Monday, October 05, 2015
I was severely chastised a couple of times this past week for not taking the time to reflect upon the life of Yogi Berra. We lost Yogi about a week ago. He left an indelible mark on the game of baseball, and also on the lives of all baseball fans.
Yogi grew up in St. Louis in the same neighbourhood as Joe Garagiola, and the two became fast friends on the sandlots. Interestingly enough, they both became catchers in the major leagues.
Berra was perhaps the best-loved of all baseball characters from years ago. He began his career on September 22, 1946 with the New York Yankees. He remained with the Yankees for 18 years. He did play four games for the New York Mets in 1965, the last of his career.
Records show that Yogi was an All Star 18 times, and that he was the Most Valuable Player three times in the American League. Of all the moments that remain with us from his career, perhaps the most memorable was when he rushed out to the mound to hug Don Larsen. Larsen had just pitched the only perfect game in major league history. Berra was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Rare is the photo that does not portray Berra with a huge smile upon his face. He loved the game, and everything that went with it. Even though he played in an era of salaries that do not compare with those of the present day, he was careful with his money. A recent analysis suggested that Berra had a net worth of five million dollars.
Following his playing career, Berra was a manager in the majors for several years. Yogi lived in New Jersey, and his back yard adjoined the yard of John McMullen, at one time the owner of the New Jersey Devils. Belleville’s Rick Meagher played for the Devils at that time, but was on the injured list. He sat in the box with McMullen and Yogi. One of the Devils took a stick to the head in the first period, and bled profusely. He was led off the ice, towel to his head.
As the second period progressed, Yogi noticed that the same player was back on the ice, playing a regular shift. He asked Rick about it. Meagher told him that the player likely took a few stitches, probably without freezing. Yogi, completely amazed, told Meagher that he had lost a pitcher once for two weeks, due to a hangnail!
I first saw Berra play when I went to Yankee Stadium in 1954. At that time I was a Yankee fan, and the experience was most worthwhile. On a recent visit to the new Yankee Stadium, there were special presentations, and Yogi was involved. He went to the paying field in a golf cart, and it was apparent that he was not in good health. Sometimes, we just want our heroes to live forever, do we not?
As I am sure you are aware, Yogi became famous for many famous quotes. “It ain’t over until it’s over” is perhaps the most quoted. But there are many others, too many to quote here.
A couple of gems: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” “Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hitting.” “All pitchers are liars or crybabies.”
Baseball has certainly lost one the greats of the game. Sorry it took me so long to bring it to your attention.
October 5, 2015