Sad news on the sports legends front this morning. Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra has passed away at age 90. One of the greatest catchers of all time, Berra was a 15-time all-star in 19 seasons, a three-time American League MVP who was the heart and soul of some of the great Yankees teams of the 50s. Lawrence Peter Berra was born on May 12th, 1925, in St Louis, MO. He was a childhood friend and teammate of fellow catcher Joe Garagiola, who thought that the homely Berra looked strikingly like the Maharishi Yogi pictured in a newsreel story that played between movies during one Saturday Matinee. And the most recognizable nickname in sport was born.
Short and stocky, five-foot seven and almost 190 pounds, his frame belied a grace and athleticism rare in a catcher. His physical strength was legendary, as was his ability to avoid striking out. In 1950, a year in which he hit 28 home runs and batted .322, Berra struck out only twelve times in 636 plate appearances, an astoundingly low figure. (In comparison, one 2015 Red Sox hitter, Mike Napoli, struck out twelve times in a three game series on two separate occasions.) Berra got his teams to the World Series a mind-boggling fourteen times in his 19 seasons, winning ten World Series rings. After his playing career, Berra was a manager and coach for many years, finally retiring in the early 1990s.
Of course, Berra was known to many outside baseball as the author of an seemingly endless list of funny sayings, such as “it gets late early out there”, and “It ain’t over til it’s over”. Once asked by Joe DiMaggio what time it was, Berra supposedly replied “Do ya mean right now?” That persona belied a man of shrewd baseball knowledge, and on teams with DiMaggio, Mantle, Whitey Ford, Billy Martin, and Elston Howard, Berra was considered the most baseball savvy. He was also a talented outfielder, playing left field when Howard began his catching career.
Like so many ballplayers of his generation, Yogi Berra served his country in World War II, a Gunner’s Mate in the US Navy who manned a rocket-firing landing craft off the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Berra remained very proud of his Navy service, and spoke often of it in his later years.
Yogi was also, by all accounts, a genuine and kind gentleman. He was known for treating everyone well, and for his humility and his humor. His is a loss, he was one of the greats of our national pastime, and an American icon.