Yogi Berra, one of the most famous Yankees players of all time—thanks to his skills on the field and his memorable aphorisms off the field—died yesterday. The Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, NJ, announced last night, "It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Yogi Berra passed away Tuesday night at the age of 90."
As it happens, yesterday was the anniversary of his Major League debut with the Bronx Bombers:
— Yogi Berra Museum (@Yogi_Museum) September 22, 2015
Berra spent decades living in Montclair, NJ. His wife of 65 years, Carmen, died last year and Berra moved to an assisted living facility in NJ. Berra's family said, "While we mourn the loss of our father, grandfather and great-grandfather, we know he is at peace with Mom. We celebrate his remarkable life, and are thankful he meant so much to so many. He will truly be missed."
For the millions of friends and fans of Yogi Berra, beloved American icon, Hall-of-Fame Yankee catcher and unintentional world philosopher, these are the saddest of possible words: It’s over.
Berra, who played on a record 10 Yankee world championship teams and 14 All-Star teams, won three American League Most Valuable Player awards, had two terms as Yankee manager and one with the Mets and coined dozens of goofy-sounding but aptly true sayings termed “Yogi-isms” such as “When you come to the fork in the road, take it” and “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over," died Tuesday.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of a Yankees legend and American hero, Yogi Berra. pic.twitter.com/Bf8uXxUPzR
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 23, 2015
What a Beautiful Man...What A Beautiful Spirit. Celebrate the Life of Yogi Berra Today. pic.twitter.com/dBp31lv9nD
— Bernie Williams (@bw51official) September 23, 2015
No! Say it ain't so. He was a good man, my former manager and friend! RIP Yogi. https://t.co/X5SauCYQty
— Dave Winfield (@DaveWinfieldHOF) September 23, 2015
— New York Mets (@Mets) September 23, 2015
Had some great times & laffs with the Legendary Yogi Berra. One of a kind! RIP Sir!
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) September 23, 2015
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 23, 2015
As a boy, Berra was known as Larry, or Lawdie, as his mother pronounced it. As recounted in “Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee,” a 2009 biography by Allen Barra, one day in his early teens, young Larry and some friends had gone to the movies and were watching a travelogue about India when a Hindu yogi appeared on the screen sitting cross-legged. His posture struck one of the friends as precisely the way Berra sat on the ground as he waited his turn at bat. From that day on, he was Yogi Berra.
An ardent athlete but an indifferent student, Berra dropped out of school after the eighth grade. He played American Legion ball and worked odd jobs. As teenagers, both he and Garagiola tried out with the St. Louis Cardinals and were offered contracts by the Cardinals’ general manager, Branch Rickey. But Garagiola’s came with a $500 signing bonus and Berra’s just $250, so Berra declined to sign. (This was a harbinger of deals to come. Berra, whose salary as a player reached $65,000 in 1961, substantial for that era, would prove to be a canny contract negotiator, almost always extracting concessions from the Yankees’ penurious general manager George Weiss.)
Yogi Berra's wife once asked where he wanted to be buried, NY, Montclair or St. Louis? His reply "I don't know. "Why don't you surprise me?"
— Kala Rama (@KalaRamaTV) September 23, 2015
Berra did get a $500 contract from the Yankees and was eventually part of a iconic era that included Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. ESPN adds, "In 1956, he caught the only perfect game in World Series history and, after the last out, leaped into pitcher Don Larsen's arms. The famous moment was captured in photographs published in newspapers around the world."
He played for the Yankees from 1949 to 1963 and for the Mets in 1965. He also, infamously, managed the Yankees in the 1980s (his second stint as manager, after one in 1964), until George Steinbrenner fired him and prompted Berra to "shun" the Yankees for 14 years until "The Boss" apologized, “I know I made a mistake by not letting you go personally. It’s the worst mistake I ever made in baseball."
After that, he was a familiar face at Old Timers' Day and other events. And when the old Yankee Stadium was on its way out, Berra explained why he wouldn't mind:
The NY Post explains Berra's idiosyncratic command of the English language, "Berra, who dropped out of school after the 8th grade to help support his family, is nearly as well known for his unique use of the English language as he is for his baseball career. His wit and wisdom — 'It’s never over til it’s over.' 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it.' 'If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.'— have not only found their way into the American lexicon, but also into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations." And offered up some of his sterling quotes:
“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
“It’s deja vu all over again.”
“I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.”
“Never answer an anonymous letter.”
“We made too many wrong mistakes.”
“You can observe a lot by watching.”
“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
“It gets late early out here.”
“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”
“I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.”
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”
Berra is survived by three children, 11 grandchildren and legions of fans.