As a life-long Yankee fan whenever I think of the greatest Yankee players of all-time the names Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle immediately come to mind. In my opinion the next name that should be mentioned is Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra.
Yogi’s early life: Yogi was born on May 12, 1925 to immigrant parents. He grew up in St. Louis across the street from Joe Garagiola, another ML catcher. He began playing baseball at the American Legion level. While playing American Legion ball he acquired the nickname Yogi from a friend who said he resembled a Hindu yogi when he sat with his hands and legs crossed. The Yankees signed him in 1943, when he was 18 years old, and shipped him to the Norfolk Tars of the Class B Piedmont League.
Yogi’s service to his country: After his one year in the minors, Yogi played for the U.S. Navy where he served as a gunner’s mate on the USS Bayfield during the D-Day invasion of France. Berra was one of a six-man crew on a Navy rocket boat. He was fired upon, but not hit, and later received several commendations for his bravery.
Yogi as a major league player: In 1946, the Yankees promoted him to the Newark Bears of the Class AAA International League. Berra was called up and played his first game on September 22, 1946, and he played 7 games that season and 83 games in 1947, for the Yankees. He played more than one hundred games in each of the following fourteen years. Yogi appeared in fourteen World Series including 10 World Series championships, both of which are records. His final game was on May 9, 1965 with the Mets. Berra was a great contact hitter and ranks second all-time to DiMaggio in strike outs per home run (DiMaggio is 1.02 and Berra is 1.16). Five times, Berra hit more home runs than strikeouts in a season. Manager Paul Richards described Berra as the toughest man in the league to get out in the last 3 innings.
Yogi’s baseball statistics: He retired with a career .285 BA, 358 HRs and 1,430 RBIs. As a catcher he led the league throwing out base-runners for 3 years (1950, 51, 52). Berra was a great handler of pitchers, Berra led all American League catchers 8 times in games caught and in chances accepted, 6 times in double plays (a major league record), 8 times in putouts, 3 times in assists.
Yogi as a manager and coach: Yogi retired after the 1963 World Series, and was immediately named to succeed Ralph Houk as manager of the Yankees. In 1964, after losing to the Cardinals in the WS he was fired. He then signed with the Mets and coached them for next seven seasons. He became the Mets manager in 1972. In 1973, he led the Mets to the NL pennant. It was Berra’s 2nd as a manager, one in each league. The Mets lost to Oakland in the 1973 WS. Yogi’s tenure as Mets manager ended with his firing on August 5, 1975. In 1976, he rejoined the Yankees as a coach. Berra was named Yankee manager before the 1984 season. Berra agreed to stay in the job for 1985 after receiving assurances that he would not be fired, but the impatient Steinbrenner did fire Berra after the 16th game of the season. Berra then joined the Astros as their bench coach and stayed with them until retiring in 1989. He finished his managerial career with a regular season record of 484–444 and a playoff record of 9–10. In 1999, after George Steinbrenner ventured to his home in New Jersey to apologize in person for the way he was fired, Yogi ended his 14-year estrangement with the Yankee organization.
Yogi’s later years: From 2000 on Yogi would attend Yankee spring training each year, working with the young Yankee players. Yogi died on Sept. 22, 2015. At Yogi’s funeral, Joe Torre spoke of his many baseball achievements which included 10 WS rings, 3 MVP Awards and 18 All-Star appearances, but then added: “He was so much more than that. He was so good and so honest and so real and so human.”