RIP, Yogi…

RIP Yogi….

I hate writing articles like this. Every time I do, it us because we have lost another piece of our baseball past, our baseball memories. Yes, I know that it is inevitable, just as the sun rises every day, people die.

Lawrence Peter ‘Yogi’ Berra was born on May 12, 1925, in St. Louis, Missouri. He broke into the Major Leagues in September of 1946, and played through 1963 with the New York Yankees. He finished his playing career in 1964 as a member of the cross-town rival New York Mets, plating in just 4 games for them. He had reasonably good statistics over his career. He played in 2,120 games, scored 1,175 runs, had 2,150 hits, 358 HR’s and 1,430 RBI. He had a career batting average of .285. Looking slightly past that was something more. Yogi Berra had an excellent eye at the plate, so good in fact that he only struck out 414 times in his entire MLB regular season career! That is pretty impressive. Yogi Berra was an excellent defensive catcher as well. He had a fielding average of .989 as a catcher.

Yogi Berra was the American League MVP 3-times, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1972 By the time that his career in baseball was done he had participated in 21 World Series and won 13 Championship rings (10 as a player).

Alright, enough statistics… Yogi was famous for his ‘Yogi-isms’ as much as he will be remembered for anything else. To coin an old phrase, he had a million of ‘em. I will not give examples here, simply because there are so many of them that I will never finish this article. Yogi was a character, and in a world that is sometimes too sterile and politically correct, we could use a few more Yogi Berra’s.

Yogi Berra was not a big guy, standing only 5’8”, but he weighed 194lbs. He was incredibly strong in every way that you want your catcher to be. Personally, I share a lot of those physical similarities with him. He was a little taller and a little heavier than I was when I played, but as a fellow catcher, he was a player who I studied and emulated (along with Carlton Fisk…). I could relate to Yogi Berra, as I  was short, stocky, strong defensively, and could be a bit of a character, too. Even though he played for a team that I dislike intensely, I had a tremendous amount of respect for Yogi.

I don’t want to get into his acrimonious split with the George Steinbrenner Yankees, and I am not going to rehash the countless stories about him as a player and a manager/coach. Everybody who knew him or knew of him has their own individual memories of him. Yogi Berra was not only a baseball icon, but he was an American icon as well. When you mention the name of Yogi Berra, everybody instantly knows whom you are talking about. Just a little factoid here…did you know that Yogi Berra served in the U.S. Navy during World War 2, and that he took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy? Well, he did! Also, he was in fact the inspiration for Hanna-Barbera’s famous picnic basket stealer, Yogi Bear.

As his health deteriorated over his later years, he was moved into an assisted living facility, and he didn’t speak very much, but in the case of Yogi Berra, he really didn’t need to.

R.I.P. Yogi…

Yogi-Berra-NY-Yankees

MLB…The Numbers Game

To all of you who thought that this article was going to be about player salaries, I am sorry to disappoint you, but it is not. This particular rant is about the retirement of uniform numbers in baseball. On the surface, it seems that this would be a fairly benign subject, but I wanted to examine it a little more closely.
Over the course of MLB history, there have been 179 players who have had their uniform numbers retired, and some of them by more than one team. I used several sources, including The Baseball Almanac and Wikipedia to source my data, so unless I got all cross-eyed during my count, I believe that it is accurate. The breakdown is that there have been 77 players in the American League, and 102 players in the National League to have been honored in this way. I have also included the numbers of managers and team executives, such is in the case of the then Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins) assigning #5 to team executive Carl Barger, and then retiring the number. As you have probably surmised, the New York Yankees lead everyone in this category with 16 retired numbers, while the St. Louis Cardinals lead the National League with 12. There 10 players/managers who have had their numbers retired by more than one team, and there is only one player (Jackie Robinson #42) that has had his number retired by the entirety of Major League Baseball.
I want to take a look at a few questions that I have, and that you may have as well about this business of retiring a uniform number. It is the highest honor that a team can bestow on a player. It says that ‘You were so great, that no one else can ever fill your shoes, so we are going to retire your number so that no one can ever wear it again.’ If no one can ever fill his shoes, why don’t they just retire his shoes? They could do a nice bronze job, and then display them in the Team Museum… All kidding aside, the retirement of uniform numbers does present an interesting dilemma, and it only multiplies with the retirement of more numbers. I am going to pick on the New York Yankees (I am a Red Sox fan, so it is my birthright…), because they best illustrate my point. When the Yankees retired the #2 uniform number of Derek Jeter after last season, the Yankees became the first team in the history of any professional sport to run out of single digit uniform numbers that could be issued to a player. The list goes #1-Billy Martin, #2-Derek Jeter, #3-Babe Ruth, #4-Lou Gehrig, #5-Joe DiMaggio,# 6- Joe Torre,# 7-Mickey Mantle, #8-Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey and,# 9-Roger Maris. I am also going to throw in the #10 of Phil Rizzuto. Are you still with me? Okay. The Yankees recently announced that they are set to retire the numbers of ‘the next generation of Yankee greats’, which includes Andy Pettitte (#46), Jorge Posada (#20), and Bernie Williams (#51). That will give the Yankees a total of 19 retired uniform numbers. That is a lot of retired numbers, isn’t it? I know that the Yankees want to be at the top of the world in everything, but does that also include this? At some point, you have to start asking yourself about when will the Yankees run out of uniform numbers below, say #30? This season, if all goes as planned, the Yankees will have retired 14 of the first 30 numbers that exist in the numerical alphabet. Now, the Yankees can do whatever they want to honor their players, and if they want to retire everybody’s number, it is their right to do so. I have to wonder what they will do when, after the next generation or two of ‘Yankee greats’ retire, they simply run out of uniform numbers 1-99. Will the Yankees become the first team in the history of any professional sport to issue the first three-digit uniform number? Look, Mr. Steinbrenner, another way to be first!
Let me throw this out there…I understand that the retiring of a uniform number is a singular honor, but I think that a better tribute is shown in a ‘Ring of Honor’ in a ballpark. Also, the Yankees have a great idea with Monument Park beyond the outfield wall. Almost all other MLB teams now have something like this, be it in a Stadium Club, or a team museum, or something along those lines. My thought is that many people don’t know from uniform numbers, but they do recognize names. Also, what about the baseball greats who played before uniforms had numbers on them? They can’t have their number retired, so what is a fitting tribute to them? These are my thoughts on the numbers game. I would like to hear some of your ideas on this, too.