All those quotes have been listed and re-listed endlessly since last week, so I won't bore you by doing it again here. That's not my purpose. But on second thought, I will give you just two of his lesser- known gems.
On education: "I'm not gonna buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let 'em walk to school like I did."
On low attendance: "If people don't wanna come to the ballpark, how ya gonna stop 'em?"
No, my purpose here is merely to reminisce in a personal and insignificant way. Yogi Berra hit 348 career home runs, and I saw one of them.
It was Saturday, July 6, 1963. Yankees vs. Indians at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, with my dad. Mom and sister too? Can't remember. (The internet helps me fill in many blanks, but it can't help me with that. Were you there, Sis?)
I was 8 years old and this was just the second major league game I'd ever attended. For me, this one was memorable for two reasons:
1. It was the Yankees, and as a little kid, I was a star-struck front-runner. These were the dynastic 1960's Yanks in the midst of 5 straight World Series appearances, so I was pumped to see some of these great players in person. (I've since tamed my juvenile bandwagon instincts and remain a long-suffering Indians fan.)
2. The crowd was huge, much larger than for my Twins-Indians maiden voyage the previous summer. It was the most people together in one place I'd ever seen to that point in my young life. The box score (Link below. Thank you, Baseball-Almanac.com) gives a paid attendance of 57,621. That's more than the capacity of any current big-league stadium. The cavernous Cleveland Stadium could accommodate over 78,000. Although the Browns routinely put that many fannies in the seats, the so-so Tribe didn't come close. But on July 6, 1963, the turnstiles were humming -- Yogi, the people sure wanted to come to the ballpark that day to see you and the mighty Yankees!
|Cleveland Municipal Stadium|
Back then, I knew the Yankee lineup better Cleveland's. And why not? The Bronx Bombers were back-to-back World Series Champs, with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Joe Pepitone, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Ralph Terry, et al. They were famous!
Mantle didn't play that day for some reason, which made me a little sad, but the champs did not disappoint. Young Yankee fireballer Al Downing dominated on the mound, while his teammates put on a hitting display en route to an 11-6 win over the Tribe. And who had the best day of any player on the field that day? Yogi Berra, who went 2 for 5 with a HR and 3 RBI.
Clearly, that game made an impression on me. I know the big crowd had a lot to do with it, and 17 runs scored didn't hurt either.
What nobody knew at the time was that 1963 was to be Yogi's last season as a player. I saw him hit that homer one hot Saturday in July, and he hit just four more the rest of the way. He retired at the end of the season. I'm glad I had the chance to see him play.