By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
September 25, 2015
It has been said that the only thing that really matters in life is who you become and the effect you have on other people.
Based on that philosophy, I’d say Yogi Berra had an A+ life.
The former New York Yankees great, who died on Tuesday, became one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. He didn’t have a classic athletic body. As Johnny Bench said, “He was 5-foot-8 if he stretched out.” But man could he play.
He was an 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series champion. He holds the all-time record for hits in World Series play. He was voted league MVP three times and received MVP votes for 15 straight seasons.
Perhaps his most remarkable season was 1950. That year, Berra hit 28 homers and struck out only 12 times. He is the most recent player, and only third overall since 1914, to hit at least 20 homers and finish with twice as many home runs as strikeouts.
According to well-known sabermetrician Bill James’ Win Shares formula, Berra ranks as the greatest catcher of all-time.
Maybe most importantly, Berra came through in the clutch. Rival manager Paul Richards once called him “the toughest man in the league in the last three innings.”
The picture of Yogi jumping into pitcher Don Larsen’s arms after Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series is one of baseball’s iconic images.
But Berra’s positive effect on people was as powerful as his muscular forearms. He was a man of uncommon decency and stood strong for equality and inclusion. He publicly welcomed African-American catcher Elston Howard when the Yankees finally broke the color barrier in 1955.
“Yogi was good to Elston, he made him feel at home,” Howard’s wife, Arlene, once said. “Yogi treated us with respect from the beginning.”
Berra went out of his way to help Howard, even though he knew he was helping to groom his replacement at catcher.
“He really believed in treating people the right away, no matter what their background or color or religion,” said Dave Kaplan, director of the Yogi Berra museum.
Berra served in the Navy during World War II. He dodged bullets and shore battery fire at D-Day. He was grazed on the shoulder by fire off the coast of France but declined a Purple Heart because he thought his mom back in St. Louis would worry and get upset if she found out.
Berra would later say his military service was more important to him than anything he did in baseball.
Yogi Berra was loved by baseball fans across the country who appreciated how he played the game and lived his life. League of Fans founder Ralph Nader was one of them.
“I listened to and watched Yogi Berra perform as one of the greatest clutch hitters in New York Yankees history,” said Nader.
“He brought new zest, remarkable stamina, and ground-level wisdom to America’s favorite pastime. His linguistic contribution to the English language alone secures his historical status. In the sports world, Yogi Berra was a uniquely great man and he remained a compassionate person long after his playing days were over.”
Following his playing days, Berra dedicated himself to helping others. Education and justice were two of his favorite causes. He started a scholarship at Columbia and created a learning center. He promoted character education programs and was active in civil rights initiatives. In recent years, he was an ambassador for Athlete Ally, a nonprofit focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports.
Berra’s sayings have become part of Americana. He is credited with many linguistic classics, including the following:
On why he no longer went to a St. Louis restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
On the game of baseball: “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”
When giving directions to his buddy Joe Garagiola: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
During a speech at Yogi Berra Day in St. Louis: “Thank you for making this day necessary.”
After watching Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hit home runs back-to-back in the early 1960’s: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
And maybe his most famous saying: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Berra said that in July 1973, as his New York Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9½ games in the National League East. The Mets rallied to win the division.
Despite his passing, Yogi Berra’s impact on this world certainly “ain’t over.” His legacy of athletic excellence, military service, passion for life and compassion for his fellow human beings will live on for decades.
It was a life distinctively well-lived.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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