Yogi Berra, American (1925 - 2015)

Yogi Berra

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 is one of only seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series. As a player, coach, or manager, Berra appeared in 21 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.

Yogi transformed himself from barefoot sandlotter into one of the greatest catchers and clutch hitters in the history of the game. He anchored the New York Yankees' dynasty from the late 1940s to early '60s, becoming a 15-time All-Star, winner of 10 world championships (most in baseball history) and three-time Most Valuable Player along the way. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972 and is a member of Major League Baseball's All-Century Team. As a manager with both New York teams, he became the first man in over 40 years to win pennants in different leagues (Yankees in 1964, Mets in 1973).

Yogi Berra is quoted more than most poets, his one-of-a-kind observations have made him a major contributor to the national repository of wisdom ("It ain't over 'til it's over" and "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."). No other sports figure has as many entries in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Yogi Berra is also renowned for his selflessness, giving generously of his time for countless youth organizations and charitable causes.

Lawrence Peter Berra was born on May 12, 1925 in "The Hill" section of St. Louis, an enclave of hard-working Italian immigrants, trying to realize the American dream. Along with his neighbor and boyhood pal Joe Garagiola, he played every sport imaginable. Yet the stumpy Yogi - he got the nickname from a friend who said he resembled a yogi in a Hindu-themed movie - was most passionate about baseball. He left school after eighth grade to help his family, working various menial jobs while playing American Legion ball. Yet in a 1942 tryout with the hometown St. Louis Cardinals, he refused general manager Branch Rickey's offer of $250 to sign. He was insulted he didn't get the same $500 offer given to Garagiola, so he signed with the Yankees a year later. With World War II in full swing, he joined the Navy and volunteered for duty on a rocket boat that capsized off Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Yogi survived and would soon exchange his Navy uniform for baseball pinstripes in 1946 with the Newark Bears, the Yankees' top affiliate. On joining the Yankees in the waning weeks of the '46 season, he hit a home run against the Philadelphia A's in his very first game. Through hard work and with the help of Yankee great Bill Dickey, he became a star behind the plate, once going 148 straight games (and 950 chances) without making an error. A master handler of pitchers, he caught two no-hitters by Allie Reynolds in 1951 and Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. The photo of Yogi leaping into Larsen's arms is one of baseball's endearing images.

His prowess at the plate was also legendary. Despite the glamorous shadows around him, first Joe DiMaggio, then Mickey Mantle, it was Yogi who was the most feared hitter on a host of Yankee pennant winners - including an unprecedented five straight world championships - as he led the team in RBI's for seven straight seasons (1949-55). He seldom struck out and was an amazing bad-ball hitter, known to swing at - and hit - pitches near his eyes or burrowing around his ankles.

A squat 5-8, 190-pounder, whom former Yankee president Larry MacPhail said reminded him of "the bottom man on an unemployed acrobatic team," Yogi seemed like an improbable star - especially on baseball's most elite team, the Yankees. Yet he graciously accepted whatever teasing came his way, letting his actions on the field - such as Most Valuable Player-winning seasons in 1951, 1954 and 1955 - quell any doubts.

He remains baseball's unofficial ambassador and one of the game's most respected statesmen. He serves on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee and is a revered presence in the Yankees' clubhouse. He has collaborated on several books - including the 1998 national bestseller "The Yogi Book: I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said" - and has been a spokesman for numerous products. Despite all the accolades and honors, Yogi Berra has never changed. As journalist Leonard Koppett wrote: "In the brightest of publicity spotlights, for more than four decades, Yogi remained completely himself - a rarer and more difficult accomplishment than making the Hall of Fame."

Yogi Berra's dignity and unshakable principles were never more evident than his 14-year refusal to return to Yankee Stadium, after his ignominious firing as manager by George Steinbrenner 16 games into the 1985 season. However, Yogi accepted the Yankee owner's heartfelt apology to him and his wife, Carmen, in a private meeting in January 1999 at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, a reconciliation that paved the way for his celebrated return to the Yankee family.

Family has always been paramount to Yogi Berra, who has been married over 50 years to Carmen and is the proud father of three sons - Larry, a former minor-league catcher, Tim, a former NFL receiver, and Dale, a former major-league infielder - and loving grandfather of 11.

A resident of Montclair, NJ for nearly 50 years, Yogi Berra remains an inspiration to different generations. In 1996, he received an honorary doctorate from Montclair State University. Two years later, a baseball stadium was named after him on campus. And in December 1998, the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center opened its doors to the public, paying tribute to an American legend and his lifelong commitment to the education of young people.

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