I was very sad to learn this morning that St. Louis native Yogi Berra has passed away at 90.
Berra lived a wonderful life, achieving his greatest dreams after growing up the poor child of Italian immigrants on The Hill. But I’m mostly sad because there will never be another ballplayer - or baseball ambassador - like Berra. While his sometimes wacky statements have in many ways overshadowed his playing career that ended five decades ago, in many ways Berra was the ultimate ballplayer. That shouldn’t be forgotten.
He never got the limelight he deserved, overshadowed by playing with guys like Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. But he was great both at the plate and behind it and was always willing to do whatever it took to help his team win.
Berra won 10 World Series with the New York Yankees. But he would have been a St. Louis Cardinals legend if not for some front office dirty dealing.
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Berra and his neighbor, Joe Gargiola both tried out for the Redbirds. Garagiola was offered a $500 signing bonus and readily accepted while Berra was offered only $300 and declined.
One of the worst bungles in baseball history? Not exactly.
St. Louis general manager Branch Rickey knew his days with the Cardinals were numbered and he made a lousy offer to Berra with plans to come back and make a legitimate proposal once he settled with his new team. Unfortunately for Rickey and the Cardinals, the Yankees swooped in and signed Berra for $500 before Rickey could make his move.
After World War II the Cardinals were an aging team, their last hurah was the 1946 World Series title as stars like Terry Moore and Whitey Kurowski started to fade. How much better might the Cardinals have been in the late 40s and 50s if Berra was there to help Stan Musial provide offensive firepower while managing the pitching staff from behind the plate?
Baseball’s other colorful quote maker, Casey Stengel, was Berra’s manager with the Yankees. He hat a lot of wise things to say about the legendary catcher which are telling about Berra’s career and life:
▪ “They say Yogi Berra is funny. Well, he has a lovely wife and family, a beautiful home,money in the bank and he plays gold with millionaires. What’s funny about that?”
▪ “(Berra) would fall in a sewer and come up with a gold watch.”
▪ Asked to explain his success with the Yankees, Stengel gestured to Berra and said “I never go anywhere without my man.”