Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra passed away last week at the age of 90. He was arguably one of the most recognizable figures in America, brought about by his amazing major league baseball career and his place as an American icon.
As an “old-time” Yankee fan, I always loved Yogi Berra! He was a different kind of baseball player. He wasn’t speedy like Mickey Mantle or graceful like Joe DiMaggio or flashy like Willie Mays or powerful like Ted Williams. He was just Yogi, a notorious “bad ball” hitter who was the most dangerous of all the Yankee hitters because he always came through in the clutch.
Berra’s career statistics are simply amazing. Just look at what he accomplished. He played 18 seasons for the Yankees and was an All-Star for 15 of those seasons. He played for 10, yes I said 10, World Series champions. That fact alone is hard to fathom when one considers that one championship is now considered a great accomplishment.
Yogi had a career batting average of .285, hit 358 home runs, and drove in 1,430 runs. He led the Yankees in runs batted in for seven consecutive seasons, 1949-1955, even though such great teammates as Mantle and DiMaggio were in the same lineup. Yogi got the job done!
He was named Most Valuable Player of the American League on three occasions and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. In his Hall of Fame speech Yogi made the famous statement, “I’d like to thank everyone who made this day necessary.” His famous #8 was also retired by the Yankees in 1972 and he was awarded a place in the Yankees’ Monument Park in 1988.
There were numerous great players to play in the major leagues during the 20th century and Berra was placed in rare company when he was selected as a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century team. He was one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game.
I met Berra only once. That was at a baseball card show many years ago when I went to get his autograph. While standing in line I could hear his very recognizable voice talking with other fans and making each one feel comfortable. When it came my turn, I greeted him and he responded kindly. My attention was then drawn to his hands. They were not large and they were gnarled and drawn. I immediately began to think of the great baseball moments that those hands had been involved in. There was the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history in 1947, there was Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, there was Jackie Robinson stealing home in the 1955 World Series, and on and on and on. These hands had been involved in baseball history. He signed his name to my baseball and photo and I thanked him and moved on. I had met Yogi, just for a few seconds, but I had met Yogi!
Yogi, who got his nickname from a childhood friend who said he looked like a Hindu yogi when he sat around, will be missed by all Americans for many reasons. I know I will miss knowing that he could still appear live on TV at any moment with one of his funny statements. I can still read about him on the many baseball cards that I have which extol his accomplishments, but I will miss him being around. There will never be another Yogi Berra. Thank God for this one!
Jim Fowler is a sports columnist and retired teacher and coach who worked in the local school system for many years. He is a founding board member of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame and is also the statistician for the Upson Lee football team, and has written a book about the history of football at R. E. Lee High School.