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Yogi Berra - Baseball Legend

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An Introduction to the Legends of Baseball | Hank Aaron | Yogi Berra | Ty Cobb | Joe DiMaggio
Lou Gehrig | Rogers Hornsby | Mickey Mantle | Willie Mays | Stan Musial | Cal Ripken Jr
Jackie Robinson | Pete Rose | Babe Ruth | Ted Williams | Cy Young | The Baseball Hall of Fame

'You have to give 100% in the first half of the game. If that isn't enough, in the second half, you have to give what is left.'

Lawrence 'Yogi' Berra is a baseball legend for more reasons than just his playing. He was beloved for his good nature and humour. He seemed like an unlikely hero for New Yorkers, being funny, kind and almost universally well liked. Yogi was not greedy or mean but had a real character about him, best expressed in his colourful expressions and mannerisms. Besides this, he didn't have the look of a star baseball player, he had a big nose, long arms and a plumpish body.

The catcher for the Yankees from the 1940s to the 1960s, he was also a feared hitter. As a batter, Yogi had a 'wild swing', it was certainly unorthodox, and many would expect him not to hit often - but he rarely struck out. He was able to hit bad pitches as well, including those that came near his eyes and ankles. Even with legendary Yankee hitters like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio around him, Yogi often had a better record than them and pitchers feared him more. Throughout the 1950 season he struck out only twelve times. Yogi never lead baseball in a single offensive category, but was certainly well known as a hitter. He drove in 100 runs in each of five years, and was the only catcher to ever do so. During most of his career, Yogi and Mickey Mantle combined as the driving force behind the team.

As a catcher, Yogi was one of the most well known 'talkers'. He would speak to the hitter from behind the base in order to distract him. While catching in the 1958 World Series, he tried to distract Hank Aaron, saying 'hit with the label up on the bat' over and over. Eventually, Aaron turned around and told him 'Yogi, I came up here to hit, not to read'. Yogi may have looked slow, but he had quick reactions. In one season, Yogi had no errors out of 950 chances. He is considered by many to be the best catcher baseball has ever known.

His Life and Career

Early Life

Lawrence Berra was born on 12 May, 1925 in St Louis, Missouri. His popular nickname 'Yogi' came from a childhood friend, Bobby Hofman. Bobby observed that an Hindu snake charmer walked like Lawrence Berra. At that time, Hindus were often called Yogis, because of their involvement with the Yoga philosophy. So Lawrence became Yogi and somehow the name stuck for life.

His family lived in an area of St Louis called 'The Hill' where many immigrants gathered, trying to live the American dream. He played many sports with his boyhood companion Joe Garagiola. But Yogi especially loved baseball and played it most often.

He left school after eighth grade, so that he could help his family financially by working in factories and doing various labouring tasks. All his spare time, he spent playing baseball for the minor leagues. As a catcher, he began to draw attention to himself as a promising young talent.

One day, his friend Joe Garagiola was signed for 500 dollars. In 1942 Yogi was offered 250 dollars to join the Cardinals, but he refused, wanting at least as much as Garagiola had received and frankly insulted that he hadn't been offered the same amount. Cardinal's Manager Branch Rickey considered his professional baseball career to be over before it started.

Yogi did manage to convince the New York Yankees in 1943 that he was worth the 500 dollars. With that, he began his way to a major league career. He was assigned to the Norfolk Tars, a Yankee Farm Team. He was ready to be a Yankee. Almost...

Just after signing with the Yankees, Yogi decided to join the United States Navy to fight in World War II. He even participated in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, attacking Omaha beach. The rocket boat he was on capsized though, and he didn't see much action in the invasion. He was also assigned in Italy and Africa before the war was over.

When he returned home in 1946, Yogi was placed on a New London team. There he was also spotted by the great New York Giants Manager, Mel Ott. Ott offered the Yankees an enormous amount of money for his contract, but the Yankee manager Larry MacPhail (who did not at the time know who Yogi was) realised that if Ott was so interested in Yogi, he was probably worth holding on to. Later, Yogi was assigned to the Newark Bears, a top Yankee affiliate team in the International League.

Major Leagues

Yogi was placed on the official Yankee team on 22 September, 1946 as an outfielder, but having arrived late he only played for the last few games of that season. In his very first game, he hit a home run, and never looked back.

In the 1947 season, Yogi became a catcher, sharing the duties with Aaron Robinson. When his talent became more evident, Yogi was given the full duties of a catcher and fulfilled them well. His time with the team was during one of the most prosperous periods for the Yankees, known as the Yankee Dynasty. They regularly made it to the World Series, 14 times out of his 17 years on the team. In all, he helped the Yankees win ten championships, which is more than any other player has participated in. He also holds the record for most World Series games (75), at-bats (259), hits (71), and doubles (10). He was also selected his entire career, as catcher for the All Star Team.

In 1951, 1954 and 1955, Yogi was selected as the American League's Most Valuable Player. In 1958, he hit a Grand Slam at a World Series. He was truly an incredible player, as a catcher and as a hitter. He helped keep the Yankee Dynasty going, despite several problems elsewhere in defence.

He retired from playing for 1964, and took over as manager for the Yankees that season. He had a strong team, leading the Yankees to an American League Pennant, but losing in a close world series to St Louis. In 1965, just days after the Series ended the Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner fired Yogi as manager of the team in a controversial decision. Yogi was replaced with St Louis manager, Johnny Keane, who led the Yankees to sixth place that season. Angry with Steinbrenner Yogi wouldn't return to Yankee Stadium for 14 years. Steinbrenner would publicly apologise at the dedication of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center1 in 1999.

In 1972, Yogi briefly played for the Mets before becoming their manager when Gil Hodges died suddenly. He led the 'You Gotta Believe it' Mets to a Pennant in 1973, making him one of the only managers to coach Pennant winning teams in both leagues. He was fired in 1975, because of a problem in the Mets front office.

Yogi was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. His plaque says-

Lawrence Peter Berra
New York, A.L. 1946-19632
New York, N.L. 19653
Played on more Pennant-winners (14) and world champions (10) than any other player in history. Had 358 Home Runs and lifetime .285 batting average. Set many record for catchers, including 148 consecutive games without error. Voted AL Most Valuable Player 1951-54-55. Managed Yankees to Pennant in 1964.

In the 1960s, a cartoon character called Yogi Bear was created at Hanna-Barbera studios, named after Yogi Berra4. Yogi Berra appeared in the Yogi Bear Show in 1961 and The New Yogi Bear Show in 1988.


Yogi is famous for his malapropisms and strange sayings. These are dubbed Yogi-isms. The impressive list of his quotes are legendary, including 'It ain't over 'til it's over' and 'It's like déja vu all over again'. Thanks to this, Yogi is quoted more often than most writers.

The very first Yogi-ism was said at Yogi Berra Day in St Louis in 1947. He said 'I want to thank you for making this day necessary', instead of saying 'I want to thank you for making this day possible'.

Career Hitting Statistics

GamesAt-Bats HitsDoublesTriplesHome RunsRuns RBIBatting Average
  2,120  7,5552,150    321   49      3581,1751,430       .285

1On the campus of Montclair State University, Little Falls, New Jersey.2This refers to his time at the Yankees.3This refers to his short time at the Mets.4Contrary to popular belief, Berra was not named after the cartoon character.

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