“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
-Yogi Berra (as Manager of the New York Mets)
Everyone has his or her favorite “Yogi-ism” culled from Yogi Berra’s observations and comments over the years about baseball, life in general, and even finance (“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore”). My favorite is the one that I have quoted above because it encapsulates what not only the NY Mets meant to Yogi but more importantly what Yogi meant to the team – his glowing optimism lighted a fire under those players who improbably stormed back and almost took it all.
To think of that quotation in context, when it looked like all was lost in 1973 (the Mets being way out of the pennant race at the end of August), reporters were asking Yogi if the season was over. As a young Mets fan, I loved that his response was pure Yogi-ism and as true as it could be – “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!” On that team iconic relief pitcher Tug McGraw coined another catch phrase – “You gotta believe!” And Mets fans have been using both ever since.
When I heard that Lawrence Peter Berra had died, I felt deep sadness and there were tears welling in my eyes. My grandfather and father loved him (they were old Yankees fans who turned Mets fans later in life when Yogi came to the Mets), and I loved him because I am a lifelong Mets fan and recalled the magic year of 1973 when Yogi captured my imagination as the team’s leader who obviously loved his players. That taught me something about leadership and teamwork that I never forgot.
Now my father loved Yogi for all the good will and humor that he brought to baseball as well as the gritty and amazing way he played the game. Dad was a NYC cop and working at Yankee Stadium the day Don Larsen pitched a perfect game and Yogi jumped into Larsen’s arms after the last out. This image from game 6 of the 1956 World Series is burned into the collective national memory – like the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima or the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square at the end of World War II. Even though this moment happened before I was born, the image was the first thing I thought about when I heard Yogi had passed away and remembered my father’s story about that sacred game in 1956.
A Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi’s career statistics place him on the top rung of the ladder among the best of the best of whoever squatted behind a MLB home plate. While I never saw him play, my father said he was the best defense catcher ever (basing this on others like Thurman Munson, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, and Carlton Fisk whom he saw play). He also was a great hitter, probably right up there with former Met Mike Piazza, who stands out as the best hitting catcher ever.
While the Yankees and their fans are mourning Yogi’s loss, the Mets and their fans are as well and we can claim him as ours too. He played for the Mets in 1965 (only 4 games and then retired as a Met not as a Yankee) and then went on to be part of the coaching staff under Casey Stengel and other Mets managers until 1972 (which means he has the 1969 World Series ring from serving as first base coach that year). When Gil Hodges passed away in 1972, Yogi became the Mets manager. He guided them to the National League pennant in 1973 and almost stole the World Series from the Oakland A’s. Not too shabby at all.
So while the world remembers Yogi Berra and his Yankees pedigree, I like to think of him during his time with the Mets. Never a harsh word about Yogi was ever spoken by anyone during his time in Flushing, and of all the many years that I have followed the team, 1973 stands out as one of the most improbable and exciting ones of all. Yogi didn’t just have something to do that – he had everything to do with it!
So let the Yankees fans have their memories and their images of Yogi in pinstripes. That is okay with me, but I see him in my mind forever in Mets orange and blue, leading the team after the terrible loss of Hodges and bringing them almost to a championship. That’s the Yogi I want to remember, and in baseball it’s never over even after it is. Yogi is eternal now as the baseball seasons will go on and on, but his smile and his turn of a phrase will always be with us as we recall the great player, coach, and manager.
Rest in peace, Lawrence Peter Berra!
Photo credits: ny times, nydaily news, nypost, AP
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