The baseball world became a darker today, when Yankees legend Yogi Berra passed away at the age of 90. A colorful character who embodied the charm and bravery inherent in baseball, Berra was beloved by fans across the country, regardless of allegiance. He was one in a million, and thoroughly deserving of the gratitude that has rained down since the awful news broke.
Berra was one of the greatest catchers who ever lived; a nineteen year veteran who established many records at the position and was a formidable postseason performer. Yogi won an unprecedented ten World Series rings, one for each finger, and still holds the all-time mark for Fall Classic hits. In over 2,000 games, he hit 358 home runs, redefining the offensive expectations of that position.
Of course, Berra went on to enjoy wider fame, mainly attributed to his famous Yogi-isms, which ranged from the sublime “Deja vu all over again,” to the wonderful “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” He is widely considered the main influence behind the Yogi Bear cartoon character, while his television endorsements made him recognizable to fans well into the twenty-first century.
Naturally, players of this caliber, and men of this dignity, transcend rivalries, even one as intense as the Red Sox and Yankees. Today, the Red Sox composed a poignant tweet, saying that the organization “sends our deepest condolences to Yogi Berra’s family and to the Yankees,” and concluding that “our game, and our rivalry, has lost an icon.”
Indeed, Berra was a noble adversary. He was a key cog in the Yankees’ dynasty in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, when Boston battled toe-to-toe with New York in a golden age of baseball. In 296 games against the Red Sox, Yogi hit .271 with 38 home runs and 185 RBI. He continued to harm Boston for many years after retirement, acting as a mentor to contemporary players such as Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. A few moments before Game 1 of the 1999 ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees, Berra saw Bernie Williams looking nervous in the clubhouse. “Don’t worry about it,” Yogi said. “These guys have been trying to beat us for eighty years.” That sums up Berra, a happy-go-lucky guy who lived for good-natured competition.
This will undoubtedly be a tough day for the Berra family. Yet, deep down, once the initial pain subsides, they can rest assured that Yogi was perhaps the most beloved sportsman of his time; that his unwavering bravery in serving the US Navy during World War II still resonates all these years later; and that fans from across the baseball spectrum have nothing but the utmost respect for his unique abilities.
Right now, baseball is left feeling a little gloomy, but the timeless legacy of Yogi Berra will shine on forever.