Yogi Berra, whose unusual phrases and offbeat demeanor made him a darling to the New York City media as a star for the New York Yankees during that team’s glory era, passed away late last night. He was 90.
Berra had been living in an assisted-living facility in West Caldwell, N.J. for the past three years. He spent much of his later life in Montclair, N.J., where he helped establish the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in nearby Little Falls, N.J., along with the New Jersey Jackals (independent; Can-Am League) and Yogi Berra Stadium.
He was best known as a 15-time All-Star with the Yankees, batting .285 for his career with 358 home runs 1,430 RBI. He played most of his career at catcher, earning praise from pitchers for his ability to call a solid game. He was also the lynchpin of a Yankees dynasty that may never be matched: he was a constant on two different sets of Yankees teams (Phil Rizzuto and Joe DiMaggio leading one, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle leading the next) that perennially made World Series appearances. His Yankees were World Series winners in 1947, ’49, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’56, ’58, ’61 and ’62, while losing in 1955, ’57, ’60 and ’63. That represents 14 World Series appearances in 17 years.
More casual fans will remember him as the source of unusual statements, often referred to as Yogi-isms. New York City in his playing era was the center of the baseball universe, and a much more lively media landscape with multiple newspapers and radio stations latched onto Berra as a source of interesting quotes. From The New York Times:
That he triumphed on the diamond again and again in spite of his perceived shortcomings was certainly a source of his popularity. So was the delight with which his famous, if not always documentable, pronouncements, somehow both nonsensical and sagacious, were received.
“You can observe a lot just by watching,” he is reputed to have declared once, describing his strategy as a manager….
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” he said, giving directions to his house. Either path, it turned out, got you there.
Becoming a cultural icon agreed with Berra, who was almost always photographed with a big smile. The St. Louis native — who became a Yankee only after the Cardinals’ Branch Rickey low-balled him on a signing bonus — helped define a remarkable era in baseball, a more innocent time where off-field shenanigans went unreported and the focus was on the field and the many characters playing.
Images courtesy New York Yankees and Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.