When sports fans of the younger generation hear the name Yogi Berra, they are likely to say, “Yogi Bear, the cartoon character?”
Or those who do remember Yogi Berra, the baseball player, recall the absurd things he was supposed to have uttered.
EXAMPLES: “When you see a fork in the road, take it.”
Or, when asked if he wanted his pizza cut in six or eight pieces, he is supposed to have said, “Cut it in six. I can’t eat eight.”
Or, when former New York Mets owner Joan Payson approached Yogi on a hot, muggy day, she told him how cool he looked and he said, “You don’t look so hot yourself.”
Or, when asked if he wanted to go to a certain restaurant, he said, “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”
HE IS CREDITED with Yogi-isms: “Baseball is 90 per cent mental, the other half is physical. It’s never over until it’s over. You can’t hit and think at the same time.”
Berra himself once said, “I’ve said things I never said. I’ve read things that I said that I never said.”
SOME HE SAID, some he didn’t. But what Lawrence Peter ‘Yogi’ Berra really was was a Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, a player who played for 10 World Series champions, more than any player in baseball history. Although he pro ably didn’t know the definition of the word, Berra was an icon.
He also managed both the Yankees and New York Mets to World Series appearances, though he never won it as a manager. He was fired as Yankee manager after taking them to the World Series and losing it in seven games.
ANOTHER BERRA-ISM was, “You should always go to funerals because if you don’t they won’t come to yours.”
They’ll all get to go to his funeral because Berra died Tuesday night of natural causes at age 90 at his home. For Yogi, who said it is never over until it is over, it is over and a full life of baseball genius.
Berra was known as one of baseball’s all-time best bad ball hitters. There wasn’t a pitch he wouldn’t swing at and there wasn’t a pitch he couldn’t hit.
Berra told a story of seeing Derek Jeter swing and miss at a shoulder-high pitch. Yogi asked Jeter, “Why did you swing at that pitch?” At another time, when asked about swing at bad pitches, he said, “If I can hit it, it’s a good pitch.”
OH, HE HIT THEM, good or bad. For his career he hit .285 with 385 home runs and 1,430 RBI. He played on more World Series champions, 10, then any baseball player in history. Those numbers placed him in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Berra’s numbers and accomplishments are astonishing.
The general consensus, outside the environs of New York, is that Berra is the second base all-around catcher of all-time, behind Johnny Bench.
Berra’s number, though, outshine even Bench.
He won the American League MVP three tines. He made the All-Star team every year from 1948 to 1962. And perhaps one of the more astounding facts about Berra is that he caught both games of a doubleheader 117 times.
Berra was nearly impossible to strikeout. He had 412 strikeouts during his entire career, just 54 more strikeouts than home runs. One year he hit 28 home runs and struck out 12 times — for the entire season.
Berra was before my time both as a player and as a manager, but early in my writing career Berra was a coach for the Houston Astros. I saw him sitting in the dugout by himself before one game and thought, “Ah, I’ll go talk to him and get a feature story on a bunch of funny things he says.”
I talked to him for a half an hour. All I got was a bunch of baseball stuff, good stuff about hitting and winning. Nothing funny. Nothing witty. No Yogi-isms.
But just hearing him talk about the Yankees and Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle was time well spent.
On one of Yogi’s nights, he stood in front of a microphone and said, “I want to thank everybody for making this night necessary.”
And I want to thank Yogi Berra for making this blog necessary.