As the 2015 baseball season winds down, with many of the final-season playoff spots secured or all but, the North American Baseball World gathered yesterday in New Jersey to bid farewell to Yogi Berra.
They were all there, the ones still alive who faced or were touched by the 90-year-old Berra: Sandy Koufax (the greatest pitcher, about whom Yogi spoke after the 1963 Series drubbing of the New York Yankees by the Los Angeles Dodgers: “I can see why he won 25 games. What I can’t understand is how he lost 5.”); Mister October (tho the title could have easily belonged to Berra, who was on the winning side of ten), Reggie Jackson; Joe Torre, who has disproved any thought that there are no second acts in American lives; New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan, having concluded several whirlwind days with Pope Francis.
(All of this helped baseball fans forget the ugly incident involving veteran Jonathan Papelbon’s choking one of the new young greats and teammate, Bryce Harper, right in the dugout.)
Quips of the cracker-barrel-philosopher sort are surely overdone. (When you come to a fork in the road, take it!) The stunted baseball career of son Dale—cocaine seemed to find him—had to be one of the deep wounds of Yogi’s long life. But maybe no one lives to 90 by wasting emotion.
This blog and Web site are devoted to sport, and on the field few at catcher or any position were greater. Witness 414 strikeouts against 358 home runs. (By comparison, Derek Jeter struck out 1,840 times with 260 home runs to show.) On a club that starred sluggers Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, it was Yogi Berra who led in runs-batted-in over seven consecutive years.
When Berra was a rookie in 1946, he was once in the on-deck circle swinging something like five bats to warm up his huge muscles. (Berra has been called an anthropologist’s dream.) DiMaggio gave his teammate that withering look of his: This was not the Yankees way. A little later, Casey Stengel would be Berra’s fifth and most influential Yankees manager. Like Berra, called a clown prior to winning five World Series in a row, Casey said he could never have done it without his Mini Me behind home plate. Or words to that effect.
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