"Baseball," I said. "Baseball is what I want." Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, winner of 10 world championships (most in baseball history), was born on May 12, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri. His home was across the street from catcher Joe Garagiola. “Where I came from in St. Louis is called the Hill, and it's strictly an Italian neighborhood. My family lived on Columbus Avenue when I was born, but I was only five when they moved to 5447 Elizabeth Avenue where I grew up. The Garagiolas lived right across the street at No. 5446. Papa John Garagiola worked with my father at the Laclede-Christy Clay Products Company, and Joey Garagiola was my best friend. I don't know what you would say the odds were that the two of us kids living on the same block on the Hill would grow up to be major league ballplayers—maybe 10 million to one—but for a while Joe Garagiola and I were two of the 16 regular catchers in the big leagues.”
His father, Pietro Berra, and mother, Paolina Longoni Berra were originally from Malvaglio, close to Milan. Pietro arrived at Ellis Island on October 18, 1909, at the age of 23. "My mother, Paolina, and my father, Pietro, met when they were still in the old country, in Malvaglio, which is a little town in the north of Italy, near Milan. Papa was still single when he left home to come here. He figured it would be better to save a little money before he sent for Paolina. He worked in California and Colorado before he settled down in Missouri. First he was a farm hand, then a construction gang laborer and finally a bricklayer on the St. Louis Arena job. Whenever I took the old man to the Arena, later on, to see a fight or a hockey game, he always reminded me that he helped build the place. After he finished up at the Arena, Papa got the job at Laclede-Christy and sent for Mama. And that is how St. Louis ended up with all the Berras."
Yogi's parents originally nicknamed him "Lawdie", derived from his mother's difficulty pronouncing "Lawrence". He got his nickname from a friend, Bobby Hofman: while watching a movie about an Indian snake charmer, Bobby noted that Yogi, the fakir, looked like Lawdie, "That yogi walks like Lawdie Berra," and the name stuck.
"I must have been about 10 or 11 when I began to play ball. All the kids around my age who lived on Elizabeth Avenue made up a sports club we called the Stags A.C. We played in the street, in the Shaw School Yard, which was only two blocks away, and in Sublette Park, which was maybe half a mile away. We even built ourselves the equivalent of a 1936 Little League park at the Clay Mine, a neighborhood garbage dump. It's all been filled in and now has a street on it that's called Berra's Court that my brother Mike lives on. All of us Stags got out there on the dump one day and worked like crazy setting up the ball field. We even dragged two wrecked cars up along the foul lines for dugouts. My father never liked my playing ball. He always got mad if I came home dirty, and he would smack me if my pants were torn. I used to worry about it when I was sliding. I wanted to get into the bag, but I didn't want to rip my pants, because I knew what would happen to me if I did. Pop always blamed the trouble I had with my school work on my ballplaying. He felt that I spent too much time playing. It was football and soccer in the fall and winter and baseball in the spring and summer. But I loved every sport there was."
Yogi left school after eighth grade to help his family, working tedious jobs while playing baseball.
"The first job I got was in a coal-yard where they made what they called shell-block coal, which was coal dust machine-pressed into blocks. All the houses on the Hill were heated by coal stoves, and these blocks were easy for the women to handle. My job was to wrap them up as they were made. I didn't mind working, but I hated to be dirty all the time. There was something else, too. It was all right working in the morning or even at night, but in the afternoon I wanted to be out on the ball field with the other guys. Garagiola, for instance, was going to high school, and by 3:30 every afternoon he was out playing ball. When I left the house in the morning I would wrap up my mitt in a newspaper, along with the hero sandwich my mother made me for lunch, and if it was a decent day, I would vanish from the coalyard at 3 o'clock. They finally decided they could get along without me all day... On Sunday morning everybody in our neighborhood went to church. We went unless we were flat on our back with a fever of 110. It didn't pay to fake. If you were too sick to go to Mass in the morning, you were too sick to go out and play ball in the afternoon. Mom went first, to 5 o'clock Mass, and on the way home she bought a bagful of bread and doughnuts. We didn't know what eggs were; it was always milk and doughnuts or bread and coffee. We ate a lot of bread in our family. There were seven of us, and Mom bought six loaves of bread every day of the week. Sunday dinner was the big feast of the week. First we had a sort of antipasto, a big plate full of sliced luncheon meats like ham, salami and boloney. We would eat that with a few slices of bread, to warm up. After the antipasto we had the risotto, yellow rice, white rice colored with saffron, and may be mixed with some pieces of meat or fish, which we ate separately. There was always a great big bowl of salad on the table—lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, chopped-up seal-lions, radishes and sometimes escarole or chicory, all mixed with oil and vinegar. Pop liked to put red wine in it too. He made the wine himself down in the cellar. After the risotto and the salad, we moved to serious eating. Mom always had two main courses, generally chicken and either beef or lamb, and some Sundays she put out a great big platter of ravioli, too. With the meat we always had a couple of bowls of vegetables, maybe string beans or beets or carrots or lima beans. Mom could really make ravioli. Right up to the year the Browns left St. Louis I used to bring some of the ballplayers out to the house for it, and you never saw food disappear until you saw McDougald and Rizzuto and Ford and Carey and me going at that ravioli.."
In 1942, at 17, Yogi was playing minor League ball and he was approached by the Cardinals’ General Manager, Branch Rickey. Rickey had just signed Joe Garagiola for $500, but Rickey offered Yogi $250 and Yogi turned him down. Yankees scout Leo Browne convinced the Yankees that Yogi was worth the $500, so the Yankees signed him. He was assigned to the Norfolk Tars of the Class B Piedmont League. During a double header, Yogi was credited with driving in 23 runs.
When Yogi turned 18 he joined the Navy; he participated in the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, served in North Africa and Italy, and then was finally stationed back in the States. After the war, Yogi played with the New London, CT club; it was there that Mel Ott, the Giants Manager saw him play and attempted to offer the Yankees $50,000 for Yogi's contract. In 1946, Yogi was apprenticed to the Newark Bears of the International League before beginning his career with the Yankees in late 1946. Paul Richards said of Yogi. "He is the toughest man in baseball in the last three innings." Hank Aaron tells the story about the 1958 World Series. Yogi kept telling Aaron to 'hit with the label up on the bat'. Finally Aaron turned and said "Yogi, I came up here to hit, not to read."
He played in 14 World Series and holds numerous World Series records including most games by a catcher (63), hits (71), and times on a winning team (10), first in at bats, first in doubles, second in RBI's, third in home runs and BOB's. Yogi also hit the first pinch hit home run in World Series history in 1947, and went on to become a Fifteen-time All Star, winning the AL MVP three times, in 1951, 54 and 55.
Yogi was named the Yankees Manager in 1964 and went on to win the AL pennant, but was fired after losing to the Cardinals in a seven-game series. Yogi then signed with the NY Mets, reuniting with his long time friend and mentor Casey Stengel. In 1973, Yogi brought the "You Gotta Believe" Mets from last place to win the National League pennant. Yogi was dismissed from the Mets in 1975 and returned to the Yankees as a coach the following year.
In 1984, George Steinbrenner hired Yogi to manage the Yankees; in 1986 Yogi signed on as a coach with the Houston Astros, and remained with them until his retirement in 1992.
Yogi has been married over 50 years to Carmen Berra, and he is the proud father of Larry, a former minor-league catcher, Tim, a former NFL receiver, and Dale, a former major-league infielder - and loving grandfather of 11.