Yogi Berra was one of the greatest players to ever strap on a set of baseball spikes. The numbers speak for themselves, he holds the record for most appearances in a World Series at a staggering 14 as a player and seven more as manager or coach. Twenty-one times he appeared on baseball’s largest stage and in the process, became larger than life.
Yogi was a great player and a favorite of sportswriters all over the country. He shared the field with some of the greatest to ever don pinstripes — guys like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio — , but he never let the amazing success or the rarified company go to his head. He knew he was a grown man blessed to be playing a kid’s game for pay so whenever one of those kids asked ol’ Yogi for an autograph on a baseball or program, he didn’t snarl . . . he smiled and took the item and a pen to sign it with.
In every respect, he was a class act, but, even if he hadn’t been in so many Fall Classics and even if he didn’t have a World Series ring for every finger and two thumbs and even if he didn’t still hold a plethora of records for games appeared in or doubles in the World Series, Yogi would still be remembered because his skill as a baseball player paled next to his alacrity with the English language. To whit,
- When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
- You can observe a lot by just watching.
- It gets late early out here.
- It’s like déjà vu all over again.
- It ain’t over until it’s over.
He may not have sported Clark Gable good looks, but Clark didn’t catch the only perfect game ever thrown in a World Series, either. Yogi’s real name was Lawrence Berra, but if anyone outside his family ever called him that, it never showed up in print. He was a Yankee through and through, even though it didn’t start out that way.
Yogi had a rough patch breaking into the Major Leagues. First he was rejected by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals who instead signed his good friend Joe Garagiola, another Hall of Fame catcher. Then, when he ended up as a Yankee, his minor league career took a hiatus over a little disagreement we call World War 2 today. Finally, he ended up on the bench in his first season in The Show because he could hit the ball a mile but couldn’t throw from home to second, which is a debilitating issue for a catcher and the heretical position called the “designated hitter” had yet to be foisted upon the sacred game. Once he found his stride, though, things turned out all right for him. Besides his numerous World Series records, Yogi was a three time American League MVP and a 15 time All-Star in his 18 year career which spanned 1946-1963.
He was also one of my Papa Wham’s favorite baseball players and one of the very few Yankees he could tolerate.
In a bit of irony, Yogi died exactly sixty-nine years to the day of his Major League debut. Perhaps the home run he hit with his first at bat should have clued people in to the greatness to come.
Yogi Berra was 90 years old . . . he will be greatly missed by his family, the Yankees, and all true baseball fans everywhere.