Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher who won 10 World Series championships with the New York Yankees and dispensed more meaningful malaprops than perhaps any athlete in history, died Tuesday at the age of 90.
Berra died of natural causes at his home in New Jersey, according to Dave Kaplan, the director of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center.
“While we mourn the loss of our father, grandfather and great-grandfather, we know he is at peace with Mom,” Berra’s family said in a statement released by the museum. “We celebrate his remarkable life, and are thankful he meant so much to so many. He will truly be missed.”
Berra was born on May 12, 1925 in St. Louis, and went by his given name, Lawrence (or Larry) as a boy. But according a biography, as a teen, one day he and some friends went to the movies, where they saw a travelogue about India. When a Hindu yogi appeared on screen sitting crossed-legged, it reminded a friend of the way Berra sat on the ground waiting his turn at bat. And from that day on, the nickname stuck: He was Yogi.
As a teenager, Yogi played American Legion ball and was offered a tryout with his hometown St. Louis Cardinals (along with boyhood friend, and fellow catcher, Joe Garagiola). Both were offered contracts, but Garagiola’s came with a $500 signing bonus, while Berra was deemed to be worth just $250, so he declined to sign the deal. But in 1942, a scout for the Yankees showed up at his door with a contract – and $500 bonus – and he signed up. He played minor league ball in Virginia, and got off to a promising start before World War II put his career on hold. He joined the Navy, took part in the invasion of Normandy and even earned a Purple Heart.
After his discharge in 1946, Berra resumed playing baseball, and quickly zoomed up the Yankees farm system. He made his major league debut that season – even homering in his second career at-bat – and would be with the Yankees for the next 18 seasons, helping them reach 14 World Series and win 10 of them, more than any other player. Berra also played in more World Series games than any other major leaguer and was a three-time American League MVP. A 15-time All-Star, Berra was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.
After his playing career was over, Berra coached and managed with the Yankees, Mets and Houston Astros, even managing the Yankees and Mets to the World Series, in 1964 and 1973, respectively. All told, he went to the World Series a staggering 21 times as a player, coach or manager.
But his play on a team loaded with All-Stars and Hall of Famers was only part of what made Berra so popular. His good-natured demeanor made him a favorite of younger fans, which helps explain why the cartoon character Yogi Bear was named after him; but it was his way with words that made him beloved. Simply put, Berra never met a quote he couldn’t mangle for maximum comedic effect, and the long list of malapropisms attributed to him includes “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.”