Remembering Yogi

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I woke up this morning, opened up Twitter and was met with the news that Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra had passed away at the age of 90. As a rabid baseball fan, this saddened me beyond words. Sure, we all know that death is inevitable, but at times it seemed like Yogi would live forever. Yogi Berra was everything good about baseball, a man who loved the game and loved the people inside of the game. I have never heard anyone say a foul word about Berra nor do I think I ever will. From all accounts he was a great human being, a man who was a Veteran, serving during World War II and was widely known for his witty and timeless quotes. You probably know the stats, as he was a 18 time All-Star and part of 10 World Series championship teams. Rather than just throw out a bunch of numbers or quotes (which there are equal of both) I thought I would throw out some little known facts about Yogi, the player, the person and the baseball man.

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  • Back in 1950, Berra accumulated 656 at bats while striking out only 12 times. 12 times!  In an era where some batters strike out 1/3 of that amount in one game, this is an insane feat. In fact, the most strikeouts Berra ever racked up in one season was 38 back in 1959. If you are like me, a guy who hates how much batters strike out nowadays, this is a great accomplishment that holds up immensely today.
  • On the other end of that spectrum, Yogi was not one to take a walk very often. Berra’s highest walk total was 66 back in 1952. Berra was a notorious bad ball hitter, which proved to be very successful for him.
  • Berra was originally shunned by the St. Louis Cardinals, as they instead signed catcher Joe Garagiola. Then Cardinals President Branch Rickey though had ulterior motives, as he was about to leave to work for the Dodgers. Unfortunately, Rickey was too late as the Yankees offered Berra the deal Garagiola got from St. Louis and Berra would forever be a Yankee(except for 4 games as a Met in 1965).
  • Berra once drove in 23 runs in a doubleheader when he was in the Class B Piedmont League. True story.
  • David Seideman wrote an article about Berra once for Forbes.com and told this story about Yogi:

One my favorite all-time Yogi Berra stories you’ve never heard involves a friend named Mark who was a huge Yankees fan. He once brought an 8×10 photo for him to sign at a charity golf tournament. Mark delicately put his signed photo in an envelope and took it home. He later pulled it out, only to discover that Yogi had signed it— not to Mark, but to himself: “To Yogi, Yogi Berra.”

  • Berra was not a very big man-listed as 5’7″, 185 lbs-which led to many great quotes about his stature. Former Yankees GM Larry MacPhail once said when Berra was signed by New York that Berra looked like “the bottom half of an unemployed acrobatic team.” Former Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain would tell a police officer who was arresting him for a DUI that Berra “might not be as tall as the front of your car.”
  • Berra’s mentor was former Yankees catcher Bill Dickey, whose number Yogi took. Berra would later say “I owe everything I did in baseball to Bill Dickey.”
  • Yogi once met the Pope:

Reporter: “I understand you had an audience with the Pope.”

Yogi: “No, but I saw him.”

Reporter: “Did you get to talk to him?”

Yogi: “I sure did. We had a nice little chat.”

Reporter: “What did he say?”

Yogi: “You know, he must read the papers a lot, because he said, ‘Hello, Yogi.’ ”

Reporter: “And what did you say?”

Yogi: “I said, ‘Hello, Pope.’ ”

  • Yogi stories are the best:

“My favorite Yogi story,” says former Yankee first baseman Roy Smalley, “is about the time he went to a reception at Gracie Mansion [the residence of New York’s mayor]. It was a hot day and everybody was sweating, and Yogi strolled in late wearing a lime-green suit. Mayor Lindsay’s wife, Mary, saw Yogi and said, ‘You certainly look cool,’ and he said, ‘Thanks. You don’t look so hot yourself.’ If that isn’t true, I don’t want to know it isn’t.”

  • Berra was considered a clutch hitter throughout most of his career. Pitcher Early Wynn declared Berra “the real toughest clutch hitter,” grouping him with Cleveland slugger Al Rosen as “the two best clutch hitters in the game.” Berra had a career postseason line of .274/.359/.452 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI’s over 79 playoff games.
  • Despite his size, Berra was a great receiver. Berra was quick mobile and a great handler of pitchers, and was the first catcher to leave a finger outside the glove, a style most other catchers eventually emulated.
  • Berra wasn’t just a great receiver. Yogi would position his teammates on the field, putting fielding shifts in place decades before managers were doing so on a regular basis. “Why has our pitching been so great? Our catcher, that’s why,” Casey Stengel once said.
  • Yogi once caught an entire 22 inning, 7 hour game against the Tigers.
  • According to the win shares formula developed by Bill James, Berra is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitching player in major-league history. I am not one to argue with Bill James.
  • Berra’s peak salary in during his playing career was $65,000 a year in 1957, at least according to Yogi.
  • Berra would capture a pennant twice as a manager: once for the Yankees(1964), once for the Mets(1973).
  • In 1996, Berra received an honorary doctorate from Montclair State University, which also named its own campus stadium Yogi Berra Stadium, opened in 1998, in his honor.
  • Yogi is one of only five players to win the American League MVP award three times.

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There is so much more that could be said about Yogi Berra, and all of it would be worth the read. I think more than anything though, Yogi was what is great about this game of baseball. In no other sport is the past and present woven together quite like baseball and many players of the last ten years acknowledge that they were better players and people because of Berra, including Derek Jeter and Craig Biggio. If you write about baseball in any manner, you should be writing about Yogi Berra and what he meant to you and the game of baseball. Berra was witty and funny, charming and magnetic, a family man and a baseball man. More than anything, Yogi was Yogi and baseball is better because of that. Thank you, Yogi.

My Baseball Bucket List

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today(ie. I cleaned my desk) and wanted to share it with everyone)

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Most people have a bucket list, a mental list of places or things they want to do at some point in their life. I have a baseball bucket list, or baseball related places I want to visit at some point before I die.

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The big thing on that list is to visit every one of the Major League baseball stadiums. So far, I’m not very far into that, as I can only count three on my list, including Busch Stadium in St. Louis this past weekend. The initial plan was to do this some summer when I retire but I’m thinking more and more of going to a different stadium every year.

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Also on my list is to visit the ball field where the movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed. It seems a bit corny but I’ve always thought the look of the field was reminiscent of the old ballparks, which I am a sucker for. The farm where it is located was sold this past year and plans are to expand it into a baseball and softball complex to be named All-Star Ballpark Heaven. Maybe on a return trip back from Minnesota I could swing through Iowa and visit this iconic baseball field.

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Speaking of old ballparks, I would love to visit the former sites of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds in New York. Both are stadiums that had their own unique feel to them and to see where they once stood would be an interesting peek into baseball history.

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Last on my baseball bucket list is to visit Omaha and attend the College World Series. Sure, it’s not quite the same as when Rosenblatt Stadium was still the home park, but it is still the College World Series! To take in this once a year event and get a feel for it would be a really cool experience.

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Of course there is more I would like to do that just isn’t on my list. I would like to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown again, as I was able to go back in 1999, so it is not an urgent requirement. I also plan on going to the Negro League Museum in Kansas City but I am planning to cross that off my list later this year(writers note: I visited the museum in October and it was fantastic!). Also, to attend a World Series game would be pretty thrilling but I’m holding out for the Kansas City Royals to get back to the Fall Classic. I know, I might be waiting awhile but I can still hold out hope. Overall, it’s a pretty long list. But when someone has a dream, anything can be accomplished.      

Celebrating Jackie Robinson Day

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today and wanted to share it with everyone)

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Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day around the Major Leagues and it’s great all these years later that Robinson is honored for his grace and courage in handling a situation that could be both difficult and even dangerous at times. Robinson’s number “42” has been retired by all Major League teams in honor of not only his legacy that he has left with the game, but also for what he stood for. Sixty Five years ago, Robinson appeared in his first game, the first man of African American descent to suit up for a Major League team. Integration was not popular back in 1947, and he was treated accordingly. But for all that Robinson did(and he truly was the right man at the right time), there are other men that roamed the fields in the Negro Leagues for years that deserve praise too, even if they might have never played for a Major League team.

LARRY DOBY

Larry Doby is the first to come to mind, the first African American to play in the American League. Doby debuted for the Cleveland Indians just eleven weeks after Robinson, but is largely forgotten. Doby incurred the same indignities that Robinson did, with nowhere near the media attention and implicit support.

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Another man was Satchel Paige, a man who played twenty one seasons in the Negro Leagues and is considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in Negro Leagues history. Paige would make the big leagues in 1948 and played six seasons in the Majors.

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Who can forget Josh Gibson, maybe the greatest power hitter ever, if only the Negro Leagues had kept statistics all those years ago. Gibson never made it to the big leagues, but nonetheless is still a member of the baseball Hall of Fame.

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Hank Aaron is one of the greatest of all time, but Aaron had to deal with insurmountable pressure back in the 1970’s as he approached Babe Ruth’s all time home run record. Aaron even received death threats but pushed on to break the Babe’s record, only to eventually be toppled by Barry Bonds back in 2007.

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The list could go on and on. Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, and Smokey Joe Williams are all players that never received their just do. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier was for those players. Robinson not only broke a color line that needed to be broke, he also excelled and turned it into a Hall of Fame career.

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One last person should be mentioned if we are giving credit. Branch Rickey, then the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the man who not only signed Robinson but also believed that Jackie was the right man for the job. Rickey once told Robinson, “I know you’re a good ball player. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts.” Robinson then asked Rickey, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey shot back, “I’m looking for a ball player with guts enough not to fight back.”

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Jackie Robinson Day has been celebrated for years in the Majors and for good reason. It is not only celebrating a special part of baseball history. It is celebrating a man who did something no normal man would have been able to do. For that, we thank you, Jackie.

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