Ya Gotta Believe 40th Anniversary Profile: Yogi Berra

By Rich Sparago

This profile of 1973 Mets will focus on the team’s skipper, Yogi Berra. Lawrence Peter Berra piloted the Mets through adversity in 1973 (mostly from injuries), and took them on their improbable run to 7th game of the World Series. Berra spent his entire baseball life in New York, as a player for the Yankees (and Mets briefly), and a manager of both teams.

Aug 30, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees former player Yogi Berra displays a bobble head figure in his likeness before a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Berra was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, with good reason. He played 18 seasons with the Yankees (1946-1963), and 4 games as a Met in 1965. Over his career, Berra hit .285, with 358 HRs and 1430 RBI. These statistics are even more impressive because over most of his career, Berra was a catcher. He won 3 MVP awards, and was a 15-time All Star. After he retired (for the first time) in 1963, Berra managed the Yankees in 1964, leading them 99-63 record and a World Series appearance. However, after the 1964 season, Berra was fired. He then signed on with the Mets as a player/coach for the 1965 season (appearing in only 4 games as a player, as mentioned above), and stayed with the Mets as a coach for 8 seasons. Just before the 1972 season, Mets’ manager Gil Hodges passed away suddenly. Berra was named manager, and led the team to an 83-79 record, and a third-place finish. Berra managed the Mets for 3.5 seasons, and was fired mid-way through the 1975 campaign. As Mets’ manager, Berra’s combined record was 292-296.

In the 1973 season, Berra’s Mets finished with an unspectacular 82-79 record. However, that record was good enough for a first-place finish, and a trip to the post-season. Berra’s team defeated the heavily favored Reds in the NLCS. In the World Series, the Mets split the first two games in Oakland, before winning two of three at Shea to take a 3-2 series lead. Berra then made a decision that has haunted Mets fans for 40 years. For game 6 in Oakland, Berra had a rested George Stone ready to pitch. Stone had posted a 12-3 record with a 2.80 ERA in 1973, and was a worthy candidate to take the ball. However, Berra chose to pitch Tom Seaver on three-days’ rest in game 6. Seaver pitched 7 solid innings, but the Mets lost 3-1. Now, with game 7 on the horizon, the Mets did not have their ace. Jon Matlack took the mound, also on three-days’ rest, and the Mets lost 5-2. We’ll never know what may have happened if Seaver was held for game 7, but Berra’s choice did not work. Even with that sequence of events, Berra should still be kept in high esteem for the job he did with a tattered 1973 Mets team.

Yogi Berra is now 88 years old. He went on the manage the Yankees again in 1984, and was fired early in the 1985 season. That led to some bad blood between the two parties, inspiring Berra to proclaim that he’d never again set foot in Yankee Stadium. That rift has been rectified, and Berra proudly considers himself a part of both New York teams. To Mets fans, Berra will always be the skipper of the 1973 pennant winners.

A post about Berra cannot be written without mention of his famous funny quotes. While there are many, I’d like to share my 2 favorites. First, Berra was once asked if he’d like his personal pizza cut into 4 or 6 slices. He said, “Better be 4, I could never eat 6.” Next, when trying to decide a dinner location, a teammate suggested a certain restaurant. Berra rebuffed him, saying, “That place is too crowded. No one goes there anymore.”

Thanks for 1973, Yogi. As a small child, it was my first experience with my team in the World Series. Here’s a Rising Apple hat tip to a true baseball legend, Yogi Berra.

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