As many of you know from my previous blogs I grew up a rabid Dodgers fan, and I remain one to this day. One of the by-products of being a Dodgers fan is to hate the Yankees. The two go hand in hand. There is no way around it. In fact, I always tell people that I root passionately for two baseball teams – the Dodgers and whoever is playing the Yankees that day. Nevertheless, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for a select (very) few Yankees players. One of those was Yogi Berra.
Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra was born on May 12, 1925 in St. Louis. This week he celebrated his 90th birthday, and as Yogi would say “we thank him for making this day necessary.”
Yogi is the classic American success story. He was born into a poor immigrant family with three older brothers and a sister. They lived in a poor, immigrant neighborhood known as “The Hill.” (Incidentally, one of his childhood friends from the area was Joe Garagiola, also a catcher, who was generally considered to be a better prospect. Garagiola also went on to play in the Major Leagues, but ultimately was more successful as an announcer and entertainer than as a player.) Yogi’s father was from the “old school.” He believed in hard, honest, physical labor. He neither understood nor tolerated playing a “foolish game,” such as baseball, for a living. Even though Yogi was an outstanding sandlot player, his father wanted him to work for a living, like him and his other sons. Yogi’s older brothers, however, helped convince him to let Yogi play professional baseball. As they say, the rest is history.
Yogi’s famous nick-name derived from the fact that he had a habit of sitting around with his arms and legs crossed like a Hindu yogi. Teammates started calling him “Yogi,” and the name “stuck.” Yogi became one of the best players in baseball history. He was a particularly outstanding “clutch” hitter. Moreover, he was very difficult to pitch to because he was an accomplished “bad ball” hitter, and he rarely struck out. Incredibly, in 1950 in 597 at-bats he only struck out twelve times. The way the game is played today, it is not unusual for even a good player to strike out twelve times in a week. The following are some of the highlights of his career:
- Played 19 years in the majors (1946-1964), mostly for the Yankees.
- Voted to 18 all-star games.
- Three-time AL MVP.
- Voted to All-Century Team.
- Inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
- Appeared in 21 World Series as a player, coach and manager, winning 13 of them, both records.
- Holds numerous World Series records, such as most games, most at-bats, hits, doubles, games caught, and put-outs by a catcher.
- Caught the only perfect game in World Series history (Don Larsen, 1956, Game 5).
- As a Dodgers fan, two of my favorite Yogi World Series moments were:
a. When Jackie Robinson stole home in the 1955 World Series. Yogi was so certain Jackie was out that he jumped up in protest like a kangaroo. I’ve seen a photo of the play as well as many replays. Of course, he appeared safe to me.
b. In Game 7 of the same Series Yogi hit the ball on which Dodgers left fielder, Sandy Amoros, made the circus catch that saved the game and the Series for the Dodgers.
During and after his baseball career Yogi found a second career on TV. He has become one of the longest running commercial pitchmen in the US, from the 1950s to the present day. He has appeared in commercials for such diverse products as Yoo-Hoo, Entemann’s and AFLAC. In addition, he has been portrayed on Broadway in the play “Bronx Bombers” and on TV in HBO’s “61” and “The Bronx is Burning.”
No account of Yogi Berra would be complete without mentioning some of the “malaprops” for which he is famous. In fact, he so famous for them that he never said many that have been attributed to him. Moreover, some of them are often quoted with different variations and have come into general usage. When you read them, you can see that, although they are twisted and paradoxical, they actually make sense, to some degree.
Below please find my personal top ten:
- On why he didn’t go to a certain restaurant any more: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
- When giving directions to his house: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
- On baseball: “90% of the game is half mental.”
- “Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
- About his odd sayings:“I never said most of the things I said.”
- Re: AFLAC: “They give you cash, which is almost as good as money.”
- At an awards banquet: “Thank you for making this day necessary.”
- “Cut the pizza into four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
- “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
- And, my personal favorite regarding the 1973 pennant race when the Mets, who he was managing, seemed hopelessly out of the race: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Those are mine. What’s yours? Feel free to email me any I may have omitted.
Happy Birthday, Yogi. You’ve kept us entertained for 90 years. Wish you many more.