Wednesday, May 27, 2020

It Ain't Over Til It's Over

Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra was born in St. Louis on May 12, 1925.  He was the son of Italian immigrants who came through Ellis Island.  As Berra later recalled "my father came over first.  He was from the old country.  And he didn't know what baseball was.  He was ready to go to work."

Berra was a Roman Catholic, and as a teenager, he attended South Side Catholic High School.  At the same time, he started playing baseball in the American Legion leagues, learning the basics of catching while playing both outfield and infield positions.

His career would have to wait until after World War 2 however.  Berra enlisted in the Navy and served as a gunner's mate on the U.S.S. Bayfield during the Normandy invasion.

After the war, Berra returned to the States and started playing in the minors.  He signed with the Newark Bears and was mentored by Hall of Famer Bill Dickey, to whom Berra would later credit owing his career to.

Then in 1946, Berra made it the majors, signing with the New York Yankees.  He played his first game on September 22nd.  Though he'd only play seven games during his inaugural season, he'd play 83 in 1947.  For the next 14 years, he'd play more than 100 games per season.

Throughout Berra's career, the Yankees made it to the World Series more than at any other point in their history.  Along the way, Berra broke a number of Series records, including most games played (75), hits (71) and catcher putouts (457).  In the 1956 Series, Berra caught Don Larsen's perfect game, one of only two no-hitters ever played in the post season.  Watch that iconic win here.

An iconic image of Berra
and Don Larsen following
a rare no-hit Series game.
Berra retired from play following the 1963 World Series, moving on to greener pastures.  He replaced Ralph Houk as Manager, but it was to be short lived.  Just one year later, upon losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, Berra was fired.

He moved crosstown, joining the New York Mets as a coach.  He'd spend the next seven years in that position, before becoming Manager in 1972, a position he'd hold for the next three seasons.  During that time, he had a record of 298 wins and 302 losses, including the 1973 postseason.

In 1976, Berra returned to the Yankees as a coach, leading the team to three consecutive American League titles, including both the 1977 and 78 World Series.  He stayed with the team until 1985, when he was fired by team owner George Steinbrenner, for reasons that remain unclear.

Berra took the reigns of the Houston Astros that year, where he'd stay for the remainder of his career, before finally retiring from baseball in 1989. 

On September 22, 2015, exactly 69 years to the day of his first major league game, Berra died peacefully in his sleep. The Yankees paid tribute to him at their first game following his death.  You can watch that tribute here.

He was laid to rest at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover, New Jersey.

Section #49
Block A
Grave 18 1A
"Always go to other people's funerals.  Otherwise they won't go to yours."

Wise words, Yogi.  Rest in peace.

  • Berra received his nickname from friend Jack Maguire, who, after watching a newsreel from India, observed that he resembled a yogi whenever he sat on the bench waiting to play.

  • As a young boy in St. Louis, Berra grew up on Elizabeth Avenue, across the street from his future competitor Joe Garagiola.  It was also home to Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck.  As a result, that whole block was later renamed "Hall of Fame Place."

  • Montclair State University is home to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, where many baseball artifacts are on display, including the mitt with which Berra caught the only perfect game in World Series history.  A break-in occurred in 2014, and sadly, many of Berra's personal effects remain missing today.

  • Berra was a catcher during his baseball days, but he became a pitcher later in life, endorsing a variety of products and appearing in dozens of TV commercials, selling shoes, cookies and Stove Top stuffing.  See a compilation of his work here.  He even did one for Aflac.

  • Berra was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 24, 2015.

  • Upon Berra's death, the Associated Press inaccurately reported that Yogi Bear had died.

No comments:

Post a Comment