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Yogi Berra - Signed With Yankees

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Berra polished his skills on the diamond playing for the Stockham Post American Legion Junior team beginning at age fourteen. He most often played left field for the team. In 1942 he and Garagiola tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals, who were then managed by Branch Rickey. Garagiola was signed, but Berra turned down a $250 signing bonus, half of what his friend had been given. Rickey is reported to have said that Berra wouldn't make it out of Triple A baseball. When Berra signed with the New York Yankees, he received $500 to play for the Norfolk, Virginia Tars in 1943. During his first season playing catcher, he made sixteen errors but showed promise as a hitter. In one two-day period the left-hand hitting and right-hand throwing novice batted in twenty-three runs. Berra's season average however, was just .253.

The next year Berra was advanced to the Yankees' Kansas City farm team, but did not play. Now eighteen, he joined the Navy and trained as a gunner. During the D-Day invasion of Normandy, Berra was part of the fighting for fifteen consecutive days serving as a Seaman 1st Class on the Coast Guard transport Bayfield. When he returned to the United States, Berra played on a Navy baseball team in Connecticut. He showed exceptional batting skills in an exhibition game against the New York Giants, which led to that team offering the Yankees $50,000 for his contract. The Yankees refused the offer, despite the fact that Yankee General Manager Larry MacPhail didn't know who Berra was. After his discharge from the Navy, Berra was assigned to the Bears, the club's Newark, New Jersey farm team. In 1946 Berra batted .314 and hit fifteen home runs for the Bears before being called up to the majors at the end of season. He made a big impression in a short period of time, hitting a home run in his first major league at bat, and another in his second game.

During his first years with the Yankees, Berra struggled with his habit of swinging at bad pitches and a wild arm behind the plate. When Casey Stengel began managing the team in 1949, he put Berra to work with former catcher Bill Dickey, who found fault with the young player's flatfooted style of throwing but also valued his speed, strength, and agility. Soon his student was showing improvement on offense and defense. In 1949 Berra became the starting catcher for the Yankees, a position he would hold until 1959. Behind the plate, he earned a reputation as a talker who tried to distract batters from the task at hand. Berra has said that Ted Williams was the only player who told him shut up, which he declined to do. Berra also gained greater ease when he was at bat. While he would still go for pitches outside the strike zone, Berra proved to be hard to strike out; in 1950 he was called out on strikes only twelve times in 597 at bats.

Chronology

1925 Born May 12 in St. Louis, Missouri to Pietro and Paulina Berra
1942 Signs with the New York Yankees
1943 Enlists in the U.S. Navy
1946 Promoted to the major leagues
1947 Hits first pinch-hit home run in World Series history
1949 Marries Carmen Short on January 26
1963 Retires from playing baseball full time
1964 Named manager of the New York Yankees
1971 Named manager of the New York Mets
1972 Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame
1984 Quoted in Barlett's Familiar Quotations
1984 Promoted to manager of New York Yankees
1986 Joins Houston Astros as coach
1992 Retires from coaching
Yogi Berra - Chronology [next] [back] Yogi Berra - Childhood In St. Louis

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