It ain’t Yogi till it’s Yogi…

This is an article that was originally published on
With Yankee Stadium preparing to shower their lost hero Sunday, HardRock Sports columnist Scott A. Ham looks at the story of Yogi Berra’s leave of absence and why he means so much to the Yankees.

This weekend, George Steinbrenner is doing something completely out of character: he’s righting a wrong.  Before what is sure to be a capacity crowd on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Big George is giving Yogi Berra his very own day at Yankee Stadium.  
This story made news earlier in the year when Steinbrenner showed humility and apologized to Yogi for firing him back in 1985.  What was the big deal?  Everyone gets fired in baseball, especially by Steinbrenner.  Well, Big George had promised Yogi that he wouldn’t fire him after a horrible start to the season, then furthered the insult by sending Clyde King, a member of the Yankee organization, to deliver the message.
If Yogi is nothing, he is a man of principles and this was the ultimate slap in the face to a player that brought a Hall of Fame career to the Yankees.  Yogi promptly made it known that he would never return to Yankee Stadium while Steinbrenner was at the helm.  That was fourteen years ago.
Over the last couple of years, with the passing of Mickey Mantle in 1996 and the illness and eventual death of Joe DiMaggio this past winter, fans and players alike have been pleading with Yogi and George to settle their dispute and bring Berra back where he belongs.  In January, the most trigger-happy owner in baseball, a man that inspired a maniacal, obsessive character on “Seinfeld,” walked into the Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University and left his ego at the door.
Berra didn’t let him off easy.  He was more than cordial, walking Steinbrenner around the museum, explaining the many photos and memorabilia that told the legend of his career.  And Big George followed, obedient and respectful with the demeanor of a schoolboy on a field trip, knowing all too well that Professor Yogi was teaching The Boss what his coarseness had cost him the last fourteen years.
Yogi forgave him, but he did it his way, in his element, by his rules.  Steinbrenner had apologized to Yogi before, but it wasn’t until now that Yogi felt the man they call The Boss had truly made amends. Now, Yogi returns to Yankee Stadium this Sunday for the third time this season to celebrate one of the most storied careers in baseball.
Yogi was a member of the Yankees from 1946 – 63, helping them capture a staggering 14 American League pennants and 10 World Series championships.  After taking over the starting catching reigns in 1949 and rattling off 5 straight AL pennants, Yankee manager Casey Stengal dubbed Berra “the man who holds us together.”  
Was he ever. Yogi went on to win three MVP awards (1951, 1954 and 1955), and in the years he didn’t win, placed 2nd twice, once in third and fourth places.  His World Series accomplishments are legendary, placing him first in all-time World Series hits, third on the homer run list behind Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth, and second to Mantle in RBI’s.  He was an integral part of the greatest World Series performance ever, calling Don Larsen’s perfect game in game five of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Berra leaping into Larsen’s arms at the end of the game remains one of the most enduring baseball images.
The World Series isn’t the only place Yogi shines.  In comparison to some of the greatest catchers of all time, Yogi ranks among the best:
—————–Hits–Runs–RBI—OBP—Slug—OPS (OBP + Slug)
Yogi Berra——-2150-1175–1430–.348–.482—.826
Johnny Bench—-2048-1091–1376–.342–.476—.818   
Roy Campanella– 1161-627—856—.360–.500—.860
Mickey Cochrane-1652-1041–832—.419–.478—.897
Bill Dickey——- 1969-930—1209–.382–.486—.868
Gabby Hartnett– 1912-867—1179–.370–.489—.859
Yogi truly had a great career and while players like Mike Piazza will surely surpass his numbers in this modern offensive age, you can’t ignore the contributions or character that Yogi added to the game.  He remains one of the most quotable personalities ever to play ball, often treating reporters to Yogi-isms that would make Socrates smile.
It’s not the statistics or even the funny quotes that baseball fans everywhere have fallen in love with.  It’s the way Yogi manages to balance integrity with humility, a strong sense of self without being selfish.  Leaving Yankee Stadium for over a decade wasn’t easy on the old catcher, but he did because he had to and the fans understood.
When the Yankees celebrate their second Yogi Berra Day this weekend, I’m sure Yogi will be happy to be where he belongs, but not nearly as happy as the fans who’ve waited fourteen years for him to return.  
Welcome back, Yogi. We missed ya…

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