Yogi Berra is known to millions who don’t even follow baseball. His persona transcends the game. Berra is funny and, at a squat 5’8″, was a seemingly improbable star. But a star he was – a Hall of Famer. “To me,” Casey Stengel said, “he is a great man. I am lucky to have him and so are my pitchers…He springs on a bunt like it was another dollar.” Through hard work and the help of Bill Dickey, Berra became a great catcher. He led the American League in games caught and chances accepted eight times, and led the league in double plays six times. He is one of only four catchers to ever field 1.000 in a season (1958), and between July 28, 1957, and May 10, 1959, Berra set major league records by catching in 148 consecutive games and accepting 950 chances without making an error. Yogi was a master at calling pitches and handling a pitching staff. He caught two no-hitters by Allie Reynolds in 1951 and Don Larsen‘s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He treated every Yankee pitcher differently; some he goaded and some he babied, depending on their temperament.
An excellent, cat-like athlete, he was also a good defensive left fielder late in his career. As a slugger, he was feared throughout the league. Berra American League records for home runs hit while playing catcher with his 30 home runs in both 1952 and 1956 and his 306 lifetime (these were later broken by Carlton Fisk). He also had five 100-RBI seasons. Between 1949 and 1955, when he was the heart of the Yankees’ batting order, he led the club in RBI each season and won three MVP awards. Berra was one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time, “the toughest man in the league in the last three innings,” according to Paul Richards, a rival manager. Along with Roberto Clemente, Berra was probably the best bad-ball hitter in the game’s history. He was skilled at golfing low pitches for deep home runs and chopping high pitches for line drives. Yet for all his aggressiveness at the plate, he was hard to strike out. In 1950, he fanned only 12 times in 597 at-bats. As Lawrence Peter Berra had a way with the bat, so does he have a way with words. One of Berra’s first notable quotes came in 1947, when the people of his hometown St. Louis threw Berra a “night” before a Yankees-Browns game. Grateful, Berra told the crowd: “I want to thank everyone for making this night necessary.” He once said of a restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” And as a veteran, he noted, “I’ve been with the Yankees 17 years, watching games and learning. You can see a lot by observing.” “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore,” was his pithy comment on inflation. When asked as a child how he liked school he replied: “Closed.” His colorful expressions that got to the heart of things became known as “Yogi-isms.” After playing briefly in the Yankee farm system, Berra enlisted in the navy in 1944. After his discharge in 1946 he reported to the Yankees’ Newark club in the International League. He had a great year (.314, 15 HRs, 59 RBI in only 277 at-bats) and was called across the Hudson. Berra came up as an outfielder before being converted to catcher, and he shared New York’s catching duties with Aaron Robinson at first, and later with Gus Niarhos, before becoming the Yankees’ regular catcher from 1949 to 1959. Except for a few games with the Mets in 1965, Berra played his entire career as a Yankee, serving as an outfielder and pinch hitter as well as catcher in 1960-63. When his career was over, Berra had played on a record ten World Series champions. He also played in an unmatched 14 World Series and holds WS records for games (75), at-bats (259), hits (71), and doubles (10).
Berra was named the Yankees manager for the 1964 season, the final season of the mighty New York dynasty. The Yankees won the pennant but were defeated by St. Louis in a seven-game World Series. The day after the Series ended, the Yankees fired Berra and hired St. Louis Manager Johnny Keane. New York finished sixth in 1965. Berra, meanwhile, rejoined Stengel with the Mets. He took over as the Mets’ manager when Gil Hodges died suddenly in 1972 and led them to the NL pennant in 1973, thus joining Joe McCarthy as the second manager to win pennants in both leagues. In 1976 Berra returned to the Yankees as a coach, and he managed the club again in 1984 and the beginning of 1985. He later coached for Houston. Wherever he goes, Berra remains one of baseball’s most popular figures.