BASEBALL PLAYER AND MANAGER
“It’s like déjà vu all over again.” “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.”
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”
Yogi Berra may go down in history as one of the greatest baseball players of all time and one of the most colorful characters to ever play the game. He was born and raised in St. Louis, where he might have become a St. Louis Cardinal had it not been for his childhood friend. Berra set numerous records for catchers during his time in the big leagues, while also making quite an amusing persona for himself along the way. Not only was he a great player, coach, and manager, but the Economist Magazine also named him the “Wisest Fool over the Past 50 Years” for his famous Yogi-isms.
THE EARLY YEARS
Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was born on May 12, 1925, in St. Louis. He spent his early years in the Italian section of the city known as the Hill. He was originally
nicknamed Lawdie (short for Lawrence), but the name Yogi stuck after a friend said he looked like a Hindu holyman that they had seen in a movie.
Baseball was an important part of the culture on the Hill when Berra was growing up. He first played organized baseball with a YMCA team and later played American Legion baseball alongside his close friend, Joe Garigiola. They
were both outstanding young players, and it was only a matter of time before the Major Leagues came calling for both.
RISE TO FAME
Berra’s early dream was to play catcher for his hometown heroes, the St. Louis Cardinals. He was offered a contract by the Cardinals, but since they appeared to be more interested in Garigiola, he signed a contract with the New York Yankees in 1942 instead.
He spent only one year in the minors before heading to the U.S. Navy for service during World War II. He returned in 1946, where he was able to move up to the big leagues by the end of the season. He even hit a home run in his first big league game! His catching was inconsistent during his early years, which forced managers to send him to the outfield for the next three seasons. Those years in the grass transformed him into what would ultimately earn him the reputation as one of the best players in the history of the game.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
Berra’s play in the field, and at the plate, steadily improved until Yankees Manager Casey Stengel (also a famous Missourian) moved him back behind the plate. His fantastic play as catcher earned him the honor of the American League Most Valuable Player in three different seasons, making him one of only four players to achieve that status.
His greatest accomplishment is the fourteen World Series Championships he played in with the Yankees, which helped set a record for catching in more series games than any player in history. His status as one of the all-time greats was further solidified when he hit a home run in his first World Series appearance. He ended his career with a grand total of twelve home runs in World Series play.
After his stellar playing career was over, Berra took over the reins of the Yankees as manager. He led the team to the World Series in his first season, where he managed against his hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals. His first managerial tenure with the Yankees only lasted one year after losing the series to the Cardinals.
He didn’t have to travel far for his next job, as the New York Mets immediately snatched him up to be their new skipper. He made history once again when the Mets won the pennant in 1973, becoming only the third manager in history to win pennants in both the American and National Leagues. He went on to manage again in the 1980s for the Yankees and Houston Astros, ending his time in the majors as one of the greatest of all time, both on the field and in the dugout.
Yogi continued to remain in the public eye long after his baseball career was over. He became a commercial spokesman for products like AFLAC insurance, wrote books, and continued to be a great ambassador for America’s game. His
induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 solidified his place among the greats and immortalizing this Missourian for all time in Cooperstown.
The Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Yogi Bear was named after Berra.