“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical” – Yogi Berra
What a spectacular home run. Life had been remarkable for Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra and Baseball had the pleasure of knowing and experiencing the wittiest Yankee catcher history has ever celebrated. As Berra left his diamond for the very last time, he bequeathed a legacy that will shine in his wake forever more. A philanthropist, a military soldier, the greatest Major League Baseball player of all time who predominantly played for the New York Yankees, was so intensely loved and will be missed as the future teams file out to play baseball without the greatest legend ever to play the game.
Lawrence Peter was born on May 12, 1925, to Italian immigrants, Pietro and Paolina Berra who had settled in what was largely regarded as an Italian region of St. Louis, Missouri. One of five children, Lawrence was nicknamed Lawdie by his mother who found it difficult to pronounce the name Lawrence. Berra at a young age would go on to clearly show a passion for baseball, softball, soccer, football and even roller hockey and began playing in the local American Legion. His new nickname would originate from a friend who noticed how Berra would sit with his legs and hands crossed like a Hindu yogi. The name stuck.
It was 1942 when 17 year-old Berra and a friend, Joe Garagiola who would become a future major leaguer and sports announcer, were offered an opportunity to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals. Both were asked to sign with the team, but when they compared notes, Berra was dismayed to discover that while his friend was offered double, he had been offered was half as much as Garagiola’s contract. He immediately turned it down. It would take Berra until the following year when at age 18, he signed a minor league contract with the Yankees for $500 and played until 1943 when he joined the United States Navy. He would serve in Europe as a second-class seaman and gunner’s mate aboard a rocket boat that was part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June of 1944 and for his actions during the battle he would receive several commendations.
Berra made his debut appearance in a Major League for the New York Yankees when his team was playing against the Philadelphia Athletics in 1946. In 1947 he became the first player to hit a home run against Ralph Branca, the pitcher from the Brooklyn Dodgers. Berra was primarily awkward behind the plate until, under the tutelage of coach and former Yankees catcher Bill Dickey, his defensive abilities indicated with auspicious evidence that Berra possessed something extraordinarily special. His fans noticed it also as Berra went on to give the game he loved all he had.
Berra also won the heart of a young waitress, who when he walked into Biggie’s Steakhouse in St. Louis knew when he saw her, he had to know her better. He would frequently return just to see Carmen but because he couldn’t afford steaks every time, he would order a glass of water. Later, whilst on the road for his baseball career, he missed the young Carmen desperately and courted her through letters he would write. She became Berra’s adviser, his confidante and his biggest fan. They became a remarkable team and were married on January 26, 1949.
Berra won the Most Valuable Player award in 1951, 1954 and 1955 and by 1958 he was the leading catcher in home runs for almost a decade. He played fifteen All-Star Games and earned a perfect (1.000) fielding percentage. He would be one of only four catchers ever to do so. Berra would go on to play on more pennant-winning teams and win ten World Series championships than any player in baseball history. Aside from the privilege of watching a legend, Yankee fans were often rewarded with a no-nonsense attitude, a down-to-earth personality and expressions often referred to as “Yogi-isms.” He was the most quoted sports figure of all time who will be remembered for his most famous sayings, “Baseball is ninety percent mental, and the other half is physical,” “The future ain’t what is used to be,” “I never said most of the things I said” (in reference to publicists frequent exaggerations of his comments in newspapers and magazines) and “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Berra retired as a baseball player in 1963 and re-emerged as the Yankees manager in 1964 but when the team lost the series after winning the pennant, he was fired. He became a coach for the New York Mets with whom he would remain for seven years until in 1972 he became the team’s manager. It was during that same year when Berra was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Their old team mate was honored by the Yankees who permanently retired Berra’s jersey number (8). In 1975 Berra came full circle and returned to the Yankees, first as a coach, then as manager. He would play his management role from 1983 until he was fired once more in 1985. The Houston Astros hired him as a bench coach in 1986 where he remained until his retirement in 1992. Berra had spent almost his entire lifetime devoted to the game of baseball.
After his retirement, Berra opened the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Little Falls New Jersey. It was there he hosted many baseball camps and sports workshops. The museum houses the glove he wore in the perfect game he caught during the 1958 World Series, as well as his championship rings. He raised millions of dollars through annual golf tournaments and wrote several memoirs of his life experiences. He appeared in numerous television commercials, became the subject of articles, documentaries and feature films, including 61*, The Bronx Is Burning and the 2013 Broadway musical Bronx Bombers.
A love affair that spanned 65 years had been celebrated by Yogi and Carmen on 26 January of 2014. It would be their last anniversary. Carmen at 85 died peacefully in May, due to complications resulting from a stroke she had suffered earlier in the year. Yogi Berra, the greatest baseball player who loved what he did and did what he loved, died on 22nd September 2015. “We have a good time together even when we’re not together,” he was quoted as saying before he closed his eyes.
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