Yogi Was Up with a Guy on Third. . .: Hall of Famers Recall Their Favorite Baseball Games Ever

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It was the rise of the relief pitcher. Thirty-three and peering toward the plate through wire-rimmed glasses, Konstanty won 16, lost 7, and had an ERA of 2. Those are nice numbers, but not the ones that were then startling: he pitched only innings but appeared in 74 games. Two years later a twenty-eight-year-old rookie, Hoyt Wilhelm, would be called up to the Giants to begin a twenty-one-year career that would take him to eight other teams and then on to the Hall of Fame, the first relief pitcher to get there.

Major League Baseball remembers Yogi Berra

Many pitchers have pitched more than his 2, innings but no one has pitched in more games: 1, The basic criticism of fifties baseball is that it was a one-dimensional, station-to-station, stand-around-and-wait-for-lighting-to-strike game. The basic, and often the only, strategy was to get a couple of runners on base and get Godzilla to the plate to blast the ball into the next postal zone in those days before zip codes. The criticism is correct.

In the Red Sox won 94 games and finished just 4 games behind the Yankees, in spite of a pitching staff with an embarrassing ERA of 4. After all, in the Red Sox's Dom DiMaggio led the league in steals with a measly 15, the lowest league-leading total ever. He and that team were signals that the game was going to be different in the next decade. Aparicio followed Chico Carrasquel and has in turn been followed into the major leagues by a long line of Latin American players, often middle infielders, who have made baseball more multicultural and, more to the point, better.

Together they took the Sox to the World Series, and took baseball back to the future. Playing shortstop for the Dodgers in that series, which the Dodgers won in six games, was a whippetlike rookie named Maury Wills. He had stolen only seven bases in 83 games in , but in , when America elected a young president pledged to "get America moving again," Wills helped get baseball moving again, stealing 50 bases. In the first seven years of the fifties, not one of the 16 teams had stolen bases.

In Wills alone stole In the s Americans were on the move. The first Holiday Inn opened. Baseball franchises, too, were on the road.

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Louis Browns. No franchises moved until , when the Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves. By five of the sixteen franchises had relocated. In the Browns became Baltimore's Orioles. In , the year before the Philadelphia Athletics' manager of fifty years, Connie Mack, died at age ninety-three, the Athletics began their two-stage westward march to Oakland, stopping in Kansas City until In , New York lost two thirds of its baseball as California got the first two of its eventual five teams. But the best and most profound mark made on baseball by the fifties was the inclusion of black players, without whose subsequent participation baseball would have been a pale, anemic shadow of itself.

It is commonly said that in baseball was integrated. Not quite.

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Not until the Giants got Thompson from the Browns in was a fourth team integrated. The Phillies did not field a black player until , the Tigers until , and the Red Sox until One way to gauge the caliber of baseball in a decade is to pick an all-star team from those who played a significant portion of their careers in it.

Here goes:.

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Few decades before and no decade since has been so prolific of talent. There may be two other reasons that such a rosy glow surrounds baseball in the memories of those for whom the fifties were the formative years. One reason is architectural, the other technological. To go to a game in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, or Crosley Field in Cincinnati, or Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, or Shibe Park in Philadelphia was to experience baseball intimately, and to be marinated in a sense of many summers lingering in the atmosphere.

That is no longer possible for fans in those cities or in more than a few others. Furthermore, the fifties were the years during which America became, in a startling rush, a wired nation. By the end of the decade television offered almost all Americans a new way of experiencing baseball. But at the beginning of the decade, and through most of it, radio, the medium for which baseball's pace and dispersed action is most suited, was the game's link to fans beyond the stands. By encouraging, even required the active engagement of the listener's imagination, radio drew fans deep into the experience of the sport of the long season.

And the unreasonably black and almost perfectly flat topsoil of central Illinois, then as now, was wonderfully configured for smooth infields and lush green outfields, one after another, toward the horizon.

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Baseball being the difficult game it is, even the best hitters in the big leagues fail about 65 percent of the time. One reason for the breadth of the game's appeal is that we are all failed players. However, some of us fail earlier and more emphatically than others. My team was the Mittendorf Funeral Home Panthers. We wore black. Age has dimmed, or embarrassment has suppressed, my memories of my performances on the diamond.

At bat, I hoped to walk. My ardor for baseball was inversely proportional to my ability, and it drove me to drive my parents into driving the miles to Wrigley Field once a year as my birthday present. There we saw one of those now vanished treats, a doubleheader. For Cub fans the bargain was two losses for the price of one. My friends in Champaign were mostly Cardinals fans who spent their formative years rooting for the likes of Stan Musial, Marty Marion, and Red Schoendienst. My father, who hailed from western Pennsylvania and thought baseball had pretty much peaked with Honus Wagner, was a professor of philosophy and so was able to be, well, philosophical about his son's obsession.

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My mother, a briskly practical person who prior to encountering my obsession had no interest in baseball, became a White Sox fan so we could have something to argue about while she washed and I dried the dishes. Even if your family didn't own a dishwasher, the fifties were a terrific time to be young.

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Young people had their own novel The Catcher in the Rye was published in and their own music the anthem of the youth culture was "Rock Around the Clock," popularized by the movie Blackboard Jungle. Bliss it was to be young; to be young and a baseball fan, 'twere very heaven.

But baseball has never before or since been more purely American, or more perfectly congruent with an era. He was the backbone of the New York Yankees through ten World Series Championships, managed the National League Champion New York Mets in , and had an ingenious way with words that remains an indelible part of our lexicon. But no one knew him like his family did. My Dad, Yogi is Dale Berra's chronicle of his unshakeable bond with his father, as well as an intimate portrait of one of the great sports figures of the 20th Century.

When Yogi wasn't playing or coaching, or otherwise in the public eye, he was home in the New Jersey suburbs, spending time with his beloved wife, Carmen, and his three boys, Larry, Tim, and Dale. Dale presents--as only a son could--his family's history, his parents' enduring relationship, and his dad's storied career. Throughout Dale's youth, he had a firsthand look at the Major Leagues, often by his dad's side during Yogi's years as a coach and manager.

It's no coincidence that all three Berra sons were inspired to play sports constantly, and that all three became professional athletes, following in their dad's footsteps. Dale came up with the Pittsburgh Pirates, contributing to their championship season and emerging as one of baseball's most talented young players. After three strong seasons, Dale was traded to New York, briefly united with his dad in the Yankee dugout.

But there was also an extraordinary challenge developing. Dale was implicated in a major cocaine scandal involving some of the biggest names in the sport, and his promising career was ultimately cut short by his drug problem. Yogi supported his son all along, eventually staging the intervention that would save Dale's life, and draw the entire family even closer. My Dad, Yogi is Dale's tribute to his dad--a treat for baseball fans, and a poignant story for fathers and sons everywhere.


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