The Bronx Faithful remembers the late great Yogi Berra, who would have turned 93-years-old today. Yogi’s 10 World Series rings as a player and three as a coach/manger is the most in MLB history. As the Yankees catcher, he won in 1947, 1949-53, 1956, 1958, 1961-62 to edge out Joe DiMaggio by one for most rings in all of baseball. He was involved in 44% of the franchise’s 27 World Series wins, and won more rings by himself than any team outside of the Bombers.
Lawrence Peter Berra received his famous nickname from his friend Bobby Hofman while playing in American Legion Baseball. Hofman said he resembled a Hindu yogi whenever he sat with his arms and legs crossed waiting to bat or while looking sad after a loss.
Yogi’s playing career started in 1943 for the Yankee’s affiliate Norfolk Tars. In his first professional at-bat, he hit a grand slam and finished the game 6-6. He played in the second game of the double header as well, and finished the day with 12 hits and 23 RBIs. At age 18, he would put his playing career on hold to serve his country.
He joined the U.S. Navy and during World War II he was a gunner’s mate on the USS Bayfield during the D-Day invasion of France. He said of the invasion that “Being a young guy, you didn‘t think nothing of it until you got in it. And so we went off 300 yards off beach. We protect the troops.” He went on to serve in a second assault on France for which he received a medal from the French government. Following his military service, he played minor league baseball with the Newark Bears where he was mentored by Hall of Famer Bill Dickey. This would cause Yogi to don Dickey’s number 8.
He would make the Majors in 1946, playing seven games with the Yanks. The next season he played 83 games and would go on to play more than 100 in each of the next 14 years. He appeared in 14 World Series which, along with the 10 wins, are still MLB records. He holds the record for most games (75), at-bats (259), hits (71), doubles (10), singles (49), games caught (63), and catcher putouts (457). In Game 3 of 1947 he hit the first pinch hit home run in World Series history.
Perhaps his most famous game was when he caught Don Larsen‘s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. The picture of Yogi leaping into Larsen’s arms following the 27th out is among sport’s most memorable images.
Yogi was an All Star 15 times and was selected to 18 All Star Games (MLB held two All Star Games per year from 1959-1962). He was the American League MVP in 1951, 1954, and 1955 and never finished lower than fourth in the voting from 1950-1957. He received MVP votes in 15 consecutive seasons, tied with Barry Bonds and second only to Hank Aaron‘s 19 straight seasons. From 1949-1955, on a team that featured names like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, it was Yogi who led the team in RBIs for those seven seasons. He was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1972, his number 8 was retired by the Yankees and he was named to the MLB All Century Team.
On November 24, 2015, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously by President Obama. Honoring his military service and remarkable baseball career, Obama used one of Yogi’s famous Yogi-isms, saying, “One thing we know for sure: If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”
He was one of the most influential men to ever play the game, not just in the sport but in popular culture as a whole. He inspired Hollywood animators Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera to create one of the most popular cartoon series of all time back in the 1960s, Yogi Bear. “I don’t know if I was the inspiration for Yogi Bear or Boo Boo Bear,” Yogi said. “I guess they just liked my name.”
He opened the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center and Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, New Jersey in 1998. The museum houses various artifacts, including the glove Yogi caught the only perfect game in World Series history with, several autographed and game used items and nine of Yogi’s championship rings. He is very involved with the project and frequently makes appearances for signings, discussions, and other events. It is his intention to “teach children important values such as sportsmanship and dedication, both on and off the baseball diamond.”
Yogi was a staple at the stadium right up until he passed, always attending Old Timers Day and special ceremonies the team held. And if he wasn’t at the stadium he was watching the games on TV. You are missed dearly everyday Yogi. Happy birthday!