Yogi Berra – Society for American Baseball Research

    many images come to mind when one hears the name yogi berra. one of the most obvious is that of a winner. Berra won three AL Most Valuable Player awards and appeared in 14 World Series as a player and another five as a manager or coach. he won 13 championship rings and holds several series records. Berra faced numerous obstacles on his journey to fame, but he overcame them with courage and dedication to become one of the most beloved figures in American sports history.

    Reading: Yogi berra world series rings

    berra’s father, pietro, arrived in new york on october 18, 1909, at the age of 23. He had left Robecchetto, Italy, a town about 25 miles south of Milan, where he was a tenant farmer. Pietro left behind Paolina Lingori, a young woman he planned to marry after earning enough money to pay for his trip to the United States. paolina longoni (later paulina) arrived on march 10, 1912, at the age of eighteen. peter and paulina were married nine days later and settled in a mostly italian section of st. louis called “the hill”.

    Their first son, Anthony, was born in 1914. The second son, Mario, was born in Malvaglio, Italy, when Paulina, pregnant and homesick, returned to her hometown in 1915 for a visit. While she was there, World War I escalated and mother and son did not return to the United States until September 3, 1919. The Berras had a third son, John, in 1922, and on May 12, 1925, Lorenzo Pietro entered the world. His parents’ desire to assimilate in their new homeland led them to the English translation of Lawrence Peter, which, due to his accent, was pronounced Lawdie.

    lawdie berra and his family lived at 5447 elizabeth avenue, across from giovanni garagiola and his family; They had a boy named Joe who was Lawdie’s age. The two young men spent most of their time playing with the other kids in the neighborhood and their favorite sport was baseball. In addition to sports, the boys loved going to the movies. one day they saw a performance that had a Hindu fakir, a snake charmer who sat cross-legged and wore a turban on his head. when the yogi got up, he waddled like a duck and one of the kids joked that he waddled like a lawdie. From then on Berra was known as a yogi. even his parents called him by his nickname.

    As a youngster, Berra displayed a stubbornness and determination that carried over into his playing days. this was no more apparent than when he decided that he would drop out of school after eighth grade. yogi had never been a very good student and he felt that he was wasting his time in school. pietro disagreed and enlisted the help of the school principal and the local priest to help keep his son in school. yogi stood his ground and eventually his father relented and yogi went to work in a charcoal kiln. he lost his job because he often left work early to play catch with his friends after school. Pietro, furious that his son would lose a job that paid $25 a week, was able to get Yogi a job in a Pepsi Cola truck that paid $27 a week. he too was fired from that job. after much discussion, it was decided that yogi would find a job that would allow him to play ball in the afternoon.

    yogi and joe garagiola were stars on an american legion team that made the playoffs two years in a row. Garagiola was six feet tall, athletic, and handsome. By contrast, Berra, 5-foot-7, 185 pounds, was short and stocky and had an odd swing in which he hit the ball. he would also swing at anything near the plate. the man who ran the team, leo browne, arranged a test with the st. louis cardinals for their star players. Garagiola did well and was offered a $500 bonus contract with an order to keep quiet until he turned sixteen (the boys were fifteen at the time).

    despite not having a particularly good test, berra was offered a contract but not a bonus. Berra knew that she couldn’t go home without the same bonus as Garagiola, so she turned down the offer. Cardinals branch general manager Rickey offered a $250 bonus, and again, Berra refused. yogi then had a test with the st. louis browns and was once again offered a contract without a bonus; she once again she rejected him.

    browne wrote to his old friend george weiss, who was in charge of the new york yankees farm system. he said all yogi wanted was a $500 bonus and whatever he made a month was fine. Berra signed with the Yankees in October 1942 for the $500 bonus he so desired, plus a monthly salary of $90. Rickey, now with the Dodgers, sent Berra a telegram offering him the opportunity to sign with Brooklyn, but Yogi never responded because he was owned by the Yankees. So Yogi Berra went to Norfolk, Virginia to start his professional baseball career.

    berra hit .253 in 111 games for the norfolk (virginia) tars in 1943, with seven home runs and 56 RBIs. After the season, Berra enlisted in the Navy. he became a gunner and went into action on d-day aboard a rocket launched off the normandy coast before soldiers stormed the beach. Berra spent 10 days on the 36-foot boat before finally returning to his ship, the USS Bayfield, an attack transport.

    Before being discharged, Berra was posted to the Groton Submarine Base, Connecticut. He played for the base’s baseball team, led by Lieutenant Commander James Gleeson, a former major league outfielder. Gleeson had a hard time believing that the pudgy, clumsy-looking sailor was a professional baseball player, let alone owned by the Yankees. But in a game between the Mariners and the New York Giants, Berra went 3-for-4 and impressed Giants manager Mel Ott so much that he called the Yankees and offered $50,000 per Berra. Yankees president Larry Macphail turned down the offer. years later, macphail confessed that he had never heard of yogi, but if ott thought he was worth that kind of money, then the yankees should keep him.

    In 1946, the Yankees assigned Berra to the Newark Bears of the Triple-A International League, led by former Yankees star George Selkirk. Like Gleeson before him, Selkirk was skeptical that this stocky young man was a baseball player or a Yankee. he forced yogi to show him macphail’s telegram ordering him to report to newark.

    berra played in 77 games and batted .314 with 15 home runs and 59 RBIs, but showed an erratic arm behind the plate. In the regular season finale, Berra tied the game with a ninth-inning home run, a game Newark ultimately won. The victory put Newark in the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season, although the Bears lost to a Royal Montreal squad that included Jackie Robinson.

    After the loss to Montreal, Berra was called up to the Yankees and made his major league debut on September 22, 1946, against the Philadelphia Athletics. He went 2-for-4, homering off Jesse Flores in his second at-bat. his second home run came the next day.

    In spring training in 1947, Berra played primarily right field, where he showed little skill. however, he was building a reputation as a hitter, although he often hit pitches out of the strike zone. Due to Berra’s erratic field play, he saw more time at catcher once the season began; this seemed to be the safest place to play.

    June 15 made an unassisted double play in a game against st. Luis a week later he hit his first grand slam in a win over Detroit, and when he homered again the next day, he had recorded six RBI in two games. on august 26, a group from “the hill” organized yogi berra night in st. louis to honor his native son. before the series in st. louis, berra had contracted strep throat in cleveland and had to be hospitalized. when he came to town for the night, yogi was very nervous about making an acceptance speech. That was the night he famously said, “I want to thank everyone for making this night necessary.”

    berra hit .280 in his rookie season, with 11 home runs and 54 rbis in 83 games. The Yankees faced Brooklyn in the World Series, the first Fall Classic to be televised. yogi went 0-for-7 in the first two games, but came off the bench in game three to hit the first pinch-hit home run in series history. Overall, he was 3-for-19 as New York won in seven games.

    berra spent the offseason in st. louis, where he met a pretty waitress named carmen short who worked at a restaurant he co-owned stan musial. yogi and carmen hit it off and six months later they got engaged. They were married on January 26, 1949, and longtime friend Joe Garagiola served as best man.

    In 1948, Berra had a strong year at the plate, hitting .305 with 14 home runs and 98 RBIs while appearing in 125 games (71 catchers). the all-star game was played at st. Louis that year; Berra made the squad but did not play. The Yankees finished third behind Cleveland and Boston and entered the offseason in the market for a better defensive receiver. This changed when the Yankees shocked the baseball world by choosing 58-year-old Casey Stengel as their manager. Stengel rejected any idea of ​​replacing Berra behind the plate.

    Casey immediately took a liking to Berra and called him “my assistant manager.” Stengel got the idea that Yogi was much more sensitive than he appeared, and decided to act as a buffer against those who criticized or simply made fun of the young recipient of him. He also assigned future Hall of Famer Bill Dickey to act as Berra’s personal tutor. Dickey spent hours working with his student to improve his mechanics behind the plate and teaching him to think ahead during games.

    Despite the improvement in his defensive game, Berra had some issues with Yankees pitching, especially Vic Raschi and Allie Reynolds, who thought he stifled curveballs and stabbed fastballs, thus making it difficult for the referees will score closely. For his part, Stengel still did not fully trust Berra. in some critical situations, pitches were called from the bench by the manager, infuriating veteran pitchers. Finally, one day at a game against the Athletics, Reynolds had enough. Stengel started waving at yogi to get his attention so he could call a pitch. Meanwhile, Allie warned her young receiver that if he looked toward the dugout he would intentionally cross it.

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    berra knew this was no idle threat and ignored his manager at the risk of being fined. the incident proved to be a turning point in his relationship with the pitching staff; Now they felt they could trust Berra. The season ended with the Yankees sweeping a two-game series against the Red Sox to claim the pennant. yogi was disappointing 1-for-16 in the world series, although the yankees beat brooklyn in five games.

    By the next season, Berra had established himself not only as a legitimate major league catcher, but also as a rising star in the American League. He had a stellar season in 1950, hitting .322 with 28 home runs and 124 RBI as the Yankees swept the Philadelphia Phillies to win their second straight world championship. After finishing third in the 1950 MVP voting, Berra won his first Most Valuable Player award in 1951, when he led New York to another World Series title, this time at the expense of the New York Giants. /p>

    The next two seasons were more of the same, as the Yankees won their fourth and fifth consecutive titles with victories over Brooklyn. Berra continued to develop his reputation as a crucial hitter, hitting 98 runs in ’52 and 108 in ’53. He hit a robust .429 in the Yankees’ six-game World Series victory in ’53. A second MVP came in 1954 despite the fact that the Cleveland Indians temporarily interrupted the Yankee dynasty. That year Berra hit .307 with 22 home runs and 125 RBIs.

    berra entered the 1955 season as the highest-paid Yankee, earning his $48,000 by winning his second consecutive MVP award and third overall. however, the season ended in disappointment, as the Dodgers were finally able to take a series from the Yankees. Jackie Robinson stole the house in the first game, and Berra argued the screaming call as he jumped up and down. He never stopped insisting that Robinson was out and even signed photos of the play, “he was out.” In the decisive Game 7, Yogi came to the plate in the sixth inning with two men on board and flied out to the left field corner, but left fielder Sandy Amoros ran in, made a spectacular catch and converted it into a double. play.

    the yankees regained the world championship in 1956, against the dodgers, and berra had a great series with three home runs, including two off don newcombe in the decisive seventh game. Berra drove in 10 runs, but the highlight of the series for him was catching Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5. Larsen said that he didn’t get rid of Berra even once during his masterpiece.

    berra dropped to a .251 average in 1957 but was still productive with 24 home runs and 82 RBI. he followed up with an equally productive 1958 with a .266 batting average, 22 home runs, and 90 RBIs. In those two seasons, the Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves shared the World Series; milwaukee won in 1957 and new york won in 1958.

    berra, 33, hit some milestones in 1959, including his 300th career home run. he also set records (since broken) for the most consecutive chances by a catcher without an error and the most consecutive games without an error. the erratic catcher of the early years was now a distant memory.

    although the yankees didn’t win the pennant in 1959, they did win in 1960, the tenth and final flag under casey stengel. Yogi played more in the outfield, appearing in just 63 of 120 games as a catcher. In a thrilling game seven against Pittsburgh he hit a three-run home run in the sixth inning that only served as the backdrop for Bill Mazeroski’s series-ending home run in the ninth inning. That legendary shot went over the head of left fielder Berra.

    Yogi played three more seasons before retiring after the 1963 World Series. He hit only once in the series, a sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers. even with that loss, he finished with a record 104 in series. he was named an all-star 18 times between 1948 and 1962 (including four years in which two all-star games were played each summer). He started behind the plate for the American League 11 times.

    berra had a career batting average of .285, with 358 home runs. at the time of his retirement, his 306 home runs as a catcher were the most at the position. he still holds several world series records, including most games played (75). In his 18-year career, he drew 704 walks against just 414 strikeouts, proof that this legendary bad-ball hitter really did hit what he was after.

    On October 24, 1963, Berra was named manager of the Yankees to replace Ralph Houk after Houk became general manager. The Yankees offered Berra a two-year deal, but he insisted on a one-year deal because he wasn’t sure he could handle it. he would later regret that decision. Berra intended to keep pitching coach Johnny Sain on his staff, but Sain couldn’t agree on a contract and Berra turned to his old friend Whitey Ford to coach players. He always believed that Ford was one of the smartest pitchers and thought that he would be outstanding in handling young pitchers.

    The Yankees of 1964 were not an easy group to handle. Veterans Mickey Mantle and Ford were famous for drinking and partying off the field, and young players wanted to follow suit. players like jim bouton and joe pepitone were reckless and the clubhouse was out of control.

    The Yankees were slow out the door, but by early August, Berra somehow had them in first place. however, they spent the rest of the month playing inconsistent and uninspired ball. The nadir came in mid-August with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago White Sox that left them 4 1/2 games behind the first-place White Sox. after the series concluded, the team bus got stuck in traffic on the way to the airport and everyone was impatient.

    It was then that one of the most memorable incidents of the Berra administration took place. Infielder Phil Linz pulled his harmonica from him and began playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Berra angrily yelled at him from the front of the bus to stop. there are different accounts of what happened next.

    according to mantle, linz asked him what berra had said. Mantle reportedly replied, “Play louder.” bound linz. When Yogi heard the harmonica again, he burst into the back of the bus, banged on the instrument, and a heated argument ensued. When news of the confrontation broke, Houk told reporters that he had no intention of talking to Berra about the incident. Since Berra’s job security was already in jeopardy, this seemed to make firing him a fait accompli.

    the yankees lost the next two games to boston and fell six games back, but then went on the run. they finished August strong and went 22 6 in September before clinching the pennant on October 3. his opponent in the world series was the st. louis cardinals, who had also joined to claim an exciting run in the national league.

    It was a back-and-forth series that came down to a Game 7 matchup between Cardinals ace Bob Gibson and 22-year-old Mel Stottlemyre. st. louis broke through for three runs in the fourth inning with the help of a sloppy new york defense and gibson held on to win the series.

    Overall, Berra had done a good job with an old team. Ford had a sore arm and Mantle’s bad legs made it increasingly difficult for him to cover center field. It was Berra who pushed for Stottlemyre to be called up in mid-August, and the rookie came in with a record of 9 3. It’s unlikely the Yankees would have won the pennant without the young righty. they had responded well after the linz episode and yogi had every intention of asking for a two-year extension. instead, he was fired and offered a job as a scout.

    Across town, the New York Mets had finished their third season of play and two former Yankees were running the show, general manager George Weiss and manager Casey Stengel. With his wife Carmen advocating breaking up with the Yankees after her poor treatment of him, Berra accepted Weiss’s offer and joined Stengel’s staff as a player-coach. he caught only two games and hit .222, playing his last game three days before his 40th birthday in May.

    berra stayed with the mets even though he was passed over for the manager’s job three times. The first was when Stengel retired after breaking his hip in August 1965 and the Mets, with Stengel’s input, chose Wes Westrum as his replacement. Salty Parker was signed as Westrum’s interim replacement when he resigned in the final week of the 1967 season. In October 1967, the Mets hired Senators manager Gil Hodges to replace Parker. Berra knew and respected Hodges and wasn’t upset that he was passed over in favor of his old Dodgers rival.

    so berra stayed on as coach under hodges and won his 11th world series ring in 1969 when the miraculous matchup defeated the baltimore orioles. Berra’s chance to finally manage the Mets came under tragic circumstances. He replaced Hodges when the Mets manager died of a heart attack on April 2, 1972, after playing golf.

    although berra had trained under hodges for four years, he was a different kind of coach. Hodges was a disciplined taker who took a more hands-on approach to his players. Instead, Berra treated his players like adults and left the responsibility of being fit to them, thinking that being a ballplayer should be enough motivation to take his job seriously and be prepared. Unlike his predecessor, Berra did not form a platoon and kept the same lineup, a change that veterans liked him.

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    The Mets were 30-11 on June 1, but, plagued by injuries, ended up reeling in third place. On a brighter note for Berra, that summer marked his induction into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.

    In 1973, injuries again slowed down the Mets and there were rumors that Yogi might not survive the summer. The team was in fifth place at the end of August, but as the players recovered their health, the Mets closed the gap in the tightly packed NL East.

    on september 21 the mets reached .500 and first place at the same time. With a win over the Cubs on October 1, the Mets completed their remarkable comeback, winning the division title with just eighty-two wins. They defeated the highly favored Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series, making Berra the second manager to win a pennant in each league (Joe McCarthy was the first). In the World Series, the Mets lost to the Oakland A’s in seven games.

    the mets dropped to fifth place in 1974 with a record of 71 91, the club’s worst mark since 1966. the simmering problems between berra and left fielder cleon jones deepened in 1975 and when jones refused to participate in a game as a pinch hitter, things came to a head. Yogi refused to let Jones back on the team and demanded that he be released. chairman of the board m. Donald Grant did not want to cut Jones, but Berra stood his ground and Jones was resigned soon after. The team was struggling and when he suffered a five-game losing streak in early August, culminating in a double shutout at home at the hands of last-place Expos, Yogi was fired. coach roy mcmillan was chosen to replace him.

    After a 12-year absence, Yogi returned to the Yankees when longtime friend and teammate Billy Martin tapped him to join his staff in 1976. With Berra on board at Yankee Stadium reopened in 1976 , the yanks won their first pennant since 1964. although they were swept in the series by the reds, berra added two more world series rings with back-to-back titles in 1977 and 1978. berra was a constant on the yankees coaching staff throughout the season from 1983 despite several changes. He got one more chance to be a manager when he was named manager of the Yankees in 1984.

    new york had problems early in the season and there was no way to catch the detroit tigers, who won the division title. Before the ’85 season, there were rumors that owner George M. Steinbrenner wanted to fire his manager, but when spring training rolled around he declared Berra safe for the year. This was a season Yogi was looking forward to because the Yankees had acquired his son Dale from Pittsburgh. Not only did Berra not survive the season, but he was fired before the end of April with a 6-10 record. Upset that Steinbrenner broke his promise to let him manage the entire year, Berra stayed away from Yankee Stadium until the 1999 reconciliation. .

    While his coaching days were over, his coaching career was not. Houston Astros owner John McMullen offered Berra the Astros manager’s job just three days after he was fired, but he turned it down. At the end of the season, he accepted a coaching job with Houston under rookie Hal Lanier. yogi stayed with the stars through the 1989 season, ending his long and illustrious career in uniform. he had spent seventeen years as a player, two years as a player-coach, eighteen years as a coach, and seven years as a coach.

    berra remained not only a yankee legend, but also an american icon. A museum dedicated to him opened in Montclair, New Jersey, his and Carmen’s home for more than half a century. His three children were raised there: Larry, a former minor league catcher; Tim, who played in the NFL for the Baltimore Colts in 1974; and Dale, who spent the final months of his 11-year career with his father on the 1987 stars.

    yogi endorsed numerous products, most famously yoo-hoo, the chocolate soda, and even had a cartoon bear named after him. the former recipient’s yogi-isms are known throughout the world. As one of the oldest and most recognizable Hall of Famers, Yogi Berra maintained a connection to what many consider baseball’s golden age.

    passed away at the age of 90 on September 22, 2015.

    last edited: September 7, 2020 (ghw)

    An earlier version of this biography appears in Sabr’s “Bridging Two Dynasties: The 1947 New York Yankees” (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), edited by Lyle Spatz.


    devito, carlo. Yogi: The Life and Times of an American Original. Chicago: Trump Books, 2008.

    lang, jack and peter simon. The New York Mets: Twenty-Five Years of Baseball Magic. new york: henry holt and co., 1986.

    hernandez, keith and matthew silverman. Goodbye Shea: The Untold Story of the Historic 2008 Season. Chicago: Trump Books, 2009.

    palmer, pete, and gary gillette (editors). The ESPN Encyclopedia of Baseball 2005. New York: Pound Sterling, 2005.

    Author interview with Jerry Koosman, December 16, 2008.

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