Yogi Berra: He said - and did - it all

Written by: Samantha Burkett

Hall of Famer Yogi Berra Passes Away at Age 90

Yogi Berra was not only the Hall of Fame player with the most World Series rings, but he became a cultural icon for his personality and wit. It would be hard to find someone who couldn’t recite a “Yogiism” off the top of his head.

"You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours," Berra once said. Today, there will be no question that all of America will mourn the loss of the loveable catcher whose wisdom was matched only by his skill on the diamond.

Berra passed away at his home in New Jersey on Tuesday from natural causes at the age of 90. Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, Berra was a staple behind the plate in the 1950s and a Yankees icon.

Teammate Hector Lopez once described his play: “Yogi Berra had the fastest bat I ever saw. He could hit a ball late, that was already past him, and take it out of the park. The pitchers were afraid of him because he’d hit anything, so they didn’t know what to throw. Yogi had them psyched out and he wasn’t even trying to psych them out.”

Berra played 19 seasons in the big leagues, winning three American League MVP Awards, was elected to 15 consecutive All-Star Games from 1948-1962, topped the 100 RBI mark four years in a row and played in 14 World Series, winning 10 of them. He also played on more pennant winning teams (14) than any other player in history.

He holds World Series records for most games by a catcher (63), hits (71), times on a winning team (10), at bats (259), doubles (10) and is second in RBI's (39), third in home runs (12) and walks (32). In 1947, Berra hit the first pinch-hit homer in World Series history.

He also holds a number of defensive records including 148 consecutive games without an error behind the plate. He caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the only perfect game in the Fall Classic. He is one of only four catchers to go through an entire season without an error, accomplishing the feat in 1958.

Born in St. Louis, Mo. in 1925, Berra earned the nickname Yogi from a childhood friend who said he looked like an Indian snake charmer in a movie – and the name stuck. He began playing minor league ball in 1942 and was approached by then Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey. He turned down a smaller offer with Rickey and signed a contract with the New York Yankees for $500.

New York Yankees Yogi Berra, Ralph Houk and Joe DiMaggio at spring training in 1961. BL-4008-68 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

A Hero Off the Field

When Berra turned 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He took part in the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach during World War II, for which he would later receive the Purple Heart, and also served in Italy and North Africa. After the war, Berra went back to baseball and after a stint in the minor leagues, joined the Yankees in 1946. He played all but a few games in his 19-year career in pinstripes (playing four games as a player-coach for the Mets in 1965).

Berra went on to manage the Yankee and Mets and became only the second manager in baseball history to win pennants in both leagues. Despite all these feats, Berra will be remembered most for his personality that transcends baseball. Recognized by non-baseball fans and aficionados alike, he was arguably the most beloved player since Babe Ruth.

“The Hall of Fame mourns the loss of a baseball legend, great American, tremendous family man and modern day philosopher,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “His baseball abilities and acumen are evidenced by his Hall of Fame election in 1972 and as the only manager in history to take both the Yankees and Mets to the World Series. He joined the Navy at 18, was married to his beloved wife Carmen for 65 years, and had more fun with the English language than any player in history. He will especially be missed in Cooperstown where he was beloved by his fellow Hall of Famers and his adoring fans.”

Samantha Burkett is a freelance writer from Fairport, N.Y.