A reflection on Yogi Berra

Photo courtesy of  Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916/ FLICKR

Photo courtesy of Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916/ FLICKR

 Daniel Johnson
     Staff Writer

It’s difficult to write a tribute piece about anyone who has passed away. The writer can just give a cheap Wikipedia biography of the person’s life and accomplishments. However, with this type of memorial, the reader does not really get to learn about the person — just what made him great.

This tribute, in particular, is really difficult because Yogi Berra retired from baseball in 1965. Anyone who is younger than half-a-century old has never seen the man play a game on the field.

But if you did, you certainly would not forget watching him

On the field, Berra was one of the greatest players ever to step on a baseball diamond. With a resume including 18 All-Star games, three MVPs, a then record 305 home runs as a catcher, a first ballot Hall of Famer, enough World Series rings as a player to fill up both hands and enough as a coach to give one each to his three sons, Berra is one of the most decorated athletes in any sport.

And Berra met all of these accomplishments while playing the position of catcher, which forced the poor unfortunate soul to squat down at a 45-degree angle for nearly three hours for 154 days a year from April to October, instructing the pitcher what to throw and where to throw it. All while at the same time, expecting to be a major offensive player when at bat.

Now in that entire tangent, what did you learn about Yogi Berra besides the fact that he was an outstanding baseball player and the position of catcher was created by a very cruel individual? Probably nothing. Again, it is very hard to talk about someone in 2015 when knowledge about their time as a player is limited, as records only appear in black-and-white photos and a 240p quality film strip. So, what can the average reader and fan learn about Yogi outside of the sport of baseball?

Well, he was born in 1925 in a section of St. Louis, Mo. called “The Hill” for the number of Italian immigrants living there. His obsession with sports led him to drop out of school after his eighth-grade year. His real name was Lawrence Peter Berra. He got the nickname “Yogi” from a childhood friend and also baseball player, Jack Maguire, who said that Berra’s mannerisms were that of a Hindi yoga anytime he sat down with his legs and arms crossed.

After being signed by the New York Yankees in 1942, Berra joined the Navy to fight in the second World War. He was a gunner’s mate on the USS Bayfield during the Invasion of Normandy. Also, Yogi Bear, one of the most recognizable and well known of the Hannah Barbera cartoons, was named after Berra, who was one of the most recognizable names when Yogi Bear was created in 1958.

So, Berra was basically Forrest Gump. A lovable man with talents in sports who, through some circumstances, became an important cultural figure in the country he called home. The two even share a number of great sayings that have become as common as quotes from presidents and verses from the Bible. These “Yogisms” include phrases like: “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be,” and “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The similarities are almost eerie. But instead of Forrest Gump, there is another film character that better resembles Yogi Berra.

Remember in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Luke Skywalker went looking for a great Jedi he had never met named Yoda? What he found was not a powerful swordsman like he imagined, but instead a small green elf. Now, actually look at a picture of Yoga Berra. When you hear “Three time MVP” is that who you think of — a 5-foot-7-inch, small, stocky looking fella who ran a little funny.

Who is Yogi Berra? He is an average guy from a working-class background who just wanted to play baseball. And through that, he gave us some of the best moments, memories and sayings in American folklore. Without Yogi, “the future ain’t what it used to be.”

Categories: Pro Sports, Sports

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