Cheap Seats

Happy Birthday to St. Louis' Yogi Berra

Happy 89th birthday to Lawrence "Yogi" Berra, the best ballplayer ever born in St. Louis and maybe the best catcher to ever walk this earth.

Typically this blog is only about St. Louis Cardinals players, although sometimes I make an exception for baseball-related players and things that have St. Louis ties. In this case, however, I make an exception because Berra SHOULD have been a Cardinals player. And he would have been if not for a dirty trick of an otherwise revered baseball figure.

Branch Rickey, the guy who broke the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, knew he was on the way out the door as the head of the Cardinals front office in 1942 when the club was scouting Berra as well as his friend and neighbor Joe Garagiola.

Rickey offered Garagiola a Cardinals contract and, essentially, told Berra the Redbirds weren't interested in the form of a lowball offer for half of what Garagiola got. As expected, Berra turned the deal down and kept looking for a better opportunity. Rickey had plans, as soon as he warmed his chair at Ebbets Field, to up the ante and sign Berra to play for Brooklyn. But the Yankees swooped in before Rickey could make his move and inked Berra to play in New York where he became a thorn in the Dodgers' side, helping the Yankees to title after title, often at the expense of their cross-town rival.

It's painful to think about what might have happened if Berra signed with St. Louis. The Cardinals had some incredible pitching in the 1940s. Berra's great defense and lefty power bat would have seemingly made St. Louis unstoppable. The Cardinals might have secured several more pennants with the guy Casey Stengel credited for his success in winning titles wearing the birds on the bat.

In the 1950s when the cupboard became bare at Sportsmans Park, Berra's bat would have teamed with Stan Musial's trademark swing to give the Cardinals a much more potent offense.

Regardless of where he played (or his reputation for saying goofy things) Berra was one of the best ballplayers who ever put on spikes. So a tip of the cap to him on his birthday.