May 11, 2016

Remembering Yogi Berra: The Mets Years (1965-1975)

In May of 1965 Yogi Berra came out of a brief five month retirement & was named a coach for the New York Mets. He even decided to play again, getting into four games as a New York Met.

The Mets had also signed veteran Hall of Famer Warren Spahn at the end of his career. Yogi commented to the press, we may not be the oldest battery mates in history but we sure are the ugliest.

Yogi made his Mets playing debut on May 1st, 1965 coming to bat as a pinch hitter at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Berra grounded out against pitcher Sammy Ellis. On May 4th, 1965 Berra suited up behind the plate once again to the delight of the New York fans. He caught a complete game victory of Al Jackson beating the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1, he also got two hits on the day.

On May 9th he caught his final game, once again as battery mate to Al Jackson in an 8-2 loss to the Milwaukee Braves. Overall Berra went 2-9 in his Mets career, striking out three times & appearing in two games behind the plate.

He remained on the Mets coaching staff, under his old manager from his playing days Casey Stengel. Stengel once again had his "his man" with him. Yogi remained on the Mets staff when Wes Westrum took over the helm (1966-1967) and when Salty Parker replaced him in 1967.

In 1968 he became the Mets first base coach under new mananger Gil Hodges & was there in 1969 for the Amazing Mets Miracle World Series Championship. Yogi had coached with the Mets for seven seasons through Spring Training 1972, when Gil Hodges suffered a fatal heart attack after a golf outing with his coaches in Florida.

After the tragedy, the Mets organization was shocked,and not knowing which way to turn, they went with the popular choice & named Berra as his successor. Many people around baseball & within the organization felt it was the wrong choice, feeling Director of Player Development Whitey Herzog should have gotten the job. Herzog had seen many of these Mets players , as well as many future players in the minor leagues. He left the organization & went on to a Hall of Fame managing career of his own.

Hodges passing was a tough one for the 1972 Mets to bounce back from, all in all they did well finishing 83-73 in third place, 13 1/2 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 1973 everything was going wrong for the Mets. Almost all their key poition players had gone down on the DL at some time or another. By the end of May they were barley at .500 with a 22-21 record.

By the middle of the summer, the team was in last place & Chairman of the Board, M. Donald Grant was thinking of firing Berra. The newspapers jumped on board & put out a now famous readers poll asking who should get axed; Manger Yogi Berra? General Manager Bob Scheffing or Chairman M. Donald Grant? The Mets fans voted to keep Berra on board & Grant who listened to the fans secured Berra's job for a bit longer.

Yogi kept telling everyone a winning streak was coming & to be patient, but no one seriously believed him. Then the team got healthier as the year went on & no one in the NL East was winning enough to run away with the divisional title. During a clubhouse team meeting Grant told his players the organization believed in him. Tug McGraw jumped up & yelled "You Gotta Believe" as a legendary rally cry was born.

Suddenly it all turned around in September, all the injured players got back into the lineup and baseball's best pitching staff led by that years Cy Young winner Tom Seaver,were unstoppable. The other starters Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack & new comer George Stone led the charge giving way to the league's best reliever Tug McGraw out of the bull pen. Yogi’s team went 20-8 in September & on the final day of the season clinched the NL Eastern division title at a rainy Wrigley Field. This was also the year Yogi made his famous “It Ain't Over ’Till It’s Over” quote.

The Mets won the pennant finishing the year with a 82-79 record 1 1/2 games above the 81-81 St. Louis Cardinals. No one gave the Mets a chance to beat the mighty Big Red Machine in a best of five NLCS. But Berra's team went on to win the Series in five games shocking everyone but the Mets & their fans who "believed" all along.

It was onto the World Series where the Mets again seemed to have no chance against the reigning World champion Oakland A's. But the Mets took a three games to two lead in the World Series heading back to Oaklnad, leaving New York needing only one more win for another miracle championship.

But the team fell short by one game, & lost that year's World Series in seven games to the powerful Oakland A’s Dynasty who would win three straight.

But Berra's managerial decisions may have been what lost the Mets the series and it still haunts the team today. In Game #6 the staff had a rested George Stone who had gone 12-2 on the season, and had only been used in relief back in Game #2. Berra chose to go with Tom Seaver on three days' rest and Matlack in Game #7.

Granted, they were two of the league's best pitchers, but the consensus is if Stone had gone the two would have both been rested if needed in Game #7. The Series had its share of good pitching, fanfare & drama as well. Berra himself made the Series highlights film, in a rare moment of Berra rage when he came storming out of the dug out to argue a blown call by home plate umpire Augie Donatelli.

Donatelli had called out Bud Harrelson at the plate, after the umpire had fallen down & did not have a good view of catcher Ray Fosse missing the tag. The play took place in Game #2 at Oakland, which the Mets did go ton to win in extra innings. That game was also the last of Willie Mays career.

Berra remained the team's manager for two more seasons. In 1974 they could not live up to their NL pennant reign as they fell to 71-94 finishing in 5th place.

In the Summer of 1975 when the Mets were ten games out, players started grumbling about Yogis lack of discipline and his mediocre manager strategies. If a mental error was made or a club rule broken, Yogi was famous for saying “next time it’s gonna cost ya”.

When Gil Hodges was at the helm, there was no warning he fined you immediately, if it happened again, you sat on the bench regardless of who you were.

It all came to head by August when Berra had asked long time Met Cleon Jones to replace Dave Kingman in left field. Jones who was already angry due to his lack of playing time,with the newly acquired slugger Kingman refused to go to the position. Yogi ordered him to the clubhouse and demanded an apology for insubordination. All of a sudden Yogi was coming down hard on Jones after never enforcing any discipline.

Many of the players were shocked at the change in Berra after all the years of a lax style. General Manager, M. Donald Grant tried to diffuse the situation but Yogi wanted Jones suspended and wouldn’t back down. Cleon had other personal issues that interfered with the teams baseball operations & was released by the Mets two weeks later.

The Mets season got worse as the team fell to 56-53 (although still over .500) and Yogi was fired in early August. He was replace by Mets coach Roy McMillan who just filled in until the end of the season. Overall they finished third 82-80 ten games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yogi Berra era ended after four years, he posted a 292-296 managerial record (.497%) winning one NL pennant at Shea Stadium.

While with the Mets organization he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Honors: In his hometown of Montclair, New Jersey the college's baseball stadium is named after him & The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center sits on it's campus.

Books: Berra has co written books; The Yogi Book, It Aint Over Till It's Over, The Wit &; Wisdom of Yogi Berra, When You Come To A Fork In the Road Take It, What Time Is It, You Mean Now & others.

Yogi & his wife Carmen were married over 60 years, until her passing in 2014. Yogi & Carmen have three sons, Tim Berra played pro football in 1974 & Dale Berra played in the major leagues from 1977-1987.

Mets Honors: For the Mets he appeared at Ralph Kiner Night & Mike Piazza Night in 2003. He was on hand for the Anniversaries of the 1973 Mets Championship teams, & the 40th anniversary of the Amazing Mets in 2009.

He also threw out the ceremonial first pitch, of the first inter league Subway Series game &other various post seasons games.

Berra also attended the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.

Yogi Berra Museum: In 1996, he received an honorary doctorate from Montclair State University. Two years later, a baseball stadium was named after him on campus. And in December 1998, the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center opened its doors to the public, paying tribute to an American legend and his lifelong commitment to the education of young people. The museum honors Yogi’s playing & managerial careers. It also hosts memorabilia from past New York City baseball eras.

Passing: Yogi Berra passed away on September 22nd, 2015 at the age of 90.

Quotes: (Yogisms): “I it’s like déjà vu all over again" / "I didn't really say everything I said." / "You can observe a lot just by watching" / "Baseball is 90% mental -- the other half is physical."/ "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." / "If the fans don't come out to the ball park, you can't stop them."

-When lifelong friend Joe Garagiola was coming to visit Yogi in Montclair, New Jersey the directions he got were: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”

-On Yogi Berra Appreciation Day in St. Louis in 1947- "I want to thank you for making this day necessary." --

- After being told he looked cool by the wife of the Mayor of New York City : "Thanks, you don't look so hot yourself."

1973 World Series- at home plate with manager Dick Williams & the Umpire crew. When asked if Manny Trillo who was inactive could sit on the bench, Berra said "as long as he stays there if a fight breaks out".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

awesome blog - Yogi will live forever!