day.” This national treasure has been a frequent visitor to Yankee Stadium ever since, bringing smiles to the faces of current Yankee players and fans.