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The death of Yogi Berra has brought a wave of retrospectives about his incredible life. His on-field accomplishments were often overshadowed by his personality and his many memorable quotations, but he had one of the greatest careers in the history of the game. Let’s take a closer look at a few things that made this unparalleled winner so special.

Yogi’s Tremendous Prime
Yogi’s finest seasons were in the seven-year stretch from 1950-56. He hit .295/.364/.502, giving him an OPS+ of 134, and trailing only Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle and Ted Kluszewski for slash line superlativeness during that stretch. That he was this middle-of-the-order mainstay all while handling his duties behind the plate make this all the more remarkable, and led to a still-unmatched run of dominance in MVP voting. Here are Berra’s finishes in the American League Most Valuable Player voting over this span:

  • 1950: 3rd
  • 1951: 1st
  • 1952: 4th
  • 1953: 2nd
  • 1954: 1st
  • 1955: 1st
  • 1956: 2nd

His average finish during this time was 2.0, the best seven-year average ever, well ahead of Albert Pujols, who had two overlapping periods with an average finish of 2.7.

It is not a coincidence that the Yankees enjoyed incredible success over the same seven seasons, running up a cumulative record of 686-389 for an average of 98 wins. When you consider the slightly shorter seasons of the time, that .638 winning percentage comes out to 103 wins per 162 games. New York won the pennant in six of the seven seasons, and went 5-1 in the World Series. Oddly enough, their best record came in the one season in which they didn’t take the A.L. crown. The Yankees went 103-51 in 1954, but still finished eight games behind the Cleveland Indians, who set an A.L. record with 111 victories.

Yogi in the Clutch
Berra had a reputation as a great clutch hitter and the numbers back this up. Baseball-Reference describes “Late and Close” situations as “plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.” In these spots, Berra hit .306/.367/.532. The idea of clutch hitting being a repeatable skill has been fiercely debated, but over 1,268 trips to the plate, Yogi was the guy you wanted up in a critical moment.

Among players from 1947 to 1968 with at least 1,000 “Late and Close” plate appearances, the only ones to top Berra in all three slash categories are fellow inner-circle Hall of Famers Mantle, Hank Aaron, Musial and Willie Mays.

Berra was also dangerous when tight games carried into the tenth inning and beyond. In 152 extra-inning plate appearances in extra innings, he posted a .352/.437/.602 line. Among 489 players with at least 125 plate appearances in extras, that .602 slugging percentage is 10th highest on the list.

It’s unlikely that Berra’s 14 World Series appearances and 10 World Series titles will ever be surpassed. He hit .274/.359/.452 in the Fall Classic, and while that OPS is 20 points below his overall career mark, remember that he was facing the National League champion every time. Only Mantle (18) and Babe Ruth (15) have hit more home runs in the Series.

Berra is the only player to hit two home runs in a winner-take-all World Series game. In 1956, he caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game Five, but the Dodgers came back with a 10-inning, 1-0 walk-off victory that forced a seventh game at Ebbets Field. Even worse for the Yankees, Brooklyn sent the NL’s Most Valuable Player (and winner of the inaugural Cy Young Award) Don Newcombe to the hill for the ultimate game. Berra smacked a two-run homer in the top of the first inning to give the Yankees a quick lead, then hit another two-run shot in the third inning that smothered any hopes for a Dodgers repeat. Yogi also guided 23-year-old pitcher Johnny Kucks through a three-hit shutout as the Yankees won another championship.

Yogi as Andrelton Simmons
Berra was a famed “bad-ball hitter” and was difficult to strike out. He struck out just 414 times in 8,359 plate appearances, and many of the 25-and-younger stars of today have already passed that total in their brief careers, including Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Rizzo.

Of course, the strikeout environment is vastly different compared to the 1950s, so let’s make some adjustments. Berra had a miniscule 4.9% K rate in his career, less than 40 percent of the 12.3 rate that MLB hitters put up during his career from 1946-65. Adjusting that to the 2015 K% of 20.3, Berra’s lifetime percentage is the equivalent of an 8.1 mark today, which is exactly what high-contact, low-power Andrelton Simmons has done this year. Berra’s ability to avoid the strikeout like this while also slugging 358 home runs was superb.

Over 2,120 games (plus 75 more in the World Series) Yogi had three strikeouts in just three of them. On April 15, 1953 against the Athletics, he went down twice against Bobby Shantz and once against reliever Marion Fricano. It took more than six years and three different Tigers pitchers to get him again in 1959. The last one came in his final game, on May 9, 1965 with the New York Mets. In the last of only four games with the team, Berra struck out three times against Tony Cloninger. He was able to put the ball in play in his final at bat, bouncing into a 4-6 forceout in the ninth inning of an 8-2 loss.

Yogi and His Many Rings
In 1947, Berra hit the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history, in the Fall Classic’s 253rd game. Although the Yankees lost that game, Yogi won the first of his 10 championships that year when he was only 22 years old. He won his final one 15 years later, when he was 37 and backing up Elston Howard.

Yogi is one of seven players to play in and win a World Series 15 years apart:

Babe Ruth

17 years


Jim Palmer

17 years


Babe Adams

16 years


Enos Slaughter

16 years


Joe DiMaggio

15 years


Yogi Berra

15 years


Mike Timlin

15 years


Yogi Berra means so much more to baseball than just his outstanding stat lines or his World Series records. As he usually does, Vin Scully said it perfectly during his broadcast on Thursday night: “As long as people talk about the game, whenever they mention the name Yogi Berra, they will smile because he was that kind of a human being.”

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Growing up in the NY area in the 50's with a 16 " B/W TV that cost $500 in 1949, imagine that, with baseball the unchallenged king of sport, followed by heavyweight boxing and the Indy 500, neither of which move a needle any more. The Giants and Yankees were on WPIX 11 and the Dodgers on WOR 9. Away games weren't telecast but the radio was always on. Ballantine Ale, Schaefer, and Rheingold Beers were the sponsors with Russ Hodges, Ernie Harwell, Mel Allen and some young guy named Vin Scully handling the microphones, it was heaven for a young baseball fan. Yogi was a part of my childhood, a big part, even though he played for the Damn Yankees. He was feared as he stepped to the plate in the late innings. If you think right field in Yankee Stadium is a joke now, it was worse then. 296 down the line with a low fence. Yogi would pop a little fly ball into the second row and everybody would go home. Willie, Mickey and The Duke, Campy, Newk, the Barber, Whitey, how the memories keep flooding back. A few of those great players are still with us but with Yogi's passing, perhaps because he was still a beloved figure throughout the country, his loss means more to me. As Grantland Rice said so eloquently, "It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game" and few ever played it better than Yogi.
Great article!
"The idea of clutch hitting being a repeatable skill has been fiercely debated, but over 1,268 trips to the plate, Yogi was the guy you wanted up in a critical moment."

This is a joke, right?

Career: .295/.364/.502
"Clutch": .306/.367/.532

Over 1268 plate appearances and 19 years, that's an extra single on even numbered years and an extra HR on odd numbered years.

For a guy with a career OPS+ of 125, that is hardly noticeable. Especially since hitters tend to do better with men on base anyway and the increased likelihood that Yogi (and almost everyone else in the 1950s) was facing tiring starters in those late situations.