By Matt Mirro
It wasn’t an easy morning for baseball. I woke up this morning at around 3:00 a.m. to see that baseball legend Yogi Berra had passed away. It wasn’t easy news to take and I’m sure no one else found it any easier. Yogi was an icon, spanning multiple generations as a player, coach and symbol of the great game’s history. He was as synonymous with baseball as Cooperstown or A. G. Spalding. A regular at Yankee Old Timers’ Day, Berra was one of the most beloved Bronx Bomber in history and widely considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest catcher of all time.
Before his big league career began Berra he served on a the gunboat, USS Bayfield, during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France during World War II. After being spurred by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals Berra signed with the New York Yankees for a $500 signing bonus. While in the minor leagues Yankee ownership refused to trade him in a deal that would’ve sent Joe DiMaggio to the Boston Red Sox for Ted Williams. I am certain the Yankees never once regretted that deal.
I could sit here and recount statistics until the cows come home. But knowing the type of person Yogi was I would think he’d rather have me leave that part out. No catcher has ever had such an impact on the game this side of Johnny Bench. He was elected to an All-Star team 18 of his 19 seasons in pinstripes while winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times, a rare feat for anyone let alone a catcher. As a player, Berra won an astonishing 10 World Series titles and secured another three as a coach. His number 8 is retired by the Yankees and he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Yogi was more than just a ball player. He was a cultural icon. Who could forget his famous one liners, known as Yogisms.
“It’s deja vu all over again.”
“90 percent of baseball is mental, the other half is physical.”
“Always go to your friends’ funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
“You can observe a lot by watching”
“If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
“It ain’t over ’till it’s over.”
I don’t think there’s ever been a ballplayer who was a great a philosopher as a baseball player. He’s quoted along with great speakers like Socrates and Abraham Lincoln. A pillar of the Yankees teams in the 1950’s he, along with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto and manager Casey Stengel, built one of the greatest dynasties ever.
Regrettably, I never had the chance to meet the great man. But from everything I’ve heard he was as remarkable a human being as he was a player, something hard to find these days. I cannot image a more genuinely lovable human being, even as I only viewed from a far, as Yogi Berra. He wasn’t a physical specimen like his teammate Mantle or a naturally gifted defensive catcher like his mentor Bill Dickey but he worked hard to become the best player he could possibly be. That was a darn good player for sure. I’ve always been of the school that believed Berra to be the greatest catcher in baseball history.
I could go on and on but I’m afraid my keyboard would break and this is a new laptop. My love for Yogi Berra has been aided by the endless stories my grandpa used to tell me. “The greatest junk ball hitter of all time”. That’s what my good old gramps always used to say. I envy how he actually got to watch him play. The Yankees will be wearing a number eight on their jerseys to mourn his passing but I cannot imagine a tribute fitting enough for a man like Yogi Berra. Rest in peace, Yogi. you will be greatly missed.