Childhood Hero Passing Evokes Many Fond Memories
By John Ventola
The death of Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra last night brought back many memories of my falling in love with the game of baseball in the mid-50s. It was a far simpler time, no Netflix, no video games, no cell phones, hell, no air conditioning. Just a grand game that led neighborhood boys to look for the nearest sandlot (open field) for a chance to throw, field, and hit. Yogi, a short, rotund, unorthodox looking athlete, who went on to play for ten Yankees World Champion teams, gave us all hope that one day we could do the same.
For a young Italian kid growing up in Louisiana, I could identify with the stories about
Lawrence Berra’s Italian heritage, his growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. What I could not fully appreciate at that young age was all the obstacles he overcame to reach the major leagues, and how he actually served in the Navy at D-Day.
While my first vivid baseball memory was the Giants Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder grab of a long drive by Cleveland’s Vic Wertz in the old New York Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series as a six-year-old, my love of the game had already been stoked by a baseball fanatical father. In fact, in the summer of 1953, my dad, mom, and I traveled to St. Louis to see a childhood friend of his, Tookie Gilbert, play first base for the New York Giants.
Mays’ outstanding catch and an image of catcher Yogi taking a pitch and reaching to tag out a sliding Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series are first in my baseball memory bank when I hit rewind. Berra thought he had applied the tag on Robinson, but the umpire called him safe. Yogi threw off his face mask and my introduction to sports arguments ensued. “Hey dad, can he do that?”
Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Bill Skowron, Tony Kubek, and other Yankees stars of the era grabbed most of the headlines, but Yogi Berra was the glue that held Casey
Stengal’s team together. He was a clutch left-handed hitter, probably the best “bad ball” hitter to ever play the game. Playing much larger than his 5’7” stature, he was a good receiver and worked talented Yankees hurlers like Whitey Ford, Mel Stottlemyre, and Jim Bouton effortlessly. Who can forget Yogi jumping into the arms of Don Larsen after Larsen pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series? His throwing was more than adequate to hold down any opponent’s running game.
Stengal sometimes platooned Berra with righthanded hitter Elston Howard during the season, but when championship time came (remember far simpler time, then it was National League winner vs. American League winner, no postseason playoffs), Berra was behind the plate. Later in his career, with years of squatting taking a toll on his knees, Berra took a turn in left field. Far from an outstanding outfielder, his spot in the lineup more than made up for any fielding deficiencies.
Berra hit 358 home runs in his eighteen years with the Yankees, 1946-63, and posted a .285 career batting average. He hit 321 doubles, and astonishingly, tripled 49 times in
his career. Video of him rolling into third on those base hits has probably been destroyed to keep people from hurting themselves from laughter.
After retiring, Berra managed for seven seasons, three with the Yankees and four with the New York Mets. He won pennants with the ’64 Yankees and the ’73 Mets.
Berra’s butchering of the English language is legendary. His malapropisms (Yogi-isms) include some sayings that many in society use today. The short Italian guy from St. Louie with the eighth grade education touched baseball fans in particular, but society as a whole. His story, his 90 years, was an American success story.
Some of my favorite Yogi-isms: “It ain’t over till it’s over”, “It’s like déjà vu all over again”,
“When you get to the fork in the road, take it”, “You can observe a lot by just watching”, “No one goes there anymore, it is too crowded”, “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical”, “We made too many wrong mistakes”, “Never answer an anonymous letter”.
And one fitting for this blog, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours”! Don’t worry Yogi, the accolades and praise of you is rolling in, and I am sure there will be many dignitaries and officials there to send you off.
R.I.P. Lawrence Berra. Thanks for the memories, and the lessons on life.Thanks For Visiting JV Sport Shots .Com’s Website And Viewing Our Latest Blog(s) / Page(s). We Would Really Appreciate It If You Would Leave Us A Comment Or Remark Below. This Helps Us Provide Great Sports Content; You Would Like To See In Future Posts.
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