Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, a 13-time World Series winner, gunner’s mate for the U.S Navy, and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, died of natural causes in his assisted-living home in New Jersey on September 22, 2015. A Missouri native, Yogi was born to Catholic, Italian immigrant parents in 1925. He had four other siblings, three brothers and one sister, all of whom had originally called him “Lawdie” as opposed to his current nickname “Yogi.” He took on the nickname of “Yogi” when a teammate from a local club team thought he looked like a yogi, a practitioner of yoga in the Hindu religion. Although Yogi and his family were clearly not Hindu, he liked the nickname and kept it for life.
It is often argued that Yogi, who played his entire career for the New York Yankees, with the exception of four games with the New York Mets in 1965, is the greatest Major League catcher of all time. Although determining the greatest athlete at any position in any sport is incredibly difficult, it can confidently be said that Yogi was one of the most accomplished catchers of all time. He hit 358 home runs in his career, good for 84th all time; drove in 1,430 runs, good for 68th all time; and collected 2, 150 hits, good for 203rd all time. However, amazing career numbers are only a fraction of the achievements Yogi accumulated throughout his career. He was selected to play in 18 consecutive All-Star games. He won three American League Most Valuable Player Awards, two of which came in consecutive seasons. He is tied with eight other players for second most MVP awards all time, only behind Barry Bonds, and received some share of MVP votes in 15 consecutive seasons. Very few players in Major League Baseball can boast of such an impressive resume.
As baseball fans, we see that sometimes even the best players find their way onto teams that either cannot make the playoffs or choke when the playoffs come around. yogi, though, never knew what it felt like to lose in the playoffs. Although he did not play for the New York Yankees of 1927 (which is said to be the greatest baseball team of all-time) his Yankee squadron from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s was still good enough to help him earn 13 World Series Championships. To put things in perspective, Yogi Berra has won more World Series Championships than the Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks, and nine other Major League franchises have combined. His success rate is impeccable, too. Yogi won all those championships in 19 years, reaching the World Series a total of 15 times. To put this success rate into perspective, Yogi has appeared in more World Series Championships than the 12 franchises that have appeared in the World Series the least combined, and more times than 29 other franchises, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants as the only exceptions.
In 1972, Yogi was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a second ballot member receiving 86% of votes from the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA). Although these accomplishments are impressive in and of themselves, Yogi’s greatest accomplishment was being voted onto the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999, the most selective team in all of baseball. The All-Century Team consisted of the top 30 players of all time as chosen by online ballot. Yogi was in good company, as this list included Nolan Ryan, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and many other legends.
During his short stint in the minor leagues, Yogi put his professional baseball career on hold and joined the U.S. Navy. A little known fact, Yogi served during World War II aboard the USS Bayfield, and earned the prestigious ranking of Second Class Seaman. Yogi also fought on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day on June 6, 1944. He never reported suffering any injuries during his time of service.
Yogi was not the most educated baseball player to ever play the game, but even that worked to his advantage. He stopped attending school after eighth grade, neglecting to pursue a high school degree, and sometimes struggled to create logical sentences as a result. This led to his unintentional saying of popular malapropisms, witticisms, and tautology. These stunning one-liners have been coined “Yogi-isms” by the baseball community. He once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be,” and “I never said most of the things I said.” Yogi was clearly good at math, as he would say, “I usually take a two hour nap from one to four,” and “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” One could say that baseball was not the only talent that made Yogi famous.
Yogi left behind quite a legacy for the baseball world. Most would see him as a hero of the game, but he is not a hero. He is a legend. As it is said, heroes get remembered, but legends never die.
RIP Yogi Berra