I realize I’m a few days late on this, but I couldn’t let the passing of Yogi Berra escape a tribute on this blog. I’ve got to do it for him, because otherwise he probably won’t do it for me.
Lawrence Peter Berra was born in 1925 in St. Louis to immigrant parents Berra claimed didn’t even know what baseball was. In the coming decades he would serve his country with distinction in World War II, play for the most dominant sports franchise in the nation, and be celebrated by actors, presidents, and poets alike. His charming malapropisms, sometimes called simply “Yogi-isms,” have amused, befuddled, and enlightened us for so long that they now eclipse his accomplishments on the baseball diamond. Let us not forget that Yogi was an 18-time All-Star, three-time MVP, and 10-time World Series champion as a player: more than anyone else who ever played the game.
Berra’s numbers show both amazing skill and consistency, and for career numbers, his longevity puts many of them out of sight. (Who’s playing in 75 World Series games this century?) In 1950, Berra somehow struck out only 12 times in 656 plate appearances. For eight seasons from 1950-1957 he never finished lower than fourth in AL MVP voting. And on teams featuring Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, he led the Yankees in RBIs every year from 1949-1955. Lest we be swayed by sabermetric disdain for the RBI, remember that Bill James himself called Berra the greatest catcher of all time.
The only man ever to take both the Yankees and the Mets to the World Series, Berra showed himself a leader as both manager and coach for a quarter century after he retired. An informal advisor for decades after that, Berra became one of the game’s elder statesmen, still admired and adored more than half a century after his last game.
For a man who once reminded us it ain’t over ’til it’s over, his legacy lives on.