Wednesday, September 23, 2015


In a shoe box full of Mickey Mantles, Roberto Clementes, Hank Aarons and Willie Mays's, the one baseball card that intrigued me the most was my Yogi Berra card.

I think it was because of his name. His, and maybe Pumpsie Green's.

We're talking the mid- to late-1950s here. I was just a kid. My dad was teaching me, first the fundamentals, and then later the nuances, of baseball. Even though I couldn't play it very well, I loved the game.

And I loved a lot of the players. One way for me to keep up with them was through my baseball cards, because at 8 years old, I wasn't much of a sports page reader. Whenever I collected a Yogi card, he went to the good end of the box, where he was protected from the front-end of the box riff raff (who usually ended up on my bicycle spokes).

My 1960 Topps Yogi Berra baseball card.
As I grew older, and started watching games on television, I became something of a Yankees' fan.

We were living in Connecticut then, so you were either a Red Sox fan or a Yankees' fan.

Mickey Mantle was one reason to be a Yankees' fan, but so was Yogi. And so I started reading the sports section. I learned how to keep a score book.

It wasn't until Yogi finally retired from the game for keeps in 1965 that I fully came to appreciate that he was clearly one of the best catchers to ever step onto a baseball field. It's the catcher, after all, who handles the team's pitching staff. It suddenly dawns on you that Yogi, probably more than anyone else, was responsible for providing the Yankees with those 10 World Series rings in 14 seasons.

Whoa. And it didn't end there.

As manager of the New York Mets (1972-75) and the New York Yankees (1964, and 1984-85), he went 484-444, taking the Mets to the National League pennant in 1973.

Then there's the quotable Berra. In a way, some of the stuff that came out of his mouth sounded a whole lot like whimsical malapropisms: "Pair up in threes," "It's dejua vu all over again," "We made too many wrong mistakes" — and yet, there seems to be a peculiar underlying logic (dare I say intelligence?) behind them.

So, yes. After I learned today that Yogi had died at the age of 90, I felt a sharp pang in my nostalgia bone. But it didn't hurt. It just made me smile to myself.

Thanks, Yogi.

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