|- Original oil painting of the great Yogi Berra by Artist Paul Sean Redden -|
In 1969, Joe DiMaggio was bestowed the title “Greatest Living Player” by a poll of national sportswriters. According to those that saw DiMaggio play, he earned the accolades “play-by-play, game-by-game and season-by-season.” Ted Williams, who rivaled the Jolter in magnitude, measured him “the greatest player he ever saw, as well as the most graceful.” Players like DiMaggio is a big reason why the “Yankees have a tie to the roots of the game that no other club ever will.” He earned and represented the title with top-shelf class and was proudly introduced at Yankee Stadium as such. However, it’s been twelve years since the “Yankee Clipper” has moved on to play with the baseball gods; and the time is right for the Yankees tradition to continue by honoring another great player – Yogi Berra – on opening day. Yogi should be introduced as the “Greatest Living Yankee.” The titles may be different, but it’s the distinction that resonates.
There are numerous great Yankees who are currently living and well deserving; nevertheless, in the vernacular of the sport, Yogi Berra is an American Icon. Many players have donned the pinstripes and have had a pronounced impact on the game, but Yogi stands very tall in Yankees folklore: 14 Pennants, 10 Word Series (including five in a row), which are major league records. He is revered universally. At 5’7” and 185 pounds, Yogi was inspired by an appetite to succeed and win. He had immense power and endurance contained within a deceptively miniature frame. During his prime from 1950 to ’56, Berra won three MVP awards and “played catcher at a sustained level of greatness perhaps unsurpassed in baseball history.” He crushed 191 home runs while amazingly striking out only 166 times and led some of the best teams the Yankees ever assembled in RBIs for seven consecutive seasons. He also had a well-deserved reputation as a player who came through in the clutch. On his superb endurance, Berra played in 100 more games than any other catcher in baseball. In that seven-year prime: “Yogi Berra started at catcher in both games of a doubleheader 117 times. Seven times during that stretch he started both games of a doubleheader on back-to-back days.”
Yogi Berra’s combination of leadership and reverence has imprinted his Yankee legacy and a standout place in the history of the game. “From 1957 through 1981, New York baseball teams appeared in 13 World Series and Yogi appeared in all of them.” As a player coach and manager, he has appeared in 21 World Series and has amassed 39 rings –including All-Star games and the Hall of Fame. “It is impossible to imagine that anyone in any sport will ever experience anything like that again.” Not many in the game of baseball have achieved more than Yogi Berra and conceivably – he could be the greatest catcher to ever play the position.
For Yogi “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Though, at 86 years old, he’s not getting any younger and on 4/13/12, Yankees home opener against the Los Angeles Angels – as we eagerly anticipate another exciting season – Yogi Berra should be introduced as the “Greatest Living Yankee.” Yogi has “never let go of the firm grip on his own values, convictions and determination,” and if it were up to him, “you really are not supposed to get these things until you’re dead,” but I couldn’t disagree more.
“I never play a game without my man.” - Casey Stengel
“No player I ever managed had a better understanding of what a team needed to do to win games.” - Casey Stengel
“He was the sort of person who could fall into a sewer and come out wearing a gold watch.” - Casey Stengel
“A diamond in the rough.” - Ted Williams
“He may have been the greatest catcher of them all.” - Carlo DeVito
“He had no weaknesses.” - Tommy Henrich
“The toughest man in the league in the last three innings.” - Paul Richards
“The most secure person I’ve ever know, he accomplished what he set out to do since he was five years old.” - Carmen Berra
‘He’s a very broad individual, unlike the public perception; you’ll never find him saying a bad word about anybody. I would have to say that I consider him one of the best friends I have.” - John McMullen
“He would be just as good a friend with the guy who pumps gas in his car as he would with the chief executive of a major corporation in New York; he would not even distinguish the two.” - Dale Berra
“In six decades as a public figure, he has managed to remain untainted by scandal or vice, his reputation – and his marketability – only burnished by time.” - Christopher Hann
Mariano Rivera on Yogi as the greatest living Yankee: “Definitely Yogi, ten World Series wins. He’s seen a lot, and the way he treats the game, the way he respects the game, the way he went through his business is amazing. He’s done everything, and the most important thing that he has – what a person, what a person. That’s all I have to say about him – beautiful man.”