Jun 22, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Former New York Yankee legendsWhitey Ford
(16) (left) andYogi Berra
(8) during Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
The great Yankees catcher Yogi Berra passed away on Tuesday at age 90, and surely every true baseball fan everywhere reflected upon this moment with sadness, yet also with a grin for the joy of having known one who was truly one of the greatest ever.
I thought it would be interesting for our purposes as a Baltimore-oriented blog to look back at how Yogi performed against the Orioles, and it is impressive. But first, just a few other background items about this baseball legend.
Berra dropped out of school in the 8th grade, being a poor student and hating it. He failed at the first jobs that were secured for him by his father, mostly because he was not reliable — always running off to play baseball instead.
He was on the same American Legion team as Joe Garagiola, and though not as obviously gifted or athletic, Yogi would eventually sign with the Yankees in October of 1942. The bonus was $500 with a monthly salary of 90 bucks!
His baseball career began with the Norfolk Tars, where in 1943 he hit .253 with seven homers and 56 RBIs in 111 games.
World War 2 was in full swing at this time of course, and so Yogi joined the Navy after the baseball season was over. On D-Day, Berra was a gunner on a small boat just off the coast of Normandy for 10 days, before returning to the main ship — the USS Bayfield.
"Before he was discharged, Berra was shipped to the submarine base at Groton, Connecticut. He played for the base’s baseball team, managed by Lieutenant Commander James Gleeson, a former big-league outfielder. Gleeson had a difficult time believing the squat, awkward-looking seaman was a professional ballplayer, much less property of the Yankees. But in a game between the sailors and the New York Giants, Berra went 3-for-4 and impressed Giants manager Mel Ott so much he called the Yankees and offered $50,000 for Berra. Yankees president Larry MacPhail turned Ott down. Years later MacPhail confessed he had never heard of Yogi, but if Ott thought he was worth that kind of money, then the Yankees should keep him."
Playing in seven games for the Yankees in 1946, and then 83 in 1947, in 1948 he was a regular starter and on the way to a career with 15 All-Star honors and three years as the league MVP.
It is interesting to look at the career numbers of a player of this era. The statistics are so much more condensed to a lesser number of opponents, actually with most of his play against just seven opponents. One of these seven is the combination of the St. Louis Browns / Baltimore Orioles. A total of 297 of his career 2120 games were against the O’s franchise.
Yogi’s numbers against the Orioles were, on average, even better than his very good career statistics. He hit .314 against the O’s, while batting a final .285 for his career. And his on base percentages, slugging, and OPS numbers are all a bit better against Baltimore than his total averages. Let me chart them for you …
Actually, only six of his homers were at Memorial Stadium. One of these was in his last career game against the Orioles on August 31, 1963. He was 2-for-4 with a second-inning homer off Robin Roberts in a 5-3 Yankees win. It was his next-to-last homer ever, with the final one coming three weeks later in Kansas City against future Orioles reliever Moe Drabowski.
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Yogi Berra was known for his great defensive play as well as his clutch-hitting ability. For his career he hit .293 with runners in scoring position. It is interesting as well to see that he hit .271 in first halves of seasons, but .298 in second halves. That is truly remarkable given the wear and tear on a catcher.
I thought it was also interesting to see that a full two-thirds of his career games were played in the day, rather than at night. It was a different era indeed.
It wouldn’t be right to close without a Yogi-ism. And this one is appropriate right now: “Always go to other peoples’ funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”