Yogi Berra went 4-for-4 one night but when he looked at the box score in the newspaper the next morning, it showed him as 3-for-4. By the time Yogi arrived at the ballpark, he was significantly steamed and located the official scorer to complain. The scorer apologized and told him that it was a typographical error. Yogi’s response? “No, it wasn’t…it was a clean single up the middle.”
One of the few advantages of being a baseball fan of a certain age is that you have the memories of baseball tucked into a special compartment in your brain. This is especially true of players and games you actually witnessed in person and whenever a record is broken or a milestone is reached, you can bring up those mental snapshots from different decades and enjoy looking at them again. This photo album also emerges when a legendary player passes away and it reminds us to always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
As a youngster who spent countless days and nights in the bleachers at Fenway Park, I admittedly hated the Yankees. My beloved Red Sox had Ted Williams and a few other decent players like Jimmy Piersall & Jackie Jensen, but the dreaded Bronx Bombers were a veritable All-Star team. Those old snapshots in my brain include Mickey Mantle hitting the hardest ball I’ve ever seen, Billy Martin getting his uniform dirty before the 2nd inning, Whitey Ford throwing a pitch that dropped three feet and Ryne Duren (wearing thick glasses) throwing his first warm-up pitch all the way to the backstop at 100 MPH. In the eight seasons from 1952-59, the Yankees won six AL pennants and four World Series titles. The Res Sox were also-rans and the crowds were sometimes thin because if people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.
The most unique Yankee player of the time was Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. The most interesting aspect for a kid watching the game was that he didn’t look like the other ballplayers. At 5′ 7″ and 185 pounds, he certainly couldn’t be described as athletic but the results of his efforts were always amazing. Even Napoleon had his Watergate, but this player never seemed to strike out or not come through in the clutch. He also didn’t look like a matinee idol but it didn’t matter if he was ugly, because I never saw anyone hit with their face.
Even the most casual of fans know about Ted Williams and his military service during two wars, but most don’t know that a 19-year old Yogi Berra was on a rocket boat approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day. At that moment, he might have thought that the future ain’t what is used to be, but if the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be. At that moment, his professional baseball experience consisted of 111 games with Norfolk of the Piedmont League where he had a batting average of .253. Once he made his major league debut on September 22nd, 1946, he was 21 and he had already figured out that you can’t think and hit at the same time. Ironically, he passed away exactly 69 years to the day after that first game.
Of course, this column could be filled with famous “Yogi-isms”, but you can use your search engine to find those. It would sort of be like Deja Vu all over again. Or you could call the local pizza parlor and tell them to cut your pizza into six slices instead of eight slices because you can’t eat eight slices. Or you could just take a two-hour nap from 1:00 to 4:00 before you decide not to answer that anonymous letter. For the rest of our visit, let’s pair up in threes and look at the two peripheral items we discuss in this space most often…baseball stats and baseball cards.
Six Yogi Stats
> In 1948 and 1962, Yogi made the AL All-Star team…he also made the team every year in between.
> Yogi won three AL MVP Awards (’51, ’54 & ’55)…he also finished 2nd twice (’53 & ’56).
> In a seven-year span (’50 to ’56), he accumulated WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers between 4.5 and 6.3…in those same seven seasons, his OPS was never lower than .819 and as high as .915.
> In 1950, this infamous bad-ball hitter had 28 HR’s and only struck out 12 times…his HR’s exceeded his strikeouts in four additional seasons during the 50’s. For his entire career, he only struck out in 5% of his plate appearances.
> Yogi was not a first ballot Hall of Famer. He received 67.2% of the votes in 1971 before getting 85.6% in 1972 (75% is necessary for election).
> His highest salary was $65,000 in 1957…he hit 24 HR’s and had 82 RBI’s but he was cut to $60,000 the following season.
Six Yogi Baseball Cards
> 1948 Bowman #6 – This tiny black & white card is Yogi’s Rookie Card. In Near Mint (NM) condition, it is currently worth $1,100.
> 1950 Bowman #46 – This time the tiny card is in color and shows him in his catching gear…it books for $515.
> 1952 Topps #191 – This iconic set was the beginning of modern baseball cards…Yogi’s entry is valued at $1,000.
> 1953 Bowman Color #121 – One of the simplest and most beautiful sets ever, the front has nothing but a spectacular color photograph of the player…it could belong to you for $850.
> 1953 Topps #104 – This set utilized artist’s renderings of the players and is unique to the hobby. It even makes Yogi look handsome and has a price tag of $385.
> 1956 Topps #110 – The second of Topps’ horizontal sets, it features dual images on the front. The one you see with this article is from my personal collection and books for $165.
Well, that’s about it for today. I’d like to visit my favorite restaurant for dinner, but nobody ever goes there anymore because it’s too crowded. No matter where I go, my dessert will pie ala mode, with ice cream.