Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra (born May 12, 1925) is a former American Major League Baseball catcher, outfielder, and manager. He played almost his entire 19-year baseball career (1946-1965) for the New York Yankees. Berra was one of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times and one of only six managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series. He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Berra is widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. According to the win shares formula developed by sabermetrician Bill James, Berra is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitching player in major-league history.
Berra, who quit school after the eighth grade, has a tendency toward malapropism and fracturing the English language. "It ain't over till it's over" is arguably his most famous example, often quoted.
He picked up his famous nickname from a friend, Bobby Hofman, who said he resembled a Hindu holy man (yogi) they had seen in a movie, whenever Berra sat around with arms and legs crossed waiting to bat, or while looking sad after a losing game. Years later, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Yogi Bear was presumably named after Berra (the cartoon's creators denied it), something Berra did not appreciate after he started being periodically addressed as "Yogi Bear."Template:Citation needed
Berra was born in a primarily Italian neighborhood of St. Louis called "The Hill", to Italian immigrants Pietro and Paolina (née Longoni) Berra. Pietro, originally from Milan in northern Italy, arrived at Ellis Island on October 18, 1909, at the age of 23. In a 2005 interview for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Yogi said, "My father came over first. He came from the old country. And he didn't know what baseball was. He was ready to go to work. And then I had three other brothers and a sister. My brother and my mother came over later on. My two oldest brothers, they were born there -- Mike and Tony. John and I and my sister Josie were born in St. Louis." Yogi's parents originally nicknamed him "Lawdie", derived from his mother's difficulty pronouncing "Lawrence" or "Larry" correctly. He grew up on Elizabeth Avenue, across the street from boyhood friend and later competitor Joe Garagiola; that block, also home to baseball broadcaster Jack Buck, was later renamed "Hall of Fame Place". Berra and Garagiola both attended South Side Catholic, now called St. Mary's High School, in south St. Louis. Berra has been inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
He began playing baseball in local American Legion leagues, where he learned the basics of catching while playing outfield and infield positions as well. Berra also played for a Cranston, Rhode Island team under an assumed name.Template:Citation needed
In 1942, the St. Louis Cardinals spurned Berra in favor of his boyhood best friend, Joe Garagiola. On the surface, the Cardinals seemed to think Garagiola the superior prospect—but team president Branch Rickey actually had an ulterior motive: knowing he was soon to leave St. Louis to take over the operation of the Brooklyn Dodgers and more impressed with Berra than he let on, Rickey apparently planned to hold Berra off until he could sign him for the Dodgers. The plan was ruined when the Yankees got to him first, signing him for the same $500 bonus the Cardinals offered Garagiola. Berra was assigned to the Norfolk Tars of the Class B Piedmont League, where his most memorable feat was driving in 23 runs in a doubleheader.
Following his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II where he served as a Gunner's Mate in the D-Day invasion, Berra played minor league baseball with the Newark Bears before being called up for seven games in the major leagues in 1946 and was taught under the mentorship of Hall of Famer Bill Dickey, whose number Berra took. The following season he played 83 games for the Yankees, and he would play more than a hundred in each of the following fourteen years.
Berra appeared in fourteen World Series, winning ten championships, both of which are records. Partly because Berra's playing career coincided with the Yankees' most consistent period of World Series participation, he established World Series records for the most games (75), at-bats (259), hits (71), doubles (10), singles (49), games caught (63), and catcher putouts (457). In Game 3 of the 1947 World Series, Berra hit the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history, off Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca (who later served up Bobby Thomson's famous home run in 1951).
Berra was a fifteen-time All-Star, and won the league's MVP award three times, in 1951, 1954 and 1955. From 1950 to 1957, Berra never finished lower than 4th in the voting. He received MVP votes in fifteen consecutive seasons, tied with Barry Bonds and second only to Hank Aaron's nineteen straight seasons with MVP support. (Ted Williams also received MVP votes in every year of his career, but it was twice interrupted by military service.) Between 1949 and 1955, on a team filled with stars such as Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, it was Berra who led the Yankees in RBI for seven consecutive seasons.
One of the most notable days of Berra's playing career came when he caught Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the first of only two no-hitters ever thrown in postseason play. The pictures of Berra leaping into Larsen's arms following the 27th out are among the sport's most memorable images.
Berra was excellent at hitting poor pitches, covering all areas of the strike zone (as well as beyond) with great extension. In addition to this wide plate coverage, he also had great bat control. He was able to both swing the bat like a golf club to hit low pitches for deep home runs, and chop at high pitches for line drives. Five times, Berra had more home runs in a season than strikeouts. In 1950, Berra struck out twelve times in 597 at-bats. This combination made him a feared "clutch hitter"; rival manager Paul Richards once called Berra "the toughest man in the league in the last three innings." When asked about swinging at "bad pitches", Berra reportedly said, "If I can hit it, it's a good pitch."Template:Citation needed
As a fielder, Berra was truly outstanding. Quick, mobile, and a great handler of pitchers, Berra led all American League catchers eight times in games caught and in chances accepted, six times in double plays (a major league record), eight times in putouts, three times in assists, and once in fielding percentage. Berra left the game with the AL records for catcher putouts (8,723) and chances accepted (9,520). He was also one of only four catchers to ever field 1.000 for a season, playing 88 errorless games in 1958. He was the first catcher to leave a finger outside his glove, a style most other catchers eventually emulated. Later in his career, he became a good defensive outfielder in Yankee Stadium's notoriously difficult left field. In June 1962, at the age of 37, Berra showed his superb physical endurance by catching an entire 22-inning, seven-hour game against the Tigers. Casey Stengel, Berra's manager during most of his playing career with the Yankees and with the Mets in 1965, once said, "I never play a game without my man."
After Berra's Yankee playing career ended with the 1963 World Series, he was hired as the manager of the New York Yankees. Much was made of an incident on board the team bus in August 1964. Following a loss, infielder Phil Linz was playing his harmonica, and Berra ordered him to stop. Seated on the other end of the bus, Linz couldn't hear what Berra had said, and Mickey Mantle impishly informed Linz, "He said to play it louder." When Linz did so, an angry Berra slapped the harmonica out of his hands. All was apparently forgotten when Berra's Yankees rode a September surge to return to the World Series. But the team lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, after which Berra was fired. It was later learned that general manager Ralph Houk had been ready to discharge Berra since midseason, apparently for a perceived loss of control over the team.
Berra made a very brief return to the field as a player-coach for the crosstown Mets, playing in just four games. His last at-bat came on May 9, 1965, just three days shy of his 40th birthday. Berra stayed with the Mets as a coach for the next eight seasons, including their 1969 World Championship season. He then became the team's manager in 1972, following the sudden death of manager Gil Hodges.
The following season looked like a disappointment at first. Midway through the 1973 season, the Mets were stuck in last place but in a very tight divisional race. When the press asked Yogi if the season was finished, he replied,
A late surge allowed the Mets to win the NL Eastern division despite an 82-79 record. When the Mets faced the 99-win Cincinnati Reds in the 1973 National League Championship Series, a memorable brawl erupted between Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose in Game Three. After the incident, fans began throwing objects at Rose on the field. Sparky Anderson pulled Rose and his Reds off the field until order was restored or a forfeit was declared. Berra walked out to left field with Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Rusty Staub and Cleon Jones in order to plead with the fans to desist.Template:Citation needed Yogi's Mets went on to defeat the highly favored "Big Red Machine" in 5 games to capture the NL pennant. It was Berra's second as a manager, one in each league.
In the 1973 World Series, Yogi's Mets had a 3-games-to-2 lead on the Oakland Athletics. Berra chose Seaver and Jon Matlack, each pitching on 3 days rest, to start for games 6 and 7. When the Mets lost both games, Berra was criticized for not using George Stone in Game Six as a starter, thus giving him a fully-rested Game Seven pitcher. Berra expressed no regrets: "What better situation would you want to have? Seaver and Matlack having to win one game! I have no regrets or second thoughts. I went for the kill. It just wasn't in the cards".
Berra's tenure as Mets manager ended with his firing on August 5, 1975. In 1976, he rejoined the Yankees as a coach. The team won its first of three consecutive AL titles, as well as the 1977 World Series and 1978 World Series, and (as had been the case throughout his playing days) Berra's reputation as a lucky charm was reinforced. (Casey Stengel once said of his catcher, "He'd fall in a sewer and come up with a gold watch.") 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. Instead of firing him personally, Steinbrenner dispatched Clyde King to deliver the news for him. This caused a rift between the two men that was not mended for almost 15 years.Template:Citation needed
Berra later joined the Houston Astros as bench coach, where he again made it to the NLCS in 1986. The Astros lost the series in six games to the New York Mets. Berra remained a coach in Houston until 1989.
In 1972, Berra was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The No. 8 was retired in 1972 by the Yankees, jointly honoring Berra and Bill Dickey, his predecessor as the Yankees' star catcher. Yankee television announcer Michael Kay introduced Berra on Old Timers Day as "one of the best known faces on the planet."Template:Citation needed
On August 22, 1988, Berra and Dickey were honored with plaques to be hung in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. Berra's plaque calls him "A legendary Yankee" and cites his most frequent quote, "It ain't over till it's over." However, the honor was not enough to shake Berra's conviction that Steinbrenner had broken their personal agreement; Berra did not set foot in the Stadium for another decade, until Steinbrenner publicly apologized to Berra.
In 1999, Berra appeared at No. 40 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and fan balloting elected him to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. At the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, Berra had the honor of being the last of the 49 Hall of Famers in attendance to be announced. The hometown favorite received the loudest standing ovation of the group.
On July 18, 1999, Berra was honored with "Yogi Berra Day" at Yankee Stadium. Don Larsen threw the first pitch to Berra, to honor the perfect game from the 1956 World Series. This was a part of the celebration to mark the return of Berra to the Stadium, which ended his 14-year feud with Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner. The feud started in 1985 when Steinbrenner promised Berra an honest chance as manager, then fired him in the third week of the season. Berra vowed to never return to Yankee Stadium so long as Steinbrenner owned the team. On that day, Yankees pitcher David Cone threw a perfect game against the Montreal Expos, only the 16th time it had ever been done in Major League history.
Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center and Yogi Berra StadiumEdit
In 1998, the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center and Yogi Berra Stadium (home of the New Jersey Jackals and Montclair State University baseball teams) opened on the campus of Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. The museum is currently the home of various artifacts, including the mitt with which Yogi caught the only perfect game in World Series history, several autographed and "game-used" items, and nine of Yogi's championship rings. (Berra only wears the 1953 ring, in commemoration of the Yankees' record 5th consecutive World Championship.) It was an appearance on behalf of the museum by George Steinbrenner that led to their ultimate reconciliation. Yogi Berra was given the 1951 Yankee World Series banner for display purposes.
Berra is very involved with the project, and he frequently visits the museum 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.
Berra and former teammate Phil Rizzuto were partners in a bowling alley venture in Clifton, New Jersey, originally called Rizzuto-Berra Lanes. The two sold the alley to other owners, who kept the alley open as Astro Bowl until the late 1990s when it was sold again and converted to retail space.
Berra remains involved in causes related to his Italian American heritage. A longtime supporter of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), Berra has helped fundraise for the Foundation, even signing baseballs at NIAF events for auction. In 1996, he received the NIAF Special Achievement Award for Sports at NIAF's 21st Anniversary Gala.
In February 2005, Berra filed a lawsuit against Turner Broadcasting System. He alleged that they unfairly used his name in a racy advertisement for the TV series Sex and the City. The advertisement asked what the definition of a "yogasm" is: a) a type of yo-yo trick; (b) sex with Yogi Berra; or c) what Samantha has with a guy from yoga class. (The answer given was C.) This case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money.
Berra has frequently appeared in advertisements for Yoo-hoo, AFLAC, Entenmann's, and Stove Top stuffing, among others, frequently demonstrating his famous "yogiisms." He is among the longest running commercial pitchmen in the U.S.; his television commercials span the early 1950s to the present day. Based on his style of speaking, Yogi was named "Wisest Fool of the Past 50 Years" by The Economist magazine in January 2005.
In the 2007 television miniseries The Bronx is Burning, Berra was portrayed by the actor Joe Grifasi. In Billy Crystal's HBO sports docudrama 61*, Berra was portrayed by actor Paul Borghese, and Crystal's script included more than one of Berra's famous "Yogiisms".
Berra married his wife Carmen on January 26, 1949. They have three children and have lived in Montclair, New Jersey since Berra's playing days. Two of Berra's sons also played professional sports. His son Dale Berra played shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros, and his son Tim Berra played pro football for the Baltimore Colts in 1974.
Berra fell from the front porch of his New Jersey home on July 16, 2010 and was forced to miss Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium the following day. He was hospitalized July 17, 2010 to stop persistent bleeding from cuts to his nose caused by the fall and released the following day.
Template:Wikiquote Berra is also well known for his pithy comments and witticisms, known as Yogiisms. Yogiisms very often take the form of either an apparently obvious tautology, or a paradoxical contradiction.
- As a general comment on baseball: "90% of the game is half mental."
- On why he no longer went to Ruggeri's, a St. Louis restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
- "It ain't over till it's over." In July 1973, when Berra's Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9½ games in the National League East; the Mets rallied to win the division title on the final day of the season.
- When giving directions to Joe Garagiola to his New Jersey home, which is accessible by two routes: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
- On being the guest of honor at an awards banquet: "Thank you for making this day necessary."
- "It's déjà vu all over again". Berra explained that this quote originated when he witnessed Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hit back to back home runs in the Yankees' seasons in the early 1960s.
- "You can observe a lot by watching."
- "Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't go to yours."
- Responding to a question about remarks attributed to him that he did not think were his: "I really didn't say everything I said."
- Yogi: It Ain't Over (1989) ISBN 0-07-096947-7
- The Yogi Book: 'I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said' (1998) ISBN 0-7611-1090-9
- When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It! Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball's Greatest Heroes (2001) ISBN 0-7868-6775-2
- What Time Is It? You Mean Now?: Advice for Life from the Zennest Master of Them All (2002) ISBN 0-7432-3768-4
- Ten Rings: My Championship Seasons (2003) ISBN 0-06-051381-0
- Let's Go, Yankees! (2006) ISBN 1-9328-8881-0
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