LADY AT THE BAT: Remembering Yogi On His 90th Birthday

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Remembering Yogi On His 90th Birthday

Do you remember the first time you saw the Yankees play?  My first time was August 18, 1963, which was the day before my 9th birthday. The Yankees were playing a doubleheader against the White Sox at Comiskey Park. Two of my favorite Yankees, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris did not play that day. Maris was out with a nagging back injury and Mantle was only available to pinch hit, and he was not needed as the Yankees swept the doubleheader 8-2 and 8-4. The absence of Maris and Mantle meant backup catcher Johnny Blanchard played right field in both games. With league MVP Elston Howard catching game two (he went 4-4 with a double and a home run off Dave DeBusschere, a future star for the Knicks), the game one catcher was none other than the great Yogi Berra.

That day Yogi went 1 for 3 with two walks and a ninth inning double against Hoyt Wilhelm. Yogi was at the end of his career, no longer a regular,  so this was one of the last games he would ever catch. The following season he would become the Yankees manager. Despite taking his Yankees all the way to game seven of the World Series, Yogi was shown the door, as the Yankees would hire Johnny Keane, the  manager from St. Louis, the team that just beat the Yankees in the Series. Yes, stuff like this happened in the pre-Steinbrenner days, too.

Without Yogi, the Yankees would skid into 6th place in 1965 and it would not be until 1976 that the Yankees would return to the World Series. Coincidently, that would be the same year Yogi returned to the Bronx, as a coach on Billy Martin's staff. Yogi would become manager in 1984, but would, unfortunately, be caught up in the Yankees merry-go-round of managers, getting fired 16 games into the 1985 season. It was then that Yogi vowed never to return to the Yankees or to appear at the Stadium as long as George Steinbrenner owned the team.  When a truce was finally brokered, the Yankees celebrated Yogi Berra Day in 1999 with Yogi catching the ceremonial first pitch from Don Larsen, the two reenacting Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. If the Yankees hadn't learned that good things happen when Yogi is around, they learned it on this day, as David Cone pitched his own perfect game against Montreal with Yogi and Larsen watching.

Thanks for the memories, and happy 90th Yogi, You were the only player in history to play in 14 World Series and win ten of them. And while we are at it, thank you Yogi for your service to the country. Yogi was at Normandy on D-Day June 6, 1944.  Everyone in his old St Louis neighborhood must have been proud. (If any fans are ever in St. Louis they should make it a point to see that neighborhood, The Hill. Elizabeth Street is where Yogi and Joe Garagolia grew up and it is worth the visit.  The Italian cuisine is excellent in any one of a number of dining establishments in the neighborhood.)

Yes, thanks for the memories, Yogi. I didn't get to see Mickey or Roger play that day in Chicago, but I did see the great Yogi Berra. Generations of fans would have loved to have been in the place of this almost nine year old watching you play.

1 comment:

Shavager said...

Yogi's records and World Series rings tell the story of this outstanding and unique ballplayer. He and Bill Dickey are the two Greatest Catchers ever to play for the Yankees and their MLB Hall of Fame careers speak for themselves. Yogi was a treat to watch, boy it brings back the good old days of Mantle and Yogi with Whitey Ford on the mound and Casey Stengel in the dugout. God Bless Yogi Berra and a HAPPY 90th BIRTHDAY to him with many more happy ones to come before he joins his beloved Carmen in Yankees Heaven!