Results tagged ‘ Yogi Berra ’

Big Unit enjoyed time in Big Apple

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Randy Johnson’s two seasons with the Yankees may not have been the finest hours of his remarkable career, but he has fond memories from his time in the Bronx.

Johnson was 34-19 with a 4.37 ERA combined for the Yankees in 2005 and ’06 but was roughed up in two American League Division Series starts (0-1, 6.92 ERA). To his credit, he did pitch with a shoulder ailment much of his second Yankees season when he had a 5.00 ERA.

“I still remember getting a phone call from George Steinbrenner welcoming me to play for the New York Yankees,” Johnson said in his induction speech Sunday at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. “I also enjoyed playing for Joe Torre.”

The former Yankees manager, who was elected to the Hall in 2014, was among 49 former Hall of Famers seated on the platform for the ceremony honoring Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.

Johnson took note of another returning Hall of Famer, Reggie Jackson, when he said, “Look behind me and you can see the best who ever played this game. I had the honor of playing against many of these gentlemen. Some I watched on TV. But it would have have really been fun to face you, Reggie.”

I had a brief chat with Johnson over the weekend, and he told me that he had no regrets about his Yankees experience.

“I actually enjoyed it,” Johnson said. “I remember being able to sit in the dugout and talk pitching with Whitey Ford. How can you not love that?”

No sooner had the words come out of Johnson’s mouth, but Whitey and his wife, Joan, walked out onto the veranda of the Otesaga Hotel. That ended our conversation. The “Big Unit” went right over to the “Chairman of the Board” and spent the rest of the afternoon with him.

Craig Biggio, who grew up on Long Island and played college ball at Seton Hall, had kind words for Yogi Berra in his speech. Yogi was a coach with the Astros when Biggio broke into the majors in 1988 to begin a 20-season career, all in Houston, his adopted home town.

“Yogi was the smartest baseball man I ever knew,” Biggio said. “I know he is known for his Yogisms, but he had a solid knowledge of the game. When I was at Seton Hall, he and [then owner] John McMullen came to scout me. How many owners bring a Hall of Famer to watch some college kid play?”

Unfortunately, Yogi was unable to attend the ceremony.

I ran into Phil Niekro at the Saturday night reception in the Hall of Fame gallery, and he told me a story I had never heard before. On the last day of the 1985 season for the Yankees, Niekkro won his 300th game with a complete-game shutout of the Blue Jays in Toronto. The famed knuckleballer actually threw just one knuckler the whole game — the last pitch — and had the Jays off balance with an array of fastballs and changeups.

“We get back to Yankee Stadium after the flight from Toronto,” Niekro said, “and there in the players’ parking lot is a brand new, white Chrysler LeBaron convertible with a license plate reading ‘300WINS.’ I said to my teammates on the bus, ‘Hey, is there anyone else on this team that has 300 wins?’ It turned out to be a gift from George Steinbrenner. I was shocked. It was a good car, too. The problem was that I could not keep the license plate. It was stolen twice, once in Cleveland the year I played there and once in Atlanta when I went back to the Braves. But I loved that car.”

Betances does his part in AL All-Star victory

CINCINNATI — American League manager Ned Yost of the Royals came through for Dellin Betances. Aware that Betances never got out of the AL bullpen at last year’s All-Star Game at Minneapolis, Yost told the righthander the seventh inning would be all his Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park.

Betances did his part in the AL’s 6-3 victory that guaranteed home field advantage in the World Series to the league, although that did not help Yost last year as his Royals lost Game 7 at home to the Giants. Blame that on Madison Bumgarner.

The Yankees’ set-up reliever got through the seventh unscathed, much like he has during the regular season. Working with a 5-2 lead thanks to a two-run rally in the top of the inning that was fueled in part by teammate Mark Teixeira, Betances retired Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford on a ground ball to second base. After walking Cubs rookie outfielder Kris Bryant, Betances came back to strike out Giants second baseman Joe Panick, the former St. John’s University standout, and set down Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollock on a grounder to third.

In the top of the seventh, Teixeira grounded out to the left side that pushed the Orioles’ Manny Machado to third base from where he scored on a fly ball by the Rangers’ Prince Fielder. Teixeira had a rougher time in the ninth inning as he made the final out of the game striking out on a 103-mph fastball by the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman.

Brett Gardner, the Yankees’ other representative in the game, also had a tough night. He was called out on strikes in both of his at-bats, in the fifth inning against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and in the eighth against former Yankees teammate Mark Melancon, now the closer for the Pirates.

It was also announced during the All-Star festivities the Franchise Four for each of the 30 clubs in a vote of fans. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America took part in setting up the ballot of eight players from each franchise (full disclosure: I was the BBWAA voter assigned to the Yankees).

It should come as no surprise that the Yanks’ Franchise Four were the team’s Mount Rushmore: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. It is pretty hard to break through that quartet. Younger fans may wonder about Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera considering all the club records they have, but the other four men helped shape the franchise and are among the most decorated players in baseball history.

For the record, the eight players on the Yankees’ ballot in addition to the four were Jeter, Rivera, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. Believe me, it was hard to leave players like Bill Dickey and Don Mattingly off that list. This was one of those promotions where the Yankees were hurt because of the richness of their history.

There was a nice moment before the game where the four men voted the game’s greatest living players came onto the field — Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays. I had three of those players on my ballot but chose Yogi over Koufax in a close call. Some might say that Berra belonged there more than Bench, but even Yogi told me once that he thinks JB was the best catcher who ever lived.

Hall to honor 11 Yanks legends among WWII vets

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will salute the ballplayers who served during World War II and honor the contributions of a modern baseball pioneer’s legacy with two special recognitions during the annual Awards Presentation at Hall of Fame Weekend Saturday, July 25, in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Hall will recognize all the players who served in World War II, with United States Navy Secretary Ray Mabus speaking on behalf of all military branches as America marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. More than 500 major leaguers joined the military during World War II, including Hall of Famers such as Bob Feller, who enlisted in the Navy just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941; and Hank Greenberg, who re-enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 after being drafted and serving in the Army in 1941 before being honorably discharged Dec. 5, 1941.

Thirty-six Hall of Famers – more than 11 percent of all Hall of Fame members – served during World War II, including eight players with the Yankees: Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Johnny Mize, Phil Rizzuto, Red Ruffing and Enos Slaughter. Other Hall of Famers with Yankees connections who served during WWII were executives Larry MacPhail and Lee MacPhail and manager Bob Lemon.

The rest of the Hall of Fame roster of World War II veterans were Feller, Greenberg, Luke Appling, Al Barlick, Willard Brown, Nestor Chylak, Mickey Cochrane, Leon Day, Larry Doby, Bobby Doerr, Charlie Gehringer, Billy Herman, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner, Ted Lyons, Stan Musial, Pee Wee Reese, Robin Roberts, Jackie Robinson, Red Schoendienst, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, Bill Veeck, Ted Williams and Early Wynn.

The Museum will also pay tribute to the legacy and contributions of former Reds, Cardinals and Senators outfielder Curt Flood, whose test of the reserve clause via the United States Supreme Court in 1970 laid the groundwork for the advent of free agency several years later. Major League Players Association executive director Tony Clark will speak on behalf of Flood’s challenge of the system and contributions to the Supreme Court case that led to free agency.

A three-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner in center field, Flood petitioned the Court to allow him to choose his employer instead of being subject to a trade. Flood sat out the 1970 season. That year the Court ruled against Flood in a 5-to-3 decision. His efforts inspired pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to pick up the fight five years later when they challenged the reserve clause through the players’ right to binding arbitration in 1975. Flood passed away in 1997.

These two special recognitions will join the Museum’s annual presentation of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. Dick Enberg, the television voice of the Padres, will receive the Frick Award. Tom Gage, who covered the Tigers for the Detroit News for 36 seasons, has been selected the Spink Award winner by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Now in its fifth year, the Awards Presentation takes place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, July 25, at historic Doubleday Field, the day before the 2015 Induction Ceremony.

Admission for the Awards Presentation is free. The one-hour ceremony precedes the Hall of Fame Parade of Legends, featuring Hall of Fame members in a Main Street parade through Cooperstown.

The Class of 2015 at the Hall of Fame features Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martínez and John Smoltz, who were all elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA in January. More than 50 Hall of Famers are scheduled to be in Cooperstown to honor the Class of 2015 at the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, July 26, at the Clark Sports Center, which is one mile south of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

For more information on Hall of Fame Weekend, please visit http://www.baseballhall.org/visit/hall-of-fame-weekend.

Randolph to be honored at 69th Old Timers’ Day

Seven Hall of Famers will be among the roster of former Yankees players, managers and coaches who will be on hand for the 69th annual Old-Timers’ Day Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Fans are asked to be in their seats by 4 p.m. for the ceremonies with the traditional Old-Timers’ game to follow. Pregame festivities will be aired exclusively on the YES Network. The Yankees will then play the Tigers at 7:15 p.m., also on YES. Gates will open to ticket-holders at 3 p.m.

As part of pregame ceremonies, the Yankees will honor former co-captain Willie Randolph with a Monument Park plaque. Randolph spent 13 seasons playing for the Yankees from 1976-88 and ranks third on the organization’s career list of stolen bases (251). The five-time American League All-Star (1976-77, ’80-81 and ’87) played in 37 postseason games with the Yankees from 1976-81 and won two World Series with the team (1977-78). He also spent 11 seasons coaching for the organization, serving as the club’s third base coach from 1994-2003 and bench coach in 2004, earning four additional World Series rings (1996, ‘98-2000).

The Old-Timers are headlined by Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Wade Boggs, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson and Joe Torre. Former Yankees players and current YES Network broadcasters David Cone, John Flaherty and Paul O’Neill will also participate in the festivities.

Joining the Hall-of-Famers and former Yankees on the baselines will be the widows of five legendary Yankees – Arlene Howard (Elston), Helen Hunter (Jim “Catfish”), Jill Martin (Billy), Diana Munson (Thurman) and Kay Murcer (Bobby).

Scheduled to attend (Hall of Famers in BOLD face):

Jesse Barfield, Yogi Berra, Ron Blomberg, Brian Boehringer, Wade Boggs, Scott Bradley, Scott Brosius, Dr. Bobby Brown, Homer Bush.

Chris Chambliss, Jim Coates, David Cone.

Johnny Damon, Bucky Dent, Al Downing, Brian Doyle.

Cecil Fielder, John Flaherty, Whitey Ford.

Oscar Gamble, Joe Girardi, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Ken Griffey Sr., Ron Guidry.

Charlie Hayes, Rickey Henderson, Arlene Howard (Widow), Helen Hunter (Widow).

Reggie Jackson.

Scott Kamieniecki, Pat Kelly.

Don Larsen, Jim Leyritz, Graeme Lloyd, Hector Lopez.

Jill Martin (Widow), Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, Gene Michael, Gene Monahan (Trainer), Diana Munson (Widow), Kay Murcer (Widow).

Jeff Nelson.

Paul O’Neill.

Dan Pasqua, Joe Pepitone, Andy Phillips, Lou Piniella.

Willie Randolph, Bobby Richardson, Mickey Rivers.

Mel Stottlemyre, Tanyon Sturtze.

Joe Torre.

Roy White, Bernie Williams.

Yanks grading F’s against the A’s in Oakland

The schizophrenic nature of the Yankees’ season has surfaced again on the West Coast. After sweeping a three-game series against the Royals, the team with the best record in the American League, the Yankees lost the first two games of the four-game set to the Athletics, the team with the worst record in the league. On top of that, Oakland entered the series with a 1-10 record when opponents start a left-handed pitcher, and the A’s won Thursday night against CC Sabathia and Friday night against Chris Capuano, both lefties.

Except for the hitting of Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees have had another offensive breakdown. The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury (strained right knee) is part of it, although Slade Heathcott, who was recalled from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to help fill the void, was playing well (.353, 1 HR, 3 RBI). Now Heathcott is out with a strained right quadriceps that landed him on the 15-day disabled list Saturday. The Yankees recalled outfielder Ramos Flores from SWP to take the place of Heathcott, who is expected to be out for a month.

McCann has homered in four straight games, the longest streak by a catcher in the major leagues this season. Mac is one of two Yankees to homer in four straight games while playing catcher since 1957. The other was Mike Stanley (four homers in four games July 20-25, 1993). The only Yankees catcher since at least 1914 with a longer streak is Hall of Famer Bill Dickey, who hit six home runs in five games June 20-25, 1937.

During his seven-game hitting streak, McCann is 9-for-23 (.391) with six runs, 1 double, four homers, 11 RBI and six walks. He has reached base safely in 15 of his past 29 plate appearances for a .517 on-base percentage. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that McCann is the first Yankees catcher with an RBI in seven consecutive games, all as catcher, since Hall of Famer Yogi Berra had an eight-game streak Sept. 11-23, 1956. McCann’s streak is the longest RBI streak by any Yankees player since Alfonso Soriano’s seven-gamer Sept. 1-7, 2013. Mac is tied with the Padres’ Derek Norris for second among MLB catchers with 32 RBI in 2015. The leader is Oakland’s Stephen Vogt with 35. Vogt played first base Friday night and drove in two runs with a double in the A’s four-run third inning against Capuano.

Also streaking is Rodriguez, with an eight-game stretch in which he has hit .414 with seven runs, one double, one home run, five RBI and three walks in 29 at-bats as his batting average has climbed from .246 to .277. A-Rod has hit safely in 13 consecutive starts and is batting .346 in his past 15 games and 52 at-bats overall since May 13.

Rodriguez’s sacrifice fly Thursday gave him 1,996 career RBI to tie Barry Bonds for second place on baseball’s all-time list, according to Elias, the official statistician of MLB. Statistics found on MLB.com and baseball-reference.com are not official stats. The RBI became an official statistic in 1920. Rodriguez passed Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig (1,993) for the all-time AL RBI record with a three-run homer Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. A-Rod has scored 1,947 career runs, two shy of tying Hall of Famer Stan Musial for eighth place on the all-time list.

Despite the two losses in Oakland, the Yankees remained in first place in the AL East by one game over the Rays and Orioles, who are playing each other this weekend. The Yankees will also get some reinforcements when Masahiro Tanaka returns to the rotation. He is scheduled to start Wednesday in Seattle in the last game of the trip.

The rotation could use a shot in the, well, arm. Yankees starters are a combined 18-19 with a 4.29 ERA, which ranks 20th of 30 major-league clubs. The Yankees are the only club with a winning record (25-24) whose starting unit has a losing mark. Opposing hitters are batting .275 against Yankees starting pitchers.

Here’s a number you’ll never forget, Bernie

In terms of profile and temperament, Bernie Williams and New York would not seem a comfortable fit. The city that never sleeps was the incubator that gave the culture such over-the-top performers from Cagney to Streisand to DeNiro, not to mention such flamboyant out-of-town athletes who conquered the Big Apple’s hard core, from Dempsey to Mantle to Namath.

But Bernie Williams? Bob Sheppard, the late majestic voice of Yankee Stadium, noted that even the syllables of Williams’ name failed to conjure up images of greatness. Except for his Puerto Rican heritage, which he shared with many Bronx residents, Williams did not appear to have much in common with the population of the borough that the Yankees call home which traditionally has revered players who thrive on being the center of attention.

Towards the end of the 2005 season when his tenure with the Yankees was drawing to a close, fans at the Stadium finally stood up and took notice at Williams on a regular basis with standing ovations before and after each of his plate appearances. Bernie Williams was at center stage at last. The outpouring of affection was a belated tribute by Yankees fans for all Williams meant to the franchise in one of the most significant periods of its glorious history.

And the penultimate experience occurs Sunday night when a packed Stadium will shower Williams with an abundance of affection as the Yankees will honor him with a plaque in Monument Park and officially retire his uniform No. 51. No player has worn that number since Williams’ last season 10 years ago, even the two who had worn it with distinction in Seattle, Randy Johnson and Ichiro Suzuki. After coming to the Yankees in trades from the Mariners, Johnson wore No. 41 and Suzuki No. 31.

Bernie Williams'  No. 51 joins Monument Park retirement list.

Bernie Williams’ No. 51 joins Monument Park retirement list.

While other teammates drew greater cheers and headlines over the years, Williams was the calming center of a team that went from spit to shinola in the 1990’s to complete a resounding history of baseball in the Bronx. The quiet, contemplative, switch-hitting center fielder batted cleanup in lineups that produced four World Series championships, including three in a row, over the last five years of the 20th century and the first year of the 21st.

Of all the players who took part in the Yankees’ extraordinary run during that period, Williams was the only one who was there when it all began, when the club started to make strides toward decency in 1992 and improved to such an extent that by the middle of the decade was on the verge of yet another dynastic era.

Yes, that Bernie Williams, whose way with a guitar rivaled that of his handling of bat and glove. Williams’ love of the guitar was so strong that he was just as much in awe of meeting Les Paul and Paul McCartney as he was shaking hands with Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra. Yet it is in the latter’s company that Williams will always hold a special place in Yankees lore.

It is a past as eventful as any in franchise history. Williams’ rankings on the Yankees’ career lists include third in doubles (449), singles (1,545) and intentional walks (97); fourth in at-bats (7,869); fifth in plate appearances (9,053), hits (2,336), bases on balls (1,069), times on base (3,444) and sacrifice flies( 64); sixth in games (2,076), total bases (3,756), extra-base hits (791) and runs (1,366) and seventh in home runs (287) and runs batted in (1,257). He is one of only 10 players who played 16 or more seasons only with the Yankees. The others are Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.

Not bad for an unassuming man who was often the cruel butt of jokes by veteran teammates when he came into the majors in 1991. “Bambi” was the nickname Mel Hall, Steve Sax, Jesse Barfield and others hung on Williams, a suggestion that his non-confrontational demeanor and love for classical guitar music somehow made him unfit for the rigors of professional sports.

As it turned out, Williams not only turned the other cheek but also left the gigglers in the dust. He carved out for himself a career that is superior to all his old tormentors and one that just might make him a serious candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame some day.

Williams batted .297 over those 16 seasons, with a .381 on-base average and .477 slugging percentage. He won a batting title, four Gold Gloves for fielding, a Silver Slugger for hitting and was named to five All-Star teams.

Even more impressive are Williams’ post-season numbers. He ranks second in most major offensive categories – games (121), at-bats (465), runs (83), hits (128), total bases (223), singles (77) and total bases (202). In each case, Williams is second to long-time teammate Derek Jeter. Williams is also the runner-up in post-season home runs (22) to Manny Ramirez and walks (77) to Chipper Jones.

Williams is the only player in post-season history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in one game, and he did it twice, in the 1995 American League Division Series against the Mariners and in the 1996 AL Division Series against the Rangers. Also in ‘96, he was the Most Valuable Player of the AL Championship Series victory over the Orioles.

The World Series victory over the Braves that followed remained a key moment in Williams’ career. Years later, he noted, “The World Series gives you confidence. Whenever a team goes through adversity, every player who has been to the World Series knows that this is the beauty of the game, how great it is. We don’t just play for the money or the records. There’s a reason to be the best. We realized it [in ‘96], not just because we won it, but the way we won it. We were down by two games, and we went down to Atlanta and swept the Braves. That taught us a lot about the game, what it means.”

Williams was distraught in the 1997 post-season when he was 2-for-17 in the ALDS loss to the Indians, a setback that seemed to galvanize the Yankees as they came back to win three straight World Series. They were memorable seasons for Williams, who won his batting title in 1998 with a .339 average to go with 26 home runs and 97 RBI and had an even better year in ‘99, batting .342 with 25 home runs and 115 RBI. His best overall season was in 2000, batting .307 with 30 home runs and 121 RBI.

Not even Yankees scout Fred Ferreira, with the recommendation of Roberto Rivera, who signed Williams to a contract Sept. 13, 1985, his 17th birthday, could have foreseen such a career, particularly in the heady atmosphere of center field at the Stadium that had been patrolled by Earle Combs, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer and Mickey Rivers.

Bernabe Figueroa Williams was born in San Juan in 1968 and grew up in Vega Alta, P.R., where he played high school ball with future two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez. Williams’ parents also instilled in him a love for music, which proved a sustaining force at times when his baseball career became over-challenging.

One of the oddities of Williams’ time with the Yankees was that he was frequently the only player in the batting order who did not have a special song played for him when he came to bat, a practice that became prominent at ballparks in the ‘90s. Williams’ interest in music was so intense that he considered listening to a “theme song” before a plate appearance a distraction.

During Williams’ rise through the minors, the Yankees weren’t quite sure how to use him. Despite being fleet afoot, Williams lacked the larcenous behavior to be an effective base stealer, which made him less than an attractive leadoff hitter despite an excellent on-base percentage. His legs helped him run down any fly ball, but his throwing arm was never particularly strong or accurate

But in the early ‘90s, the Yankees were in no position to be over picky about prospects. When injuries cut into the playing time of outfielders Roberto Kelly and Danny Tartabull, Williams was summoned to the majors and the slow apprenticeship began. Brought along slowly by managers Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter, Williams came into his own in 1993 and took control of center field at Yankee Stadium, the most sacred patch of ground in the majors, for the next 10 years.

His breakthrough year was 1995 when Williams batted .307 with 18 home runs and 82 RBI and followed that by hitting .429 with two home runs and five RBI in 21 at-bats in the grueling, five-game ALDS loss to the Mariners, an exciting series that helped “sell” the new concept of an expanded round of playoffs.

Joe Torre arrived the next season, and while some of Williams’ eccentricities had the new manager shaking his head on occasion was won over by his almost childlike enthusiasm.

“I don’t think there is anything about Bernie that could surprise me – take that as a plus or a minus,” Torre told MLB.com last year. “That’s just his personality, just him, basically. He’s very different in that he is not your typical baseball player. That’s probably why he was a little more sensitive than other players.”

But with that sensitivity also came with Williams a sense of loyalty. Despite being wooed by the Red Sox and the Diamondbacks when he was eligible for free agency after the 1998 season, Williams contacted Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the sides worked out a seven-year contract for $87 million that kept Bernie in pinstripes.

Williams had been hopeful he could have played for the Yankees in 2007, but there was no longer a role for him. So the soft-spoken center fielder, now 46, enjoys a satisfying retirement and continues to write music. His 2003 CD, “The Journey Within,” drew praise from the likes of McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon.

“Don’t let your job define who you are,” Williams once said. “Your relationships will define who you are. No matter what you do in life, you are going to be in a position to make an impact on somebody’s life. In my experience with the Yankees, these are a few of the thing that I have learned. You’ve got to have a plan of action, you have to stay focused on the things you can control, and don’t get discouraged or distracted by the things you cannot control.”

Let’s get Yogi the Medal of Freedom

The Yankees along with Major League Baseball made it a truly happy 90th birthday Tuesday for Yogi Berra with the donations of replicas of his 10 World Series championship rings and three American League Most Valuable Player Awards that were stolen last year from his museum in Little Falls, N.J. The Mets also chipped in to present Yogi with his World Series ring from 1969 when he was their first base coach and National League pennant ring in 1973 when he was their manager.

“To be able to get all of these rings and awards back is incredible,” said Larry Berra, the oldest of Yogi’s three sons.

There were smiles galore at the Yogi Berra Museum where the party featured a giant birthday cake and a youth drum orchestra. Yogi, the deliverer of delightful malaprops over the years, did not speak but cut a ribbon in front of the replicas and proclamations declaring Tuesday as Yogi Berra Day in New York and New Jersey presented by respective governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie.

(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

The Berra family also announced a petition drive urging Berra be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “There has been no greater ambassador to baseball than my grandfather,” Lindsey Berra said. “He has been very supportive of the idea.”

So here is where you fans come in. You need to click on the following link to take part in the voting for the petition: http://yogiberramuseum.org/vote-for-yogi-for-the-presidential-medal-of-freedom-2/.

The petition reads:

Yogi Berra should be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A man of unimpeachable integrity and respect, he befriended the first black and Latino baseball players in Major League Baseball. He is currently an ambassador for Athlete Ally, which promotes LGBT rights in sports. Berra enlisted in the U. S. Navy during World War II and served during the D-Day invasion. He continues to be an avid supporter of our armed forces. Berra greatly values education. While with the Yankees, he created a scholarship at Columbia University that is still active 50 years later. His namesake Museum & Learning Center serves 20,000 students annually with character education programs and teaches the values of respect, sportsmanship and inclusion that Berra has demonstrated throughout his life and career.

The petition requires 100,000 signatures by June 8 to be taken under considered by President Obama. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, there were around 8,000 signatures. You may recall how proud the late Stan Musial was four years ago when he received the Medal of Freedom. Let us do what we can in making such a special moment happen for Yogi Berra.

yogi-berra

Here is the latest Yankees on Demand spot, The Zen of Yogi, from Yankees Productions.
http://m.mlb.com/nyy/video/topic/70621646/v76346183/?c_id=nyy

And for some laughs, here are the outtakes.
http://m.mlb.com/nyy/video/topic/70621646/v76346383/?c_id=nyy

60th anniversary of “Elliie” integrating Yankees

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There is a very good article in the April edition of Yankees Magazine by Bergen Record baseball columnist Bob Klapisch, “Honoring Ellie,” that details the life and career of the late Elston Howard, the first African-American player in franchise history.

Tuesday marked the 60th anniversary of Howard’s first game with the Yankees April 14, 1955, an 8-4 Red Sox victory at Fenway Park. Howard entered the game as a defensive replacement for Irv Noren in left field in the sixth inning. Two innings later, Howard got his first major-league hit and RBI in his first time up in the big leagues with a single that scored Mickey Mantle from second base.

Howard was used in the outfield and first base as well as serving as Yogi Berra’s primary backup catcher in the 1950s until he took over as the No. 1 catcher in 1960 with Yogi moving into a platoon in left field with Hector Lopez and catching on occasion.

Howard won two Gold Gloves for his defensive work behind the plate and was a major contributor to nine American League pennan-winning teams in his first 10 seasons with the club. The New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America honored him with its Babe Ruth Award as the outstanding player of the 1958 World Series. Five years later, Howard was again tabbed by the BBWAA as the AL Most Valuable Player for a 1963 season in which he batted .287 with 28 home runs and 85 RBI.

Ellie played in 11 All-Star Games and in 10 World Series overall (including 1967 after being traded to the Red Sox). A clubhouse leader as a player from 1955-67 and as a Yankees coach from 1969-79, Howard’s dignified manner and competitive spirit set a powerful example.

A little-known fact about Ellie is that he was credited with having developed the “doughnut,” the weighted circular device players use on their bats in the on-deck circle. Howard died in 1980 at the age of 51.

Stephen Drew’s pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning Monday night at Baltimore marked the first pinch-hit grand slam for the Yankees since Jorge Posada June 6, 2001, also against the Orioles and Mike Trombley. According to the Elias Bureau, since 1980, the only other Yankees players to hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam are Posada and Glenallen Hill (2000). It was Drew’s third career grand slam, his first for the Yankees and first overall since May 15, 2013 for the Red Sox at St. Petersburg, Fla. It was Drew’s second career pinch-hit home run. The other was Sept. 30, 2006 for the Diamondbacks off the Padres’ Cla Meredith.

The Yankees are back to being the Bronx Bombers. With 12 home runs in seven games this season, the Yanks are tied with Baltimore for the major league lead. They did not reach a dozen homers in 2014 until their 12th game. . .Michael Pineda struck out nine batters without issuing a walk Monday night at Camden Yards. CC Sabathia, Tuesday night’s scheduled starter, had eight strikeouts and no walks last Thursday against the Blue Jays. Only two other pitchers in the majors have recorded games with no walks and at least eight strikeouts: the Dodgers’ Brandon McCarthy and the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez.

Select the Yankees’ “Mount Rushmore” players

Got an idea which four players in Yankees history should qualify as the “Mount Rushmore” of the franchise? You will have the opportunity to express your opinion in Major League Baseball’s “Franchise Four” campaign that begins today.

Fans may visit MLB.com/FranchiseFour to select the four most impactful players who best represent the history of each franchise
out of eight choices from its lineage. An additional write-in option will be available to fans on the ballot, which can also be accessed on their mobile devices. The balloting runs through Friday, May 8.
categories in the sport’s history. The winners of the month-long period of fan voting on MLB.com/FranchiseFour will be announced during pregame ceremonies at the 86th All-Star
Game Tuesday, July 14, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

The eight players on the ballot were selected based on the recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel in consultation with the 30 clubs. The panel was asked to identify “the most impactful
players who best represent the history of each franchise [or special category”] for the ballot. Panelists were MLB’s official historian John Thorn and representatives from MLB’s official
statistician, the Elias Sports Bureau; MLB.com; MLB Network; and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). In addition to the 30 franchises, fans may vote for three special categories: the “Greatest Living Players”; the greatest Negro Leagues Players; and the sport’s greatest Pioneers, encompassing players whose careers began more than a century ago.

“The All-Star Game is a celebration of the National Pastime, and Cincinnati’s rich baseball heritage makes it a perfect venue to highlight the great players who are synonymous with our clubs and those who played pivotal roles in the game’s history,” MLB chief operating officer Tony Petitti said. “We believe that the ‘Franchise Four’ campaign will engage fans in a fun and meaningful way and will link the past and the present in the manner that Baseball does so uniquely.”

Full disclosure: I was on the BBWAA voting committee and submitted my eight choices for the Yankees. They were precisely the eight players who made the ballot — alphabetically Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Lou Gehrig, Derek Jeter, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera and Babe Ruth. If I were voting for a ninth player, I would go with Bill Dickey by a slight margin over Don Mattingly.

The Yankees’ franchise is so rich with success that narrowing the field down to eight was a chore. I felt bad about having to leave off Dickey or Mattingly, not to mention such worthy choices as Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez, Dave Winfield, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. As for stars like Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson, their time with the Yankees was not long enough to qualify, in my view. But your view may be different, so give your opinion by logging on to MLB.com/Franchise Four.

The full ballot:

American League East

Baltimore Orioles (including St. Louis Browns): Paul Blair, Dave McNally, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Boog Powell, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson.

Boston Red Sox: Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Jim Rice, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Cy Young.

New York Yankees: Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Lou Gehrig, Derek Jeter, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, Babe Ruth.

Tampa Bay Rays: Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, Evan Longoria, Carlos Peña, David Price, James Shields, Melvin Upton Jr., Ben Zobrist.

Toronto Blue Jays: Roberto Alomar, Jose Bautista, George Bell, Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez, Roy Halladay, Dave Stieb.

American League Central

Chicago White Sox: Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling, Harold Baines, Eddie Collins, Nellie Fox, Paul Konerko, Minnie Minoso, Frank Thomas.

Cleveland Indians: Earl Averill, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel.

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Alan Trammell, Justin Verlander.

Kansas City Royals: George Brett, Alex Gordon, Hal McRae, Amos Otis, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, Frank White, Willie Wilson.

Minnesota Twins (incl. original Washington Senators): Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Walter Johnson, Jim Kaat, Harmon Killebrew, Joe Mauer, Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett.

American League West

Houston Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Jose Cruz, J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Jimmy Wynn.

Los Angeles Angels: Garret Anderson, Brian Downing, Chuck Finley, Jim Fregosi, Vladimir Guerrero, Nolan Ryan, Tim Salmon, Mike Trout.

Oakland Athletics (incl. Philadelphia and Kansas City): Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Rickey Henderson, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Al Simmons.

Seattle Mariners: Jay Buhner, Alvin Davis, Ken Griffey Jr., Felix Hernandez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Ichiro Suzuki.

Texas Rangers (incl. expansion Washington Senators): Adrian Beltre, Juan Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Frank Howard, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez, Nolan Ryan, Michael Young.

National League East

Atlanta Braves (incl. Boston and Atlanta): Hank Aaron, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Eddie Mathews, Dale Murphy, John Smoltz, Warren Spahn.

Miami Marlins: Josh Beckett, Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Livan Hernandez, Charles Johnson, Mike Lowell, Gary Sheffield, Giancarlo Stanton.

New York Mets: Gary Carter, John Franco, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza, Tom Seaver, Darryl Strawberry, David Wright.

Philadelphia Phillies: Richie Ashburn, Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, Chuck Klein, Robin Roberts, Jimmy Rollins, Mike Schmidt, Chase Utley.

Washington Nationals (incl. Montreal Expos): Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, Dennis Martinez, Tim Raines, Steve Rogers, Rusty Staub, Ryan Zimmerman.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Gabby Hartnett, Ferguson Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa, Billy Williams.

Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion, Eric Davis, Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun, Cecil Cooper, Prince Fielder, Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner, Paul Molitor, Gorman Thomas, Robin Yount.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Barry Bonds, Roberto Clemente, Ralph Kiner, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell, Pie Traynor, Honus Wagner, Paul Waner.

St. Louis Cardinals: Lou Brock, Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith.

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Steve Finley, Paul Goldschmidt, Luis Gonzalez, Mark Grace, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Brandon Webb, Matt Williams.

Colorado Rockies: Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Larry Walker.

Los Angeles Dodgers (incl. Brooklyn): Roy Campanella, Don Drysdale, Steve Garvey, Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Fernando Valenzuela.

San Diego Padres: Nate Colbert, Steve Garvey, Adrian Gonzalez, Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Jones, Jake Peavy, Dave Winfield.

San Francisco Giants (incl. New York): Barry Bonds, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Christy Mathewson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Mel Ott, Buster Posey.

Greatest Living Players
Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Willie Mays, Tom Seaver.

Greatest Negro Leagues Players
Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Martin Dihigo, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige.

Greatest Pioneers (Pre-1915)
Grover Cleveland Alexander, Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, Wee Willie Keeler, Mike “King” Kelly, Kid Nichols, George Sisler, George Wright.

Big Unit, Pedro have fond memories of Stadium

The 2015 Hall of Fame election was one for the ages. For the first time in 60 years and for only the fourth time in the history of the voting that dates to 1936, as many as four players got the nod from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in this year’s election. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio are a classy quartet and proved so in Wednesday’s press conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Johnson and Martinez were particularly amusing discussing their time pitching at Yankee Stadium as opposing players. The “Big Unit,” of course, also wore the pinstripes for two seasons, although he readily admitted those were not the finest hours of his career. However, he conceded that he had a whale of a time.

“I won 34 games over those two seasons, but I didn’t pitch as well as people wanted,” Johnson said. “But to be able to sit down in the dugout and talk to Yogi Berra about the old days, to have Whitey Ford ask me to sign a jersey and then sit down and chat about pitching, what could have been better? To get to know Reggie Jackson really well and begin a long friendship, it was great. Reggie texted me [Tuesday] and said, ‘How did you get more votes than me?’ That’s Reggie.”

Johnson, who won five Cy Young Awards and was the co-Most Valuable Player of one of the most exciting World Series ever played (in 2001 for the Diamondbacks against the Yankees), has stronger memories of pitching against the Yankees than for them. He recalled the first time he was scheduled to pitch at the Stadium for the Mariners in 1992 he was followed into the park by Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, then a Yankees broadcaster.

“I played college ball at the University of Southern California under the legendary coach Ron Dedeaux, who always referred to a player on the team as ‘Tiger,’ probably because he couldn’t remember names,” Johnson said. “So ‘Tiger’ became a sore of alumni sign. I was coming into the Stadium that day and I heard someone shout to me, ‘Tiger, Tiger.’ I knew it had to be a USC alum, and sure enough it was Tom Seaver. He wanted to know why I was carrying my own bags on a night when I was pitching. We became good friends after that. How can you not cherish such memories?”

“You were lucky,” Martinez chimed in. “You have no idea what it was like to pitch at Yankee Stadium for the Red Sox.”

Martinez was one of those Boston players Yankees fans loved to hate. The more abuse they could heap on him the better, but the diminutive righthander was never bothered by it. He eventually made New York his baseball home as well later with the Mets but saw a major difference between the two fan bases.

“I learned a lot while coming over to New York as a visitor with the Red Sox and also coming later on and dressing in the uniform of the Mets,” Martinez said. “In Queens, fans are wild, they’re happy. They settle for what they have. The Yankees fans do not. It’s ‘Win or nothing. Win or nothing.’

“Yankees fans were really good at trying to intimate you. As the opposition, they wanted to intimidate you. But deep in their heart, they appreciate baseball. They appreciate everything that you do. They recognize greatness. And they’re gonna boo you and they’re gonna call you, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ They’re going to chant until you just go away.”

I pointed out at the press conference a footnote that Martinez is the first pitcher under six feet in height to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 41 years since Whitey went in with his teammate and pal, Mickey Mantle, in 1974. I added that today Pedro stands as tall as the 6-foot-10 Johnson.

They were equals in effectiveness. Johnson’s 4,875 career strikeouts are second only to Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 and the most by any lefthander. The Unit’s five Cy Young Awards are two shy of Roger Clemens’ record, and his four in a row with Arizona from 1999-2002 matched a similar run by Greg Maddux, who was elected to the Hall last year, from 1992-95. Martinez led his league in earned run average five times and had a career 2.93 ERA, remarkable considering the era of offensive explosiveness in which he pitched.

And was there ever a pitcher in baseball who excelled equally as a starter and a reliever more than Smoltz? As a starter, he won a Cy Young Award (1996), and as a closer he won a Rolaids Relief Award (2002). He had moved to the bullpen while recovering from elbow surgery. Talk all you want about Dennis Eckersley, but he did not have the career as a starter than Smoltz did. And after three years as the Braves’ closer Smoltz returned to the Atlanta rotation and led the National League in victories in 2006.

This was a unique pitcher, and as I told John on the phone Tuesday when I notified him of his election as the BBWAA secretary-treasurer, “Unique players go to the Hall of Fame, and they go in right away.”

He told me that he was relieved and mentioned a breakfast we had together at the Stadium one Sunday last summer with David Cone and Lee Mazzilli and the talk was about the Hall of Fame. “I had just seen what that induction weekend was all about as a broadcaster for MLB Network as I watched my old buddies [Maddux and Tom Glavine] give their speeches,” Smoltz said. “I just wanted to low-key it after that and not get too caught up in it. So it’s quite a special feeling right now.”

Smoltz was courted by the Yankees as a free agent after the 2001 season, but he chose instead to stay in Atlanta. Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson took the new class of elected players to dinner Wednesday night at ‘21’ in midtown Manhattan. That is precisely the place the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner would have wined and dined Smoltz to seal a deal to come to the Bronx.

Biggio grew up on Long Island and played football and basketball at Kings Park High School in Suffolk County. He was a Yankees fan whose favorite player was Thurman Munson. Yogi was a coach with the Astros during his estrangement period from the Yankees and encouraged Houston officials to move Biggio from behind the plate to second base where his career took off.

Among his 3,060 career hits were 668 doubles, the fifth highest total in history and the most by a right-handed batter. Think of it, more than the likes of Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Paul Molitor, now that is distinctive.

Idelson visited with Yogi in New Jersey over the past weekend, and the first words out of the legendary catcher’s mouth was, “Is my man Biggio going to make it?”

That was the day before we counted the ballots and discovered that we could tell Yogi a resounding “Yes.”

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