Remember Yogi Berra the player, not the soundbite

Yogi Berra will forever be remembered for the things he said (or maybe he didn’t say all of the things we said he said. We’ll never know). The Yogi-isms fueled the Berra legend, and made him one of the most beloved figures in the history of baseball. Unfortunately, for most people, that’s all they have to remember Berra by. I learned about the Hall of Fame catcher by reading his funny quotes and seeing him on television commercials with the Aflac duck. Until his passing, I had never taken the time to actually appreciate just how darn good of a player number eight was for the New York Yankees.

That’s a crying shame, for Berra was arguably the best offensive catcher in the history of the game. He could certainly claim that honor when he retired in 1965 with 358 home runs, 1,430 RBIs, 10 World Series titles, and three MVP awards. Only Barry Bonds and Victor Conte have won more than three MVP awards. Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza have since surpassed Berra in terms of home runs and offensive output, but an argument could still be made that Berra is on equal footing with them when it comes to his place in the game.

Over the past few days, since the sad news broke that Berra had gone home to be with his beloved wife of 65 years, Carmen, I have been delving into Yogi’s numbers in an effort to more fully appreciate him as a player and not just the old guy saying funny things with a cartoon duck.

So, without further ado, here are my best Yogi-isms from the statistical department:

  • In five seasons (1950, 1951, 1952, 1955, and 1956), Berra had more home runs than strikeouts. He had another season, 1957, in which he hit 24 big flies to go along with 24 whiffs.
  • In that epic 1950 season in which Berra posted a slash line of .322/.383/.533 with 28 HR and 124 RBIs, he struck out only 12 times in 656 plate appearances.
  • Berra had only one multiple strikeout game the entire 1950 season. He struck out only once in the entire month of May that year. In that month, he walked 19 times, hit .308, and drove in 18 runs in 25 games.
  • Berra struck out 100-percent of the time only 5.0-percent of the time for his career. Ty Cobb struck out 100-percent of the time 5.2-percent of the time for his career.
  • Tony Gwynn never had a season with fewer than 12 strikeouts. His lowest strikeout ratio season saw him strike out in 2.6% of his trips to the plate. Berra’s lowest number in that category was 1.8%.
  • Yogi Berra struck out 414 times in his entire career. Chris Carter has 660 in six seasons. Bryce Harper has 440 in four years.
  • Berra threw out 49% of would-be thieves in his 19-year career. Bench threw out only 43%, and Piazza (never known for his defense) threw out only 23%.
  • From 1950 to 1956, Berra never finished lower than fourth in the MVP voting.
  • Berra’s pitchers had a 3.40 ERA with him behind the dish. The league average over the span of his career was 3.90.
  • He is one of only seven managers to lead an American League team and a National League team to the World Series.
  • Berra passed away exactly 69 years to the date of his Major League debut.

Yogi Berra will always be remembered for his soundbites, especially by generations of baseball fans who never saw him play. He will forever be an icon for them, but there are so many more reasons he is an iconic player. As we pause to remember Yogi Berra the player, man, and ambassador for the game of baseball, take the time to appreciate him for what he was first — one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, and a damn good hitter (who did not hit with his face).

Leave a Reply