Yogi Berra the beloved Son of St. Louis

berraOne of Major League Baseball’s finest player Yogi Berra has passed away Tuesday at the age of 90. The Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J., announced his death. Before moving to an assisted living facility in nearby West Caldwell, in 2012, Berra had lived for many years in neighboring Montclair. Yogi had two sons Dale Berra, that played shortstop for the Pirates and Yankees. His other son Tim Berra played in the NFL for the Baltimore Colts in 1974. His wife Carmen died in 2014 from a stroke. I had no idea my mom’s side of the family knew of Yogi and his family from  his early days when he lived on The Hill, a settlement of Italians that lived in that area. According to my older brother Mick McBrayer our mom would recall fond memories of the Berra family. She also remember Yogi as being a real joker. I had met him very briefly some years ago when Yogi and his good friend Joe Garagiola came to The Hill for a dedication for Yogi’s childhood home. I had the pleasure to get the signature of both Yogi and Joe on a baseball. When he was about to sign my ball he looked at me and said “I can tell your half Italian” his funny remark was very true. Yogi had played seventeen years with the Yankees and only one year with the Mets. He was voted into the Hall of Fame 1965. Some of my favorite Yogi-isms were:

  • As a general comment on baseball: “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.
  • On why he no longer went to Rigazzi’s, a St. Louis restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
  • “It ain’t over till it’s over.” In July 1973, Berra’s Mets trailed the Cubs  by 9½ games in the National Leaguet. The Mets rallied to clinch the division title in their last regular-season home game and finished the season 8 games ahead of the Cubs.
  • “You can observe a lot by watching.
  • “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said.

Lawrence Peter Berra was born in St. Louis on May 12, 1925, to parents who had immigrated from Italy 16 years earlier. He was one of five children. Because his mother had trouble pronouncing Larry, his first nickname was Lawdie. Joe Garagiola, later a big league catcher and baseball announcer, was his across-the-street neighbor. Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck later lived on Elizabeth Avenue, subsequently renamed Hall of Fame Place.

Bobby Hofman, a childhood friend who eventually played shortstop for the New York Giants and worked for the Yankees, hung the nickname Yogi on him after noting Berra’s resemblance to a Hindu holy man the two had seen in a movie. In his early years with the Yankees, Berra was most often called Larry.

Here are some some facts about Yogi Berra:

Berra emerged as a Major Leaguer in the twilight of Joe DiMaggio’s career, then stuck around through Mickey Mantle’s best seasons. Over parts of 18 seasons with the Yankees, Berra won 10 World Series rings: More than any other MLB player in history.. He won three more championships as a coach, and made an astonishing 21 total World Series appearances as a player, coach or manager

Berra was an All-Star in 15 different seasons (and made 18 All-Star appearances, because the league held two All-Star Games from 1959-1962). Berra is one of only 14 players in history with as many All-Star seasons, and the only catcher among them.

This stat, again, is in many ways a reflection of Berra’s era, when players attempted steals a lot more recklessly than they do today. But Berra was nonetheless one of the best defensive backstops of his time, ranking in the Top 5 in his league in caught-stealing percentage nine times. His 48.6% career mark in that stat can’t quite match Roy Campanella’s outstanding 57.4% rate

This major league baseball player stood 5’7 and weighed only 185 pounds but he was made of pure iron and grit. He will be missed and will always remain in our pop culture.

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