Wednesday, September 23, 2015

America Lost a National Treasure Yesterday and I Lost a Hero and Friend - Yogi Berra


Yogi Berra, Yankee legend and American icon, died at age 90 two years ago on September 22, 2015, exactly 69 years to the day he played his first game in the major leagues for the Yankees in 1946.  Over the course of the next 19 years, he would become the best catcher in the history of baseball as he led the Yankees to an astonishing 10 World Series championships in 19 years, and fourteen appearances in the World Series during those years.

Berra had a career batting average of.285, while hitting 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in. He is one of only five players to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

In 1949, early in Berra’s Yankee career, his manager assessed him this way in an interview in The Sporting News: “Mr. Berra,” Casey Stengel said, “is a very strange fellow of very remarkable abilities.”

Many people know Yogi more for his off-the-field quotes than his baseball stats but his stats only enhance the legend.  His career spanned the careers of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, a host of Hall of Famers, and in spite of the hitting reputations of his famous teammates, Yogi drove in more runs during those years than his marquee teammates.

Yogi and Mickey Mantle

Born to Italian immigrants in St. Louis, Yogi dropped out of school after 8th grade to devote his life to baseball.  He served in the Navy in World War II before making his major league debut in 1946.

Yogi and Don Larsen - only perfect game in World Series history

I was born the year he turned pro and during my formative years the kid from St. Louis, about 90 miles down the road from where I lived in Iowa, was a major league super star at catcher, three times MVP, fifteen straight years on the all stars, played in fourteen World series and won ten World championships.

Yogi contesting Jackie Robinson score in World Series
Since I was catcher while winning state championships in Little League and Babe Ruth, the same position as Yogi, he was the role model and reason I was a lifelong Yankees fan, a rare thing in the Midwest.

When I graduated from high school in 1964 I left immediately to visit the Yale campus.  The sports editor who covered my high school career, Al Hoskins of the Ottumwa Courier, joined us in NYC and arranged to get media passes in NYC resulting in dugout and on-field access at the Yankees and Mets stadiums where I got to meet Yogi and the other stars.

Little did I know that twenty years later I would be working for the governor of New Jersey and got to know Yogi and his old teammate Phil Rizzuto up close and personal.  Yogi loved New Jersey and never hesitated to offer his assistance for anything the governor wanted.  He went so far as to host parties at his home in Montclair, NJ where other Hall of Fame players would tell endless stories of the Yogi legend.

No one ever played the game of baseball harder and his career was full of memorable accomplishments.  Yogi the linguist is a legend in his own right and Yogi the person who cared for everyone, especially kids, will never be forgotten.

Yogi has now joined his fellow Hall of Famers among the spirits in the sky and our world will sorely miss what he gave, and never forget his incredible legacy.


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