Eight things to know about No. 8

Yogi Berra

For all the talk of Yogi’s wit, it’s easy to lose sight of just how good a player Berra was. When it comes to greatest catcher ever, he might not be the best ever, but he’s in the top group squatting. Berra hit 20 homers or more for 10 consecutive seasons and 358 in all; he hit .300 three times; he knocked in 100 runs five times; he threw out 49% of base stealers for his career (league average 45%), and 58% in 1950. He was the only catcher to win consecutive back-to-back MVPs. He also played left field, right field, third base and first in his career. He only hit into 146 double plays in his career, reaching double figures just five times. He hit 12 homers in World Series games, three in a seven-game 1956 win (Berra hit .360 and slugged .800 for the seven games). Career numbers: .285 average, 358 home runs, 1,430 RBIs, 2,150 hits, .348 on-base percentage, .482 slugging, .830 OPS, 125 OPS+, 59.5 WAR. From the appreciation Wednesday by The New Yorker’s Roger Angell, perhaps the only one writing on Berra who is older than Yogi was: “I can almost bring Yogi back in memory, up at the plate, powerfully round and thick and bearish in his work-smudged pinstripes, with his head (in a cap, not a helmet) tipped a little, as if to give him more height while he stares out at the pitcher. The pitch is up, out of the strike zone, but Berra slashes at it anyway—it’s up by his eyes, because the force of his swing has dropped him down—and he drives it distantly. He runs hard, startling you again with his speed and strength, and rounds first base at full speed, leaning sideways like a racing car, then pulls up in a shower of dirt and scrambles back to the bag. I’m on my feet, yelling and laughing with everyone else. Yogi, Yogi — there’s no oon else like him. The laughter isn’t sweet; it’s all wonder.”

Eight things to know about Yogi Berra, culled from all the appreciations and obituaries of Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who died this week at age 90:

  • 1. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade, but he outmaneuvered Branch Rickey, who offered him only a $250 bonus to sign with the Cardinals. Rickey signed Berra’s childhood friend Joe Garagiola for $500 and Berra refused to sign for anything less. Berra got his $500 from the Yankees, and Rickey went to the Dodgers, where he tried again to sign Berra. It was too late.
  • 2. Yogi hit .253 as an 18-year-old in the Class B Piedmont League before going into the navy. He particpated in D-Day, and was awarded the Purple Heart service later in the war in the south of France.
  • 3. On his first opening day as a Yankee in 1947, Berra played right field. He didn’t exclusively become  a catcher until 1949, though he went back to the outfield part-time in 1958 as Elston Howard received more playing time.
  • 4. He hit the first pinch-hit home run in the World Series. It came in the seventh inning of Game 3 in 1947, with the Yankees trailing the Dodgers 9-7. Berra batted for Sherm Lollar with one out in the seventh inning and drove pitcher Ralph Branca out of the game. The Dodgers won the game 9-8, the Yankees won the Series in 7. Four years later, Branca threw an even more famous home run.
  • 5. Berra was the second manager to get to the World Series in each league (Yankees in 1964, lost to the Cardinals in seven; Mets in 1973, lost to the Athletics in seven). Joe McCarthy was the first (Cubs in 1929, lost to the A’s in five; Yankees in 1932, beat the Cubs in four).
  • 6. Berra got a good view of another famous home run. He was the left fielder, looking up helplessly, as Bill Mazeroski’s home run won the 1960 World Series.
  • 7. Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann tweeted that Yogisms were cited 124 times in federal court rulings. He didn’t say which side of the cases they helped.
  • 8. Yogi caught both games of a doubleheader 117 times.
  • And because it’s Yogi, here’s eight more:

  • 9. He was the all-time home run hitter for catchers until Johnny Bench broke his record (Berra hit 305 of his 358 as a catcher). When Bench broke the record, Berra congratulated him with a telegram, saying, “I always thought the record would stand until it was broken.”
  • 10. Berra had three sons , all professional athletes: Dale was an infielder who played 11 years in the majors and hit 49 home runs; Tim Berra was a 17th-round pick of the Baltimore Colts and played in the NFL in 1974 as a kick returner (7.1 on punts, 19.9 on kickoffs); Laurence Berra was a minor-league catcher in 1971-72 who got 55 at-bats.
  • 11. Berra played on teams which won 10 World Series, but his at-bat was the crucial one (at the 1:20 mark) in the only one the Yankees lost to Brooklyn in 1955. Berra, who lucked into a pop fly double in the fourth inning of Game 7, hit the fly ball into the left-field corner that Sandy Amoros ran down and turned into a double play. The Dodgers won, 2-0.
  • 12. Gil Hodges drove in both runs in the Dodgers’ 2-0  1955 Game 7 victory. He became the Mets’ manager in 1967 and Berra, who had been brought over by Casey Stengel in 1965, stayed on as one of his coaches.  He got his 11th World Series ring when the Mets won in 1969.
  • 13. After Berra ended a 14-year boycott of Yankee Stadium because owner George Steinbrenner sent an errand man to fire Berra as manager in 1985, the Yankees held Yogi Berra Day in 1999. Forty-three years after Berra caught Don Larsen’s perfect game, David Cone pitched another on Yogi Berra Day.
  • 14.Berra dropped a popup for what would have been the last out of an Allie Reynolds no-hitter in 1951. Crestfallen, Berra got a second chance, and caught the next pop-up. The hitter given a second chance to break up the no-hitter? Only Ted Williams.
  • 15. Jackie Robinson stole home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series, but Berra always insisted it was a bad call. In 2010, he sent a picture of the play to President Obama and signed it. “Dear Mr. President, He was out!” wrote Berra.
  • 16. For 15 consecutive years, Berra received MVP votes, and for seven of them, he was top four or better. He was MVP three times.
  • Sources: nytimes.com, sabr.org, si.com, washingtonpost.com, nypost.com, politico.com, grantland.com, stltoday.com

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