Friday, April 8, 2016

Remember Him?

     His father, Pietro, immigrated from Italy, arriving on Ellis Island in October 1909. He made his way to St. Louis where he settled on The Hill, the Italian section of the city. His wife came over later with their two sons, and they went on to have three more children.

     Lorenzo was born in St. Louis in 1925. His parents nicknamed him Lawdie, because they had trouble pronouncing Lawrence or Larry. The family attended the local Catholic church, and Lawdie hung around the neighborhood. He was not a particularly good student and dropped out of school after eighth grade. Apparently he didn't feel the need for book learning, for as he later said, "You can learn a lot by watching."

     Do you know who Lawdie really is? Hint: It's the beginning of baseball season.

     When World War II broke out, Lawie joined the Navy. He served as a gunner's mate aboard the attack transport USS Bayfield during the D-Day invasion at Normandy. His crew shot machine guns and launched rockets into the German defenses at Omaha Beach. They took fire, but no one was seriously injured.

Museum in New Jersey
     When he came back from the war he went to Newark, NJ. He had played a lot of baseball as a kid, and had even caught the eye of the St. Louis Cardinals. But he was brought to the Newark minor league team by baseball great Bill Dickey, the Yankee catcher and coach who'd played on the championship Yankee teams with Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig.

     The young man from St. Louis took Dickey's old number 8, and later said, "I owe everything I did in baseball to Bill Dickey." But we do have to be careful about quoting this baseball player, because as he himself admitted, "I really didn't say everything I said."

     He was called up to the majors toward the end of the 1946 season, and went on to become a mainstay of the Yankees for the next 17 years. He went on to play for the NY Mets, and then became a coach for the Yankees, the Mets and the Houston Astros. In all, he played in 14 World Series and won 10 championships. He was named an All Star in 15 seasons.

     One of his most notable moments was catching Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the only perfect game ever thrown in MLB postseason play. He also witnessed the record-breaking home run duel between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, famously noting as he watched them hit back-to-back homers, "It's deja vu all over again."

     He set a number of records in his position as catcher for the Yankees, and was a good hitter as well. He was considered one of the best clutch hitters in baseball, primarily because he was fast with the bat and hardly ever struck out. His lifetime batting average was .285, with 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in.

     After he retired as a player, Lorenzo Pietro Berra -- better known as Yogi Berra -- went to the NY Mets as a coach, and he was a part of the Miracle Mets that won the 1969 World Series. He had gotten the nickname Yogi as a teenager, when he went to the movies, and one of his friends thought he looked like a man practicing yoga in the film. His friends started calling him Yogi, and the name stuck.

"Half the lies they tell about me aren't true"
     In 1972 he was named manager of the Mets. The following year the team was plagued by injuries, and by mid-season the Mets were in last place. A reporter asked the new manager if the season was over for them. Yogi's famous reply: "It ain't over till it's over." Sure enough, the Mets staged a comeback and won the 1973 National League title, before succumbing to the Oakland Athletics in a hard-fought seven-game World Series.

     Berra was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, and that same year the number 8 was retired by the Yankees, jointly honoring Berra and his mentor and fellow catcher Bill Dickey.

     Yogi Berra married Carmen Short in 1949, and they had three sons. They were longtime residents of Montclair, NJ, where the Berras sponsored the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center (which advertises, "We're open till we close") and the Yogi Berra baseball stadium at Montclair State University.

     Carmen died in 2014, shortly after celebrating their 65th anniversary. Yogi died at age 90 on Sept. 22, 2015 -- 69 years to the day after he debuted in the major leagues. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in Nov. 2015, who cited one of Yogi's favorite lines: "One thing we know for sure: If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."


DJan said...

He was definitely one of a kind. I didn't know who he was until you mentioned the first Yogi-ism. One of my favorites is "the future ain't what it used to be." :-)

Stephen Hayes said...

Thanks for filling me in on the details of Yogi's life. He was a remarkable man.

Olga Hebert said...

That put a smile on my face for today.

Snowbrush said...

Maybe his humor helped him to live a long life. My understanding about those rocket launches was that they were fired from so far off shore that they didn’t harm a single German, but, of course, that wasn't his fault.

Tom Sightings said...

Snowbrush, you might be right. But another Yogi-ism might have been relevant to the situation on the Normandy beach: "It's pretty far, but it didn't seem like it."

Dick Klade said...

This time, I got it quickly. As soon as you mentioned the Hill in St. Louis, it had to be Yogi or Joe Garagiola, and it didn't take much longer to sort 'em out. As a kid, I was a catcher and a baseball fanatic. Yogi was one of my heroes. He was the best.

Anonymous said...

I knew there was something that made me think of Yogi. The boys of summer are back, I think!

Bob Lowry said...

You made me want to search for a book of Yogi quotes. He was the best.

joared said...

Yogisms were priceless from this talented and popular baseball player! Isn't he the guy that said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!"

Anonymous said...

my hubs is from brookly, ny he adored and I adored Yogi..No person like him or ever will be........The good in ours society sometimes get to live as long as he did and marry and stay married as long as he did to his wonderful wife..But I like to think the evil people die young, no need to take up space on this big old world..Live on in our minds and soul Yogi you are the greatest still!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tom Sightings said...

Dick, you're a pro. Joared, yes he did. I couldn't use them all but if you're interested, as Bob suggests, there are plenty more, even if you just google them. Anon., if only that were true!

Barbara said...

Very interesting. I didn't know who it was until the end. Very nice to know more about our "heros". Good share.