Yogi Berra: The Mets Years (1965-1975) Former Mets Player-Coach & Manager

In May of 1965 Yogi Berra came out of a brief five-month retirement & was named a coach for the New York Mets under his old skipper, Casey Stengle. Berra even came back as a player getting into four games as a New York Met.  
On May 9th, 1965, he caught his final game as battery mate to Al Jackson in an 8-2 loss to the Milwaukee Braves. Overall Berra went 2-9 at the plate in his Mets career, striking out three times & appearing in two games behind the plate.  

Berra remained on the Mets coaching staff, under his old manager from his playing days in the AL, Casey Stengel. Stengel once again had his who he called "his man" with him. Yogi remained on the Mets staff when Wes Westrum took over the helm after Casey had broken his hip & was too frail to continue as a manager (1966-1967) Berra also stayed on when Salty Parker replaced Westrum in 1967.

In 1968 he became the Mets first base coach under new manager Gil Hodges. Berra was there at that position in 1969 for the Amazing Mets World Series Championship season. 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 & not knowing which way to turn, they went with the popular choice for manager & named Berra as his successor.

Many people around baseball & within the organization felt it was the wrong choice. The Mets Director of Player Development Whitey Herzog should have gotten the job. Herzog had seen & tutored many of these Mets players, as well as many future players in the minor leagues. He helped develop the Champions of 1969 & the NL champs of 1973.

 Herzog soon left the organization & went on to a Hall of Fame managing career of his own with the Royals & Cardinals winning six divisional titles, three pennants & a World Series Championship.

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

In 1973 everything was going wrong for the Mets until mid-August. Most of their key position 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 listened to the fans & secured Berra's job.

Yogi kept telling everyone a winning streak was coming & to be patient, but no one seriously believed him. 
This was the year Yogi made his famous “It Ain't Over ’Till It’s Over” quote.

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 & newcomer 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. 

The Mets won the pennant finishing the year with a 82-79 record 1.5 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, behind their superior pitching staff of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack & Tug McGraw as well as timely hitting.  They Mets shocked everyone but themselves & 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 three games to two lead in the World Series heading back to Oakland, 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 cost the Mets the World Series & it still haunts the team today. 

Going into Game #6 the pitching staff had a rested George Stone who had gone 12-2 on the season with a 2.80 ERA. Stone had only been used in relief back for one inning, finishing off the Mets extra inning Game #2 win. But Berra chose to go with Tom Seaver on three days' rest. Seaver pitched well but was not his usual overpowering self, giving up two runs on six hits with six K's over seven innings taking the 3-1 loss to Catfish Hunter. In the final Game #7 Berra chose to go with his young stud, Jon Matlack on four days rest after he had pitched eight innings of the Game #4 win at Shea.

Granted, they were two of the league's best pitchers, but the consensus is if Stone had gone in Game #6, the two would have both been rested if needed in Game #7. Jerry Koosman also begged to come in relief in Game #7 when Matlack was getting hit. Stone was brought in after the Mets were down 5-1 in the 7th inning.

The Series had its share of good pitching, fanfare & drama as well. Berra himself made the Series highlights film, in a rare moment of Yogi 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 team's 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 replaced 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.

Family: Yogi married his wife Carmen (Short) in 1949, they were married 65 years, until her passing in 2014. Yogi & Carmen had three sons, Tim, Larry & Dale Berra.

Dale Berra played in the major leagues for eleven years with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1977-1984) AL New York team (1985-1986) & Houston Astros (1987). He batted a career .236 with 49 HRs & 278 RBIs.

Tim Berra played college football for the University of Massachusetts & played pro football for the Baltimore Colts in 1974. 

His eldest granddaughter Lindsay Berra is a freelance sports journalist who keeps her grandfather's legacy going. She has worked for MLB Network, ESPN magazine, the Baseball Hall of Fame & is on the Board of the Yogi Berra Museum.



Mets Honors: For the Mets Yogi was on hand for nights honoring Ralph Kiner & Mike Piazza Night in 2003. He was on hand for the 20th anniversary 1973 Mets Championship team & the 40th anniversary of the Amazing 1969 Mets Champions in 2009.

Berra threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the first inter league Subway Series game as well as other various post seasons games.

Yogi Berra was on hand for the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.

Yogi Berra Museum: In 1996, he received an honorary doctorate from Montclair State University. The Berra's were long time residents of Montclair, New Jersey.  Two years later, a baseball stadium was named after him on that campus. 

In December 1998, the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center opened paying tribute to Berra & his 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.

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..

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". This was a clever reference to the brawl between Bud Harrelson & Pete Rose in that years NLCS.





Comments

Anonymous said…
awesome blog - Yogi will live forever!

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