By: Paul DiSclafani
By now, you’ve probably read all the tributes and accolades to the great Yogi Berra, who passed away at the age of 90 today. You know about the 10 World Championships as a player with the Yankees and his iconic stature in the game of baseball. He caught Don Larson’s Perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He was a player / manager / coach in 21 World Series, ending up on the winning side 13 times.
But my favorite statistic was that five times in his career, he hit more home runs than he had strikeouts.
There are many, many “Yogi-ism’s” that are attributed to him, some are real and some are the result of Urban Legends. He was certainly a colorful character in what, at the time, was a truly black and white sport for most fans (there wasn’t any color TV). In 1998, he published a book titled “The Yogi Book: I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said”.
You may even know that after his Yankee career was over, he actually played for the New York Mets in 1965 after not playing at all in 1964. He appeared in four games and had 2 hits. His last game as a player was in May of that year (he went 0-4).
Did you know that he was the Mets first base coach in 1969? He took over for the late Gil Hodges as manager in 1972, and in 1973 he managed to get the Mets into the playoffs (they finished 82-79) after they were in fifth place in the National League East in August. Although he was attributed with the battle cry for that season of, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over”, he admitted he actually said, “You’re not out until you’re out.” But why quibble?
There was a controversy in that 1973 World Series with Berra and star pitcher Tom Seaver that has always haunted Mets fans. The Mets were leading the series 3-2 and heading back to Oakland for Game 6. At the time, fans and the media were wondering why Berra chose Seaver to pitch in that Game 6 on 3-days rest when he had a healthy George Stone with Seaver in his pocket on full rest if there was a Game 7?
Berra said, at the time, that he was going for the knockout punch. Seaver had gone on three days rest seven times during the course of the season, pitching seven innings in six of those starts. Against the A’s that day, he held Oakland to two runs in his seven innings (Reggie Jackson drove in both runs with RBI doubles), but the Mets lost the game, 3-1. Jon Matlack then gave up four runs in the 3rd inning of Game 7 and the A’s won the World Series, winning that game 5-2.
Most people (including your humble narrator) think it was Seaver who pressured Berra to pitch in that Game 6.
When a famous, iconic player passes away, it is always a sad day. But Yogi was one of the great ones. The tributes from around the world are heartfelt and all seem to carry the same theme – he was a really nice man. Many fans that have met him over the years all universally say the same thing. He loved to talk about baseball and always had time for a baseball fan.
He was quoted as saying many things, including “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise, they won’t go to yours.” Although Berra declined to take credit for that one, I’m sure everyone who can, would like to pay their last respects to Yogi.
For me, I’m going to read some of these tributes and enjoy a nice, cold Yoo-hoo in his honor and imagine that he actually said, “I want to thank everybody for making this day necessary”.