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Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra (1925-2015), Legendary New York Yankee Catcher (1946-1965) who Transcended the Sport of Baseball


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Oh my, Yogi Berra, an all-time great catcher in the big leagues, and an all-American icon for his many quotes and advertisements that featured him.

Seeing comments here referencing that ....

As I said before, Yogi Berra is now on the clock....

really depressed me.  Yogi is an iconic American sports star, a beloved character, and what hit hardest on a personal level, was that Yogi has lived most of his life since he got to the Yankees in a Northern NJ town, near where I grew up.  There was a fair bit of news about Yogi in my neck of the woods, and all of it was positive and beloved.

Yogi's achievements in baseball are legendary and formidable.  He ranks with the best of the best.  The Yog played in 14 World Series and was on the winning side 10 times!!!   That could be a personal record that might not be beat.  Yogi was part of Yankee dynasties that helped him get there, but his presence on those teams helped the Yankees win so often.

Here are some astonishing nuggets:

He led the Yankees in RBI's 7 years in a row through 1955.  Those were teams with Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle, He was league MVP 3 times, and received MVP votes 14 years in a row, tied for 2nd behind all time leader Hank Aaron.   He was a great player and had tremendous longevity.  Yogi caught the famous perfect game in the 1956 World Series.  He was a great contact hitter, and a notorious bad ball hitter all the same, being able to connect at pitches above his head, and being capable of golfing a ball thrown at his feet.

When you review the reams of detailed statistics about his career there is a column of detail about his annual baseball salary each year.  Yogi maxed out at $65,000/year in his playing career.  Today the highest paid catchers make around $12-17/million/year, which comes to more per game than he earned in his highest salaried year.  Not withstanding the way sports salaries have escalated I doubt baseball's best catchers today could hold Yogi's jock.  He was excellent at both offense and defense.

He is amazingly beloved in the NY region and among Yankee fans.  Growing up his sons were noted athletes, two of whom made it into professional baseball and the NFL.  One of my closest friends played on a noted regional Legion baseball team against one of Yogi's sons.  As a kid that is simply thrilling.

For such a lifelong humble guy he has that "Brooks Robinson" combination of baseball stardom and entirely admirable personal qualities.

I truly hope he sticks around for quite a few more years.   Here's to you, Yogi.  "It ain't over till its over!!"

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He led the Yankees in RBI's 7 years in a row through 1955.  Those were teams with Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle, He was league MVP 3 times, and received MVP votes 14 years in a row, tied for 2nd behind all time leader Hank Aaron.   

A lot of young people just don't realize how great Yogi Berra's stats are. People also talk about the Yankees and centerfielders, but what about their catchers?

I remember a Tony Kornheiser column about Shirley Povich where he and Walter Johnson drove up to see a young kid named Bob Feller, and Tony Kornheiser was like, *Walter Johnson*?!

Well, that's the same way I feel about Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. *Bill Dickey*?! Dickey was Berra's mentor, and was arguably the greatest catcher in baseball history (assuming Berra wasn't). Then, the Yankees also had Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada. Those are five *amazing* catchers.

About twenty years ago, Joe DiMaggio was considered the greatest living baseball player. After him, it was Ted Williams. Now, I suppose it's either Willie Mays or Hank Aaron; it's a shame they have to skip over Yogi Berra (but they must because you have to choose either Mays or Aaron at this point).

Talk about the last person in an era - I feel like after Berra, you almost need to skip forward to Don Mattingly if you want to talk about great Yankees, and neither Don Mattingly nor Bernie Williams (nor Derek Jeter, for that matter) had that "panache" - it's a shame Mantle had to leave us. Well, there's always Mariano Rivera.

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By the time I got around to watching baseball Yogi was in the last couple of years of his playing career with the Yankees.  By that stage he was mostly playing Left Field, while Elston Howard was the regular catcher, with Yogi catching occasionally.  There he was, in his late 30's and making solid plays in the outfield, if not great, and still being a tremendously dangerous hitter.

I don't really recall him as a catcher, but his records speak to being one of the best of all time and he is acknowledged by baseball historians in that vein.

Beyond that on a human and personal level he was married for 65 years, his wife having passed away last year.  The two of them are simply idolized in that neck of the woods in North Jersey as being terrific human beings.

There was a short lived play on Broadway last year about Yogi and his wife Carmen.   Didn't last long and closed quickly, but one of their grandkids got to see it and watching the two actors act lovingly and familiarly with one another reportedly "raised the hairs on the back of the granddaughter's head" it was so true to life in context of their long term love affair and marriage.

Anyway I think its hard to appreciate those players from previous generations or even more recent time periods.  But Yogi has been a legend both on the field and off and long after his playing days ended.

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Well, that's the same way I feel about Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. *Bill Dickey*?! Dickey was Berra's mentor, and was arguably the greatest catcher in baseball history (assuming Berra wasn't). Then, the Yankees also had Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada. Those are five *amazing* catchers.

Before we even got to the Yogi-isms, of which I am a traveling encyclopedia, it's worth noting how opposite were Bill Dickey and Elston Howard.

Dickey's swing was made for Yankee Stadium. He would have been an average hitter elsewhere, more or less, but in Yankee stadium he could pull balls over the 296' porch in right field almost at will.

Elston Howard was a great hitter, but Yankee Stadium was not where he excelled. That 465' fence in left center was a killer for him. He could easily have been a Hall of Famer had he played his career for the Indians or the Senators.

Now on to the Yogi-isms....but first, I took a friend of mine (a lawyer who represented Paula Jones in her suit against Bill Clinton) to see Yogi at a card show in Baltimore back during the '90s. My friend had a Sports Illustrated cover from the early '80s showing Yogi's back turned to camera, and the title was "Yogi's Back!" So my friend wanted it signed by Yogi and personalized to say "It ain't over til it's over." My friend would then use it as his law practice mantra, and frame it and place it on the wall in his office for all to see.

Well, we worked our way backstage at the event after the line died down, so that Yogi could do a few personal handshakes and for extra money, do the personalizations. He got to my friend and instructed him that "the word 'til' requires an apostrophe in front of it" -- my friend now has the additional grammar lesson to add to his Yogi story whenever a client asks about the picture.

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Dickey's swing was made for Yankee Stadium. He would have been an average hitter elsewhere, more or less, but in Yankee stadium he could pull balls over the 296' porch in right field almost at will.

This is a great post. I knew nothing of Dickey other than his formidable stats - putting them in context like this lowers him a rung or two in my eyes.

Note also: This is not only Yogi's (there's something about him that makes me feel entitled to call him by his first name) 90th birthday year, but also the 50th anniversary of his retirement from MLB.

When you become a first-name person, you're *really* famous. Nobody actually calls him Yogi, but you could if you wanted to (nobody's going to confuse him with The Bear, any more than they'd confuse The Babe with the candy bar or the pig). Did you know that Hanna-Barbera had the unmitigated (and unlitigated) gall to contend that they didn't name the cartoon character after Berra?! You've got to be kidding me.

As with Sam Goldwynisms, it's hard to tell whether a particular Yogi-ism is myth or real, but it mostly doesn't matter. Probably my favorite is when someone asked Yogi what time it was, Yogi replied "What, you mean now?"

"I really didn't say everything I said." - Yogi Berra

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90% of these quotes made me laugh out loud, the other half made me chuckle.

Yogi Berra - Quotes on goodreads.com

He was a genius similar to the way Norman Lear was a genius in writing Archie Bunker-isms.

An earnest question: Is Berra one of the most underrated baseball players of all-time, one of the most overrated baseball players of all-time, or neither?

I can see any of the three answers being correct with proper substantiation.

I personally cannot answer, because all I have to go by is his statistics and honors (which help his case tremendously), the knowledge that he played alongside such a tremendous cast of players (which hurts his case), and the likelihood that his baseball talent is obscured by the fame generated from his witticisms (which confuses his case).

Just the fact that he was a bridge between Bill Dickey (Bill Dickey!) and Jorge Posada says so much - I suppose I'm leaning towards "underrated," or at least "forgotten," as in, "his baseball talent has been overshadowed by his linguistics, legendary name, and personality."

Who currently holds the (forgive me) mantle as Greatest Living Player? It was Joe DiMaggio for awhile, then Ted Williams after he passed away, and now I assume it's either Willie Mays or Hank Aaron - personally, I think they should wait to see which of the two passes away first, give it to the other one posthumously, and then give it to the one who's still living as the fourth recipient, and then put an asterisk next to it saying that this was done to ensure that both men would have the honor. Maybe not really, but it's a feel-good thought. Hopefully the award went to Stan Musial, his .331 lifetime average, and his 475 career homers after Williams left us.

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Just the fact that he was a bridge between Bill Dickey (Bill Dickey!) and Jorge Posada says so much - I suppose I'm leaning towards "underrated," or at least "forgotten," as in, "his baseball talent has been overshadowed by his linguistics, legendary name, and personality."

I like the fact that Yogi Berra was a "bad ball hitter," that is, he would swing at a lot of pitches others would take, sometimes out of the strike zone, and still get hits! In today's lineups and strategies he would be the perfect number 8 hitter on a National League team. So many of today's number 8 hitters get no pitches in the strike zone, nothing to hit, hoping to walk him in favor of pitching to the number 9 slot, which is usually the pitcher. In the National League the strategy is to walk the number 8 hitter so that they can pitch to the number 9 guy, the pitcher, who is the worst batter in the lineup. Someone who bats like Yogi Berra could mess that up spectacularly! When asked why he swung at bad pitches, he famously said "They looked good to me!" That's a philosophy you could live by.

Let's not forget Thurman Munson as a bridge between Yogi and Posada. Munson was the most valuable 1970s catcher,  so respected by the Yankees that his teammates revived the practice of naming a team captain. They were not designating a team captain for a long time before Munson. Munson was the link between Yogi and Jeter, IMO.

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Let's not forget Thurman Munson as a bridge between Yogi and Posada. Munson was the most valuable 1970s catcher,  so respected by the Yankees that his teammates revived the practice of naming a team captain. They were not designating a team captain for a long time before Munson. Munson was the link between Yogi and Jeter, IMO.

I'll be wearing my Number 15 Yankees shirt if I manage to get to a Nats/Yankees game this week.

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A major piece of me died today....starting today, God can observe a lot by just watching.

Warmups this afternoon....Casey and Billy will hit fungoes....Yogi and Thurman behind the plate, Ruth and Mantle and DiMaggio in the outfield, Gehrig on first....Lazzeri take second, Crosetti take short, Boyer take third. Let's get out there!

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On getting enough rest:

"I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four."

On "fan" mail:

"Never answer an anonymous letter."

On education:

"I'm not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did."

On the future:

"The future ain't what it used to be."

On travel:

"If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."

"Why buy good luggage, you only use it when you travel."

"The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase."

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

On social life:

"Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

"It gets late early out here."

On youth sports:

"I think Little League is wonderful. It keeps the kids out of the house."

                                  On the human anatomy:

"I don't know (if they were male or female) fans running naked across the field). They had bags over their heads."

On receiving advice:

"Take it with a grin of salt."

On weather:

"It ain't the heat, it's the humility."

On finance:

"A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

On baseball:

"In baseball, you don't know nothing."

"We made too many wrong mistakes."

"So I'm ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face."

"If the people don't want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them."

"Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."

"All pitchers are liars or crybabies."

"We were overwhelming underdogs."

"Bill Dickey is learning me his experience."

"He hits from both sides of the plate. He's amphibious."

"I always thought that record would stand until it was broken."

"I can see how he (Sandy Koufax) won 25 games. What I don't understand is how he lost five."

"I want to thank everyone for making this night necessary."

On being thought of as a philosopher:

"I didn't really say everything I said."

On death:

"You should always go to other people's funerals, otherwise, they won't come to yours."

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"Remembering Jackie Robinson Stealing Home with Yogi Berra Catching" by David Brown on cbssports.com

I've watched it about ten times and I have no idea whether he's safe or out, but based on the picture below, I skew "out." What I *do* think is that the ump wasn't in a position to make the correct call. Also, Yogi's instant fury was no act - he honestly thought he tagged him out.

post-2-0-31736400-1443042112_thumb.png

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A major piece of me died today....starting today, God can observe a lot by just watching.

Warmups this afternoon....Casey and Billy will hit fungoes....Yogi and Thurman behind the plate, Ruth and Mantle and DiMaggio in the outfield, Gehrig on first....Lazzeri take second, Crosetti take short, Boyer take third. Let's get out there!

I'm with you, KN.   A legend passed, and one with specific impact.  As I mentioned above I grew up near where Yogi lived for most of his life and where he and his wife Carmen raised their kids who are around my age.  I gardened and shoveled snow at  homes near the Berra home.  At least two, maybe all 3 of his sons were known high school athletes and one of my best friends played against one of the Berra kids in high level American legion ball.  We all heard about the Berras.

They were nice, is what we heard.   You know if you grow up in a dense neighborhood with a lot of families, parents and kids, some parents are legendarily nice.  That is what we heard about the Berras.

KN:  When you referenced earlier in the year that Yogi was on the clock it depressed the heck out of me.  Yogi was a local legend and a legendary nice guy.   And he was a hero being a star of the Yankees.

I really didn't watch him until he was primarily an outfielder and was probably the secondary catcher behind Elston Howard.  He was still a strong player on the championship Yanks.  Yogi led the Yankees in RBI's for about 7 years and during a 7 year stretch he won league MVP 3 times and never finished lower than 4th in the voting.  7 years in a row at either MVP or close to MVP level.   That would be like Harper having 6 more seasons in a row similar to how he has performed this year.  To have seen Yogi at his best one would probably need to be at least 70 and have gone to Yankee stadium a lot as his best years were in the first half of the 50's. when he was one of the stars that ruled baseball.

That is Hall of Fame territory.  That is astonishingly rare.

Growing up we heard a lot about Yogi and his family.   It was always positive and it was always kid friendly.   What a loss.  An American legend and a local hero of epic proportions.    He'll be up there playing ball with the Yanks and hanging out with his wife.  RIP Yogi.

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Damn! For *seven* straight years, Berra was in the Top 4 in the voting for MVP:

1950 - 3rd
1951 - MVP
1952 - 4th
1953 - 2nd
1954 - MVP
1955 - MVP
1956 - 2nd

I understand that the award was/is skewed towards New York City ballplayers, but Berra wasn't the only New York City ballplayer - has anyone else even approached this?

Most likely, it's because he had the unwavering support of Casey Stengel, but still ... that's just unbelievable.

On 9/23/2015 at 5:00 PM, DonRocks said:

"Remembering Jackie Robinson Stealing Home with Yogi Berra Catching" by David Brown on cbssports.com

I've watched it about ten times and I have no idea whether he's safe or out, but based on the picture below, I skew "out." What I *do* think is that the ump wasn't in a position to make the correct call. Also, Yogi's instant fury was no act - he honestly thought he tagged him out.

post-2-0-31736400-1443042112_thumb.png

I've watched this again in slow motion, repeatedly - absent computer technology, it was a tie, which goes to the runner.

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Yogi is considered something like royalty, a legend or a diety in and around Montclair NJ where he and his wife Carmen lived for almost 60 years.  I grew up in one of the adjacent towns.   Yogi stories and sightings abound in the region.  A nice summary of Yogi’s life is provided in this magazine piece from 2008.  

Montclair State University hosts Yogi Berra Way, Yogi Berra Stadium, and the Yogi Berra museum.  Apt tributes imho.

The article references that Yogi got his morning coffee at a small mini market in my town every day.  I’ve seen FB comments from the daughter ( a rough age peer of mine) of that market owner:  Her dad and the Yog would chat every morning.  Holy crow:  Had I been in her shoes I would have been sweeping the floors, stocking the shelves and any other menial tasks just to get some early morning face time with Yogi. 

The article adds that Yankee teammates had barbecues at the Berra home.  Oh my, good thing that wasn’t publicized otherwise I and probably 1,000 similarly aged hero worshipping kids would have been parked in front of the house with our bikes.    Ha ha

More contemporary were the Yogi and Carmen sightings at restaurants in the area.  The natives in the area loved and respected the Berra's and gave them their privacy.  

 BTW @Kibbee Nayee:  KN that is priceless Yankee lore above about Bill Dickey being made for Yankee Stadium and Ellie Howard being built to play on the road.  Never knew that.  

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On 7/6/2018 at 10:49 PM, DonRocks said:

Damn! For *seven* straight years, Berra was in the Top 4 in the voting for MVP:

1950 - 3rd
1951 - MVP
1952 - 4th
1953 - 2nd
1954 - MVP
1955 - MVP
1956 - 2nd

1956 - 2nd to teammate Mantle, who merely won the Triple Crown.

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12 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

It's worth mentioning Stan Musial's 17-year MVP voting performance, from 1942 through 1958.

1 year WWII
1 year 20th
2 years 12th
1 year 9th
2 years 8th
1 year 6th
1 year 5th
1 year 4th
4 years 2nd
3 years MVP

Coincidentally, Yogi grew up 2 miles from Stan the Man in St. Louis, and Joe Garagiola lived right across the street from Yogi.

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On 7/8/2018 at 12:28 PM, Kibbee Nayee said:

Coincidentally, Yogi grew up 2 miles from Stan the Man in St. Louis, and Joe Garagiola lived right across the street from Yogi.

I really studied some films of Berra for the first time, and despite the misguided reputation he has as "this ugly little man," he had thighs as strong as a pit bull, and he was "tightly wound," meaning that he probably had the quickest first 1-2 steps in all of baseball - similar athletes who come to mind are Mike Trout, Cool Papa Bell, Mickey Mantle, Michael Chang, Jack Ham, and Mary Lou Retton. The two of these who stand out are Mantle, and perhaps to a lesser degree, Trout, in that, not only could they explode from a standing start, but they also had very high top speeds (I suspect they could pump their hips with just as much power, and their legs were slightly longer). Berra was like a squirrel.

I wonder if Berra thought about himself when he saw "Marty."

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On 7/8/2018 at 12:42 PM, DonRocks said:

I really studied some films of Berra for the first time, and despite the misguided reputation he has as "this ugly little man," he had thighs as strong as a pit bull, and he was "tightly wound," meaning that he probably had the quickest first 1-2 steps in all of baseball - similar athletes who come to mind are Mike Trout, Cool Papa Bell, Mickey Mantle, Michael Chang, Jack Ham, and Mary Lou Retton. The two of these who stand out are Mantle, and perhaps to a lesser degree, Trout, in that, not only could they explode from a standing start, but they also had very high top speeds (I suspect they could pump their hips with just as much power, and their legs were slightly longer). Berra was like a squirrel.

I wonder if Berra thought about himself when he saw "Marty."

That's quite a group of athletes.

At the risk of digression, a story or two....I met Yogi at a baseball card show in Richmond about 20 years ago. Shaking his hand was like shaking a catcher's mitt. It was very thick and very strong. I'm assuming strong hands and wrists contributed to his success against pitches out of the strike zone.

Ron Guidry wrote a book a few years ago, Driving Mr. Yogi. One of the stories was about the day Yogi was catching Whitey Ford, and the first four batters of the game clobbered the first pitch they saw, putting the Yankees behind by 4 runs. Casey Stengel decided to go to the mound to talk to Whitey, and he met Yogi about half way to the mound. Casey asked Yogi "How does his stuff look today?" Yogi responded "How the f**k should I know, I haven't caught one yet!"

Guidry had a similar experience, where the first four batters of the game teed off on his pitches, and while he was cursing and kicking the dirt behind the mound, Thurman Munson showed up behind him and said "Should I stop telling them which pitch is coming?"

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On 7/6/2018 at 10:49 PM, DonRocks said:

Damn! For *seven* straight years, Berra was in the Top 4 in the voting for MVP:

1950 - 3rd
1951 - MVP
1952 - 4th
1953 - 2nd
1954 - MVP
1955 - MVP
1956 - 2nd

I understand that the award was/is skewed towards New York City ballplayers, but Berra wasn't the only New York City ballplayer - has anyone else even approached this?

Actually, Mike Trout's going to do it.

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OK, another story....I took a friend* to meet Yogi at a baseball card show in Baltimore in the late '90s. He had a copy of the Sports Illustrated cover with Yogi wearing a Mets uniform in the '80s, and with Yogi facing away from the camera. The title on the cover was "Yogi's Back!" My friend wanted it signed "It ain't over til it's over." He wanted to hang it on his law office wall to serve as his motto for upcoming cases.

In the autograph business, such a slogan is deemed to be personalizing, and it costs more money than a straight autograph. I think the price tag was $200, but my friend was greasing every palm in the place, including some people who had nothing to do with Yogi's appearance there. After about two hours of signing for the fans who had autograph tickets, me and my friend were ushered into a back room to meet Yogi and get him to sign the magazine cover with "It ain't over til it's over." My friend wrote the quote on a piece of paper so Yogi would know what to write. Funny thing, Yogi corrected him, and said it should be "It ain't over till it's over." We got a good laugh at getting an English lesson from Yogi.

The magazine is framed and hangs in the office of one of the major lawyers in DC. If you ever get to see it, you must be getting ready for a big lawsuit.

*(My friend was representing Paula Jones in her lawsuit against the president, but he's otherwise a good guy.)

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