MONTCLAIR, NJ MeetTheMatts.com has always been a place for lively debate but lately it seems that people are a bit testy. Maybe it’s the month’s worth of rain in the last two weeks in the greater metropolitan area, but people lately have been sniping at each other about what sports may be discussed, how they may be discussed of if they should even be played at all, while at the same time displaying a certain orneriness toward one another – that I think is clear evidence of a rash of cabin fever. Well today we put a stop to all that. I’m not looking for a bloody kumbaya love fest or peace in our time but today’s topic is, I believe, something that we can all agree on. After all, today’s topic is:
- “Yogi Berra Is A National Treasure!”
Now in deference to a potentially testy segment of the population reading this, one that may become testy at the suggestion that any team outside the Bronx can lay a claim on one Lawrence Peter Berra, let me say at the outset that Yogi Berra is above all else – a Yankee! He may in fact be the quintessential Yankee as he represents class, dignity and excellence that is unequaled in the history of the game. That being said, Yogi finished his playing career with the New York Mets, and played significant roles with the team in both 1969 and 1973. Of course, the segment of the New York population that favors the Senior Circuit shouldn’t necessarily need that personal connection in order to honor and revere Yogi; he is simply one of the greatest players ever to put on a pair of cleats. For us Met fans, though, there is that added bit of warmth, knowing that for a time he wore the blue & orange and went to battle with the team from Queens – and can be counted as one of us.
In terms of Yogi’s playing career he can barely even be said to have had a sip of coffee with the Mets, let alone a cup. He played 4 games for the blue and orange in 1965 before being released and finally retiring as a player in May of that year. But in 18 years as a New York Yankee, Yogi Berra appeared in the World Series a record 14 times and was crowned a world champion a record ten times. In that time he set World Series records for games played, ABs, hits, doubles, singles, games caught and catcher put outs. Yogi was an All-Star 15 times, and was the American League MVP three times (’51, ’54 & ’55). Yogi tied for second with King Asterisk, Barry Bonds, in receiving some MVP consideration 15 years running (number one all-time is Hank Aaron with 19 consecutive years receiving at least some votes), and in 1950 through 1957, Yogi never finished lower than fourth in the All-Star voting. What went into these unparalleled achievements? A world class set of offensive skills which were only eclipsed by an All-Universe set of defensive skills. Yogi’s plate coverage may have been the best baseball has ever seen, both in and out of the strike zone. Up, down, inside, outside, in the strike zone or out, Yogi could hit them all. When asked why he would swing at so many bad pitches, Yogi, a man whose legendary quotes can fill up volumes, replied “If I can hit it, it’s a good pitch.” The proof is in the fact that in five seasons Yogi’s home run numbers surpassed his strikeouts, and in the 1950 season Yogi struck out a mere 12 times in 597 at bats. One of Yogi’s most impressive stats however, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that he led the Yankees in RBIs in seven consecutive seasons while sharing a dugout with such teammates as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle! As I said, his defense was even better. Yogi was quick, mobile and a great handler of pitchers. He set the standard not to be equalled in games caught & chances accepted, most double-plays, put outs, assists and fielding percentage. He is one of four catchers to ever post a fielding percentage of 1.000 and he had a run of 88 errorless games in 1958 at arguably the hardest position in the game. He was even a good outfielder in the latter years of his career patroling the not so easy left field at old Yankee Stadium. But you don’t have to take my word for it, stat man Bill James, using his sabermetric tool “Win shares,” a measure of how an individual players performance adds to his teams overall success, rates Yogi Berra as the greatest catcher of all time, and the 52nd greatest non-pitcher in Major League history.
As a Manager, Yogi led teams to pennants in both leagues -with the ’63 Yankees and ten years later with the ’73 Mets.
It has also been said that Yogi is a bit of a rabbit’s foot, and it could hardly be argued by the ’69 Mets (Yogi was on Gil’s coaching staff), or the ’86 Astros (again on the coaching staff), but Yogi’s greatest achievements as a good luck charm were bestowed on battery mate Don Larsen, an adequate pitcher who achieved legendary status as the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter, he was perfect that game, in World Series history; and then again on Don Larsen Day in September of 1999, on Yogi’s first appearance at Yankee Stadium in 14 years (perhaps his greatest achievement was wringing an apology out of George Steinbrenner), his luck, along with the presence of the hapless and tired Montreal Expos, translated into a perfect game for David Cone.
And then there are the quotes…
Never before in the history of our culture has a man who never got further than the eighth grade been quoted so much. Here are but a few:
“You can observe a lot just by watching.”
“He must have made that before he died.” – referring to a Steve McQueen movie.
“I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early.”
“Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.”
“It gets late early out there.” – ‘there’ being left field at Yankee Stadium where the late afternoon sun played havoc with fielders.
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
“If the fans don’t come out to the ballpark, you can’t stop them.”
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”
“The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.” – some hotel should be honored that Yogi took their towels.
“I’d say he’s done more than that.” – in response to a question as to whether Don Mattingly had exceeded expectations for the current season.
Then there was this interplay between Yogi and his wife Carmen:
CARMEN: “Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?”
YOGI: “Surprise me.”
And finally, my all time favorite:
“You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
Yogi is 84 years young now and he has lived an incredible life. A child of Italian immigrants, he grew up during The Depression. A veteran of the D-Day Invasion and as described above a veteran of everything worth doing in Major League Baseball. Through it all he has displayed class, warmth and wit and he has been a winner more often than not. He is a hero, he is a champion, he is a Yankee He is a national treasure! On behalf of all of us here in Mattville, Yogi, I hope that you keep on coming to Old Timer’s Day and that you keep on going to funerals. You embody what is best about baseball and what is best about America. And that is something that we can all agree on!